Feud over fertility and lobolo cows claims 16 lives, leaves villages at war
Sixteen men are dead after a wedding meant to unite families fails
A family feud sparked by allegations of infertility and the return of four cows paid as lobolo has left 16 people - some of them teenagers - brutally murdered in the Eastern Cape region of Bizana.
For the past year tensions between the villages of Zulu, Qungebe and Mkhandlweni have uprooted families, as some, fearing for their lives, have gone into hiding.
The bloodshed had its origins in a jubilant event seven years ago when the Mantywaki and Genuka families were joined through marriage. But the relationship took a bloody turn when Peliwe Mantywaki, after failing to bear children, was allegedly sent back to her family. Her husband, Peter Genuka, allegedly demanded the return of four cows paid as lobolo.
Nine men were sent to collect the cattle. But five met a gruesome end, being hacked to death and having their genitals cut off. One victim was decapitated and his brain removed, villagers recounted.
Even mediation by chief Gcinusapho Mpetshwa of Mkhandlweni village bore no solution.
Nomsa Mdubeki, the widow of Jackford Mdubeki, who was stabbed to death outside his home in Qungebe village in January last year, said his only sin had been to call for a truce.
"They killed him in cold blood in front of children. It appears he was seen as a stumbling block for these killers who are thirsty for blood," said Mdubeki.
"No one wants to talk as they fear they will be next, but if I do not talk no one will seek justice for my husband."
Maskandi musician Mlindelwa Mralatya, popularly known as Inkunzi Emdaka, and his family also came under attack and his five homes in Qungebe were destroyed after villagers accused him of taking sides. They now live at an undisclosed location.
"Had I not taken a decision to leave my home that night, I would have died. This lobolo thing has turned villagers to revolt against each other," Mralatya told the Sunday Times, which visited the area this week.
Police have confirmed the murders and say a team has been investigating them.
Peliwe's father, Msongelwa Mantywaki, said he had sent his daughter to live elsewhere for her safety. "This month my brother was the 16th person to be killed," he said. "This is personal now."
He confirmed that his daughter and her husband had separated.
"My daughter was kicked out after she was accused of being infertile, but there's no medical records to prove such. The problem could be with the husband," he said.
Genuka, who has moved to Durban, denied any involvement in the murders.
"All this happened after I had received my cattle through the local traditional leaders. Yes, those killed had represented me but the current incidents are just the criminal acts of individuals. When people are fighting their battles, they must not involve me," he said.
Nobonakele Nongqayi, 60, lost her son, Lindani Nongqayi, who was not only her first-born child but also the family breadwinner, when he was killed in March last year. He had been part of the delegation that delivered the lobolo cattle to the Mantywaki family in Zulu village.
"What hurts me is that I buried my son while he had missing body parts. What happened there was barbaric," she said.
The Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders chair, chief Mwelo Nonkonyane, said it was concerned about the murders.
Mbizana police spokesperson Warrant Officer Zilungile Nkamba confirmed police were investigating the murders.
"But we unfortunately can't release any more details."
She said police had been deployed to the villages.
Two local traditional leaders in the warring villages, inkosi Zanocwangco Gazula and inkosi Gcinusapho Mpetshwa, are now trying to assist police by calling on villagers to come forward with information.
Gazula, who leads the Zulu and Qungebe villages, said all the murders were related. "A year later we have 16 people who have been killed, all of them men," he said.
"Since March last year we have been burying a person every month in these villages and many have fled their homes."
Among them is the elderly Mafaku Mralatya. "I don't recall the last time I slept in my bed. We are terrified," she said.
Mpetshwa, of Mkhandlweni village, was called by the police in March last year to identify the bodies of the first five victims. "I saw mutilated bodies that night. Those young men died gruesomely and today I still have nightmares," he said.
Those killed are Jackford Mdubeki, Mancothuka Mantywaki, Lusithi Mbuyiselo, Ludada Juqula, Mlandeli Mazongolo, Nzukiso Mayaba, Twoboy Ndovu, Makhitha Mjuleka and Lindani Nongqayi. Those known only by their nicknames are Khulantombi, Maphuthukezi, Chamenemazi and Pilipili. The names of three other victims have not been released by police.