The business, science behind ritual killings

The murder of Thabelo Mazolo in Zimbabwe inspired Bruce Ndlovu, the author of the article reproduced below, to dwell on the phenomenon of ritualistic murders, muti or muthi murders as they are called in Southern Africa. The staggering details of recent murder cases in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe are shocking. The author is to be commended for his frankness to expose and discuss these heinous crimes which have no place in the 21st century.  

Warning: the following article contains many graphic details as to how these murders are committed (webmaster FVDK). 

Murder economy: The business, science behind ritual killings

The suspected ritual killer, Tawana Ngwenya (right) and his disillusioned father, Buzwani Ngwenya (left).

Published: June 21, 2020
By: Nehanda Radio – Bruce Ndlovu

“You must cut yourself and spill your blood onto a mirror,” the message to Tawana Ngwenya reportedly read. “Gaze into the mirror and say out loud that you are selling your soul for riches. After that you must open the door for my boys to go out.”

The messages, from a South African sangoma, were allegedly part of a chain of instructions to Ngwenya, messages that allegedly led him to take the life of Tawana Mazolo at Matsheumhlophe, Bulawayo.

The messages were witchcraft delivered digitally, as the unknown sangoma, from his lair somewhere in one of South Africa’s nine provinces gave Ngwenya instructions on how to spill blood and in the aftermath, prepare for a life of riches.

The details of the alleged murder are gruesome. Half of Mazolo’s body, from the waist down, was missing while her breasts and palms were cut off. On the surface, the tragic killing of Mazolo already looks like a ritual murder. The grizzly details suggest that this indeed is the case.

After all, every once in a while, the pages of publications in Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries drip with the blood of innocents murdered at the altar of self-enrichment.

There was the case of Edmore Rundogo, whose dismembered remains were found in Maun, about 500km from Botswana’s second city of Francistown.

Rundogo had left his home in Lobengula West (Bulawayo) in search of a better life in Botswana. Instead of the proverbial greener pastures on the other side of the Plumtree border, he had found machete-wielding men who savagely murdered him, ripping his heart out.

The five killers also cut off his hands, feet, privates and took part of his brains. The killers, after being told by the traditional healer that had hired them that they had killed the wrong person, had then tried to burn his body.

South of the Limpopo, there was the case of 10-year-old Masego Kgomo, a schoolgirl who was still alive when Brian Mangwale ripped out her womb.

During the course of his trial for murder, Mangwale would change his story three times, a fact that the courts took as evidence that he had no remorse for his actions. In one of the three accounts he claimed that he and a group of friends had taken the young girl to a traditional healer in Soshanguve, who gave them a concoction to drink before he dragged the crying Masego into a room.

The girl was still crying when the traditional healer returned with her 10 minutes later and started sprinkling something on her body.

Mangwale claimed the medicine man had then returned with a knife and a clay pot and ordered Masego to lie down on a bed.

When she refused, she was forcibly held down while the traditional healer stabbed her in the stomach, put his hand inside her body and removed something that looked like a ball, which he put into the clay pot. He also removed her left breast.

Mangwale told the magistrate he heard the others had wrapped the child’s body in plastic and drank muthi before dumping her body in the veld on the instructions of the traditional healer.

While his testimony kept changing, the courts were convinced that Kgomo had died after meeting the nasty end of Mangwale’s knife. A life in prison sentence was handed to the killer.

Body parts are big business in Africa, but particularly in South Africa where trade in human body parts is lucrative. In the race to get rich in places like the City of Gold, Johannesburg, some believe that the key to getting their hand on all that glitters is taking a shortcut.

Many Zimbabweans, like Mazolo, can trace their gruesome ritual death to powerful sangomas south of the Limpopo. While Ngwenya was the one allegedly wielding the instrument of death when Mazolo took her last painful breath, this is not always the case.

Middle men, like in the case of Mangwale, are usually the ones that handle the dirty work. According to South African scholar Louise Vincent, certain gangs specialise in killing people for the harvesting of body parts only.

“It is believed that certain murder gangs specialise in muthi killings. Unlike human sacrifice where death is the express purpose of the act, in muthi-related killings, death is an anticipated and accepted by-product of the garnering of human organs but it is not the main aim.

Indeed, it is often preferred that the victim remain alive during the process. When body parts, including internal organs, are removed while the victim is still alive it is believed that the power of the resultant medicine will be greatly enhanced. Depending on the wants of potential customers, the instructions that the sangomas give specifics.

“Sangomas seldom do the killing themselves. The order will include not only specifications as to which particular body part or parts are required — testicles for virility purposes, fat from the breasts or abdomen for luck, tongues to smooth the path to a lover’s heart — but the very specific manner in which they are to be collected.

“The use of human body parts for medicinal purposes is based in the belief that it is possible to appropriate the life force of one person through its literal consumption by another. For this reason, a victim is often carefully chosen — not just any person’s penis as a cure for male infertility, for instance, but that of a man with several healthy children.”

Those who grew up in Zimbabwe urban areas will recall how the shadow of ritual murder has never been far off the horizon. Some, no doubt, know of the stories of businessmen who are said to have suddenly turned rich after they lost a spouse or a child. That child, or any other loved one, is assumed to be the blood sacrifice that was necessary for their businesses to turn a sudden corner.

Such perceptions of course, may be nothing but jealous rumour, but they are not helped by actual cases like that of Robert Tazvireva, a bottle store and general dealership owner in Magunje who allegedly instructed Samuel Mushonga in 2017 to murder his own sister so he could enhance his business.

After Mushonga had allegedly fatally stabbed his sister and hacked off her head, he delivered it to Tazvireva who told him to hide it in a nearby bush. Such instances, have helped convince many that businesspeople profit from the spilling of blood.

“‘If the business is not doing well, get a boy or a girl’s head — someone who has a future — and your business will have a future too,” said Dr Gordon Chavunduka time president of the Zimbabwean Traditional Healers Association, once said.

Those who grew up in Bulawayo in the late 90s will remember the myth of men who reportedly drove around the city with a blood sucking frog, looking for unsuspecting victims to profit from.

While such urban legends have never been confirmed, they are an entertaining reminder that people live on the constant lookout for people trying to profit off their ritual sacrifice.

“I recall vividly growing up in one township in Zimbabwe. This was just when public transport in the form of the Toyota Hiace taxi had just been introduced in the country,” says Fanuel Hadzidzi of Gender Links.

“At that tender age, we were scared to death by the stories doing the rounds in the township of the disappearance of children. We were told how kids were being lured by strangers who promised them some sweets.

“The next thing, their bodies would be found in the bushes with some body parts missing. Rumours were that businesspeople were taking the children’s heads for instance to Durban in South Africa and were trading them off for the taxis. Weren’t we all scared!”

With claims of human body parts sold by vendors on the streets of South Africa and other countries, it may be a long time before ritual killings lose their lustre to those trying to make a quick dollar.

Source: Murder economy: The business, science behind ritual killings

The Limpopo River Basin (Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe). Source map: The Economist

Botswana: Ritual killers get jail sentences (2006)

Published: April 5, 2006
By: Oarabile Mosikare 

FRANCISTOWN: Acting High Court judge Modiri Letsididi sentenced two ritual killers to a total of 27 years imprisonment yesterday. The judge said Thuri Poicho and Njayi Kamuanga were under the influence of alcohol when they committed the murder. He said he had considered everything submitted on their behalf by their attorneys Charles Tlaagae and Muriro Furusa. 

“Both accused were influenced by immaturity and had pleaded guilty to the charge. That show contrition and remorse on their part,” said Letsididi.

He added that Poicho was a first offender and has no previous conviction. He noted that the accused persons have been in custody since August 2001 and the charge has been hanging on their heads ever since. The judge commented that the two have lost their previous employment as herdsmen as a result of the offence. He noted that the accused persons did not benefit from the ritual killing ordered by a certain Ntshemang. However, he said the court is duty bound to protect society and the sanctity of life. “This court should demonstrate to the society that such crimes should not be tolerated. Both accused persons participated in unprovoked assault of the deceased, cutting his private parts and tongue in order to gain. In my view, there is no worst crime than this,” said the soft-spoken judge. He noted that Kamuanga has a previous conviction for a crime committed two months before the ritual murder. Therefore, he sentenced him to 14 years and gave Poicho 13 years for the ritual killing of Aaron Phobe.

On Monday, state counsel Keneilwe Lephalo said one Ntshemang approached the convicts and showed them a lot of money if they gave him the private parts of a human being. He promised them P8 000 for the job. They then conspired to kill Phobe and get the organs. “They assaulted him with a knobkerrie on the head until he fell unconscious on the ground. They removed his tongue and genitals and then delivered them to Ntshemang who had packed his vehicle in the bush who promised to pay them P8,000 the next day,” she submitted.

The investigations led to the arrest of Poicho on August 14, 2001 at Nnyambesi cattlepost and Kamuanga at Satau cattlepost. “They were taken before a judicial officer Phetsolo Nare, where Kamuanga was the only one who deposed a confession statement. In so hitting the deceased with a knobkerrie, they intended to cause his death. They acted unlawfully and had no lawful justification for their conduct,” submitted Lephalo.

Immediately after the judge was satisfied that the accused’s plea was unequivocal, he asked the two defence attorneys whether there are any extenuating circumstances in the case. They adopted the same submission that P8,000 offered by Ntshemang was a fortune for their clients who are herdsmen and the amount had a bearing on their reasoning. In mitigation, Poicho’s attorney Tlaagae submitted that his client was unknown in criminal circles and the court should impose a sentence that would give him a chance to rehabilitate.

“He pleaded guilty, and acknowledged to the society that what he did was morally and legally wrong. He benefited nothing from P8,000 they were supposed to be paid and they never saw Ntshemang again,” submitted Tlaagae. He urged the court to impose a sentence that would not break the accused. Mitigating on behalf of Kamuanga, Furusa submitted that the court should take into consideration the personal circumstance of his client. He said Kamuanga confessed at the time of his arrest and thus saved valuable time for investigating officers and court. “He was incited by allegedly rich person to commit this crime. Ntshemang was never prosecuted and the accused has to bear punishment on behalf of Ntshemang,” said Furusa.

Source: Ritual killers get jail sentences

Botswana: Olopeng condemns mob justice

Published: Dec 19, 2017
By: BOPA

Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Mr Thapelo Olopeng (Botswana)

Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Mr Thapelo Olopeng has rebuked some residents of Tonota for recently taking the law into their hands and damaging property.

His remarks follow the recent incident where some residents went on the rampage by damaging property, accusing someone for ritual killing, following the death of his herdboy. Following the incidents, some residents were arrested pending investigations.

Mr Olopeng, who is also Member of Parliament for Tonota constituency, rebuked the culprits during a kgotla meeting on December 18.

He pleaded with the residents to reflect on who they are, where they come from and where they are going, saying such an introspection would help them rebuild their good reputation.

He advised the residents to allow law enforcement officers to do their job without interruption. He further emphasised that the residents should share information with relevant authorities in order to help resolve cases rather than taking the law into their hands.

“Allow law enforcement officials to handle cases. Let them find evidence that will prove someone’s guilt before attacking fellow residents and accusing them of ritual killings with no evidence to show,” he added.

Earlier in his welcome remarks, Kgosi Bokamoso Radipitse requested the residents to prepare for the President’s farewell tour by coming up with ideas on how they would bid the him farewell.

President Lt Gen. Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama is expected to be in Tonota on the February 2, 2018.

Source: Olopeng condemns mob justice
Botswana Daily News, Dec 19 Tue,2017