Pietermaritzburg – The remains found in the house of one of the four men accused of murder in Estcourt’s “cannibal” case are believed to be those of Shayamoya resident Zanele Hlatshwayo (25), who is the mother of two-year-old son.
Estcourt police arrested four men on Friday last week for allegedly killing a person and eating their flesh. Police allegedly found an arm and a leg at the house of Estcourt’s nyanga, Nino Mbatha, who was among the four men arrested.
Mbatha (32) and his co-accused, Sthembiso Sithole (31), Lindokuhle Masondo (32) and Lungisani Magubane (30), appeared in the Estcourt Magistrate’s Court on Monday on charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder after one of the four men allegedly walked into the Estcourt police station on Friday, holding human body parts and confessing to being “tired of eating human flesh”.
Hlatshwayo’s bloodied and torn clothes, which were found among the human remains in Mbatha’s home, were positively identified on Monday afternoon by her family, although police are awaiting DNA results to confirm the remains are indeed Hlatshwayo’s.
Zanele’s sister, Liziwe, said Zanele was last seen on July 25 when she left her family home to visit her grandmother in Pietermaritzburg.
Zanele’s cousin, Nozipho Hlatshwayo, said Zanele had been “reluctant” to travel to Pietermaritzburg as “she had a feeling that she should not go”.
“She was scared to go,” said Nozipho. “She said she had a bad feeling, but went anyway because her grandmother was not well.”
Nozipho said Zanele had been nervous about human trafficking due to WhatsApp messages that had been circulating a few months ago that women and children were being abducted from outside schools and their places of work.
“It was one of her fears,” she said.
Liziwe said when her sister did not return from her visit to Pietermaritzburg, the family called her aunt, who also lived in the area, and asked if Zanele had been seen.
Liziwe said although their aunt told the family she had not seen Zanele, they had thought that she would “definitely come back and explain herself”.
However, when Liziwe and Nozipho heard reports of the Estcourt “cannibal” case on Monday, and with Zanele still missing, they contacted police who called them to the Estcourt police station.
Liziwe said the police asked for a description of her sister and then took them into another room where they saw a bag of clothes, allegedly taken from Mbatha’s home.
Liziwe said the day Zanele disappeared, she had been wearing leggings, pumps, a white vest and a denim jacket.
She said when the family looked at the clothes, they realised they belonged to Zanele. She said it confirmed to the family “there and then” that Zanele had been killed.
“We were crying so much, the police had to call someone to calm us down,” she said.
Liziwe said her sister’s pumps and tights had blood on them and her denim jacket was covered in grass and they believe that she had been in a struggle.
Nozipho said although police had not confirmed that the body parts belonged to her cousin, they believed it was Zanele who had been killed and eaten because of her bloodied clothes.
KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said there was a “strong possibility” that the remains found were Hlatshwayo’s, but this could not be confirmed until the DNA test was finalised.
Mbhele said there had been media reports of eight human ears found in a cooking pot in the home of one of the accused, but police could only confirm that a human arm and leg had been found.
She said more arrests were imminent.
Mbatha, who lived in the Rensburgdrift area near Estcourt, had allegedly nicknamed himself “mkhonyovu” (corruption). He had been renting a house from Philani Magubane.
Magubane said Mbatha had only moved into the house two months ago but Magubane had “no idea” about the human remains as he lived on the other side of Rensburgdrift.
Mbatha’s neighbour, Mdu Mchunu, said he had detected a foul smell coming from Mbatha’s home, but no one was allowed to enter his room.
He said he had had a quarrel with Mbatha over money and Mchunu then asked his sister, who was allegedly in a relationship with Mbatha, to investigate the “rotten smell” coming from Mbatha’s home.
He claimed his sister found a human arm and leg in a bag in Mbatha’s room.
He said his sister had been too scared to tell him what she had found at the time. Mchunu added that his sister was in shock and was “not doing okay” after finding the human remains.
300 confess to eating human flesh
Mthembeni Majola, the ward councillor for the area, held a meeting at the Esigodlweni community hall on Monday morning and later told The Witness that around 300 residents had confessed to visiting Mbatha, and knowingly eating human flesh that he gave to them.
He said that there were around 700 people at the meeting.
Mbhele said the claims that 300 residents had confessed to eating human flesh could not be confirmed and that investigations were ongoing.
The four accused are expected to appear at the Estcourt Magistrate’s Court on Monday for a formal bail application.
The case is being investigated by the provincial Occult-Related Crime Unit.