A gang of cannibals have been arrested in the disappearance of Zanele Hlatshwayo who is thought to have been murdered and eaten.
Notice of the woman’s murder comes after villagers came forward to say that the ‘missing’ woman’s flesh had been ‘shared around.’
The macabre incident according to South Africa’s Times Live allegedly took place in Escourt, a town in the rural community of uThukela District of KwaZulu-Natal Province.
To date, investigators have apprehended five members of a believed cannibal gang.
The woman’s disappearance and believed murder has led to authorities saying there could be many more victims, with many missing persons un-accounted for and with up to 300 people in surrounding villages admitting to knowingly eating human flesh.
Disquiet over Hlatshwayo’s fate was intensified when police announced finding human ears in a cooking pot in one of the five men arrested.
Intensifying fears of the missing woman’s whereabouts, Hlatshwayo’s mother, Philiswe, confirmed blood-soaked clothing belonging to the missing woman from nearby Shayamoya.
Hlatshwayo vanished on July 25 after heading for Pietermaritzburg to visit her grandmother and had stopped to see relatives at Estcourt 20 miles away en-route.
Zanele never arrived at her intended final destination.
Detectives said the alleged victim’s mother was not overly concerned, but her feelings changed on Monday when Hlatshwayo’s cousin Nozipho Hlatshwayo of Estcourt heard that four men had been arrested in Estcourt for cannibalism.
They, along with a fifth man, have been charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder as part of an alleged cannibalism ring which could include untold victims.
The first four arrested, including two witch doctors, were taken into custody after a man walked into a police station saying he was ‘tired of eating human flesh’ while producing human body parts as proof.
A fifth man was arrested on Wednesday and will appear in court with the other four on Monday for a formal bail hearing.
A report via news24 told of police allegedly finding an arm and a leg at the house of Estcourt’s nyanga, Nino Mbatha, 32, who was among the four men arrested.
Also appearing in court as the co-accused included, Sthembiso Sithole (31), Lindokuhle Masondo (32) and Lungisani Magubane (30).
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.
Times Live reported how the missing woman’s cousin phoned an aunt in Pietermaritzburg to check if Hlatshwayo was safe. When she was told she had never arrived she said she was ‘chilled to the spine’.
Told Nozipho:‘We went straight to the police. An officer asked us what Zanele had been wearing on the day she left home. I was so close to Zanele that I knew even the color of underwear she had on the day.
‘She wore black leggings, a shirt and a bag in which she had stuffed her jeans. I gave the police officer this description and he asked us to wait.’
Investigators told of recovering an armless, beheaded and severely mutilated body in Esigodlweni, east of Estcourt, in a veld.
Reiterated the missing woman’s cousin, ‘The police would not show us her body and the body has been sent for a post-mortem. The body will not be released until the identity is confirmed.’
Police believe more suspects and accomplices will be now arrested.
The incident led to armed guards brought in to increase security at the court appearances for the suspected cannibals, as the community expressed their rage with fears of a large number of local people gone missing, feared to be prey of the cannibalism gang.
Responding to the outcry, Ward councillor Mthembeni Majola said: ‘Families, people we know and live with, have now confessed to eating this woman. There has to be more victims if 300 say they have eaten. It cannot be only one.
‘When the police were following this matter they discovered eight ears in a pot where one man was staying. That means there is much more to this’.
The official told of many also admitting to digging up graves and giving one of the witchdoctors bones which they were told would make them strong and protect them from harm and bring wealth.
Colonel Thembeka Mbhele confirmed five men had been arrested and faced a number of charges relating to the possession of human organs and tissue and that three face charges of murdering a woman.
He said: ‘Three are alleged to have murdered a woman and then cut her body up and allegations are that some consumed some of her flesh and body parts were shared with a fourth suspect.
‘Human remains were found at one crime scene in Estcourt and at another crime scene in Amangwe. At this time only one person is suspected of being killed and her identity is as yet unknown.
‘This came after a man walked into a police station and said he was tired of eating human flesh and when questioned produced part of a human leg and hand.
‘Further investigations led police to a house where they were met with a foul smell and more human remains were found. It is alleged three men raped, killed and cut up a the body which they then consumed’.
The killing of people in South Africa for their body parts to be used in ‘muti’ (medicine) by witchdoctors is not uncommon and people with albinism are particularly at risk of so called muti-killings noted the dailymail.
Police continue to investigate the cannibal killing and the search for more victims.