Police investigating a tribe of cannibal witch-doctors have found eight human ears in a cooking pot as it emerged villagers were coerced into eating flesh because it would make them bulletproof.
Five suspects have been arrested after one of the men walked into a police station with a piece of an arm and a leg saying he had lost the taste for human flesh.
It prompted villagers in Estcourt, South Africa, to hold a meeting, where three hundred residents allegedly admitted eating humans and digging up graves.
Grim new details of the case have emerged as the spiritual healers’ homes were raided with officers discovering a number of severed body parts and human remains stuffed inside suitcases.
The three men were arrested in after one of them handed himself over to police, admitting that he had grown tired of eating human flesh, and officers were led to a house, pictured, where bodyparts and a mutilated body of a woman was found
It is thought the decomposing corpses were being used in potions given the witch doctor’s customers who were told it would bring them powers.
Villagers were told eating humans would mean they would be free from poverty and would make them invincible and bulletproof so that police could not shoot them.
Local politician Mthembeni Majola held a meeting in the village of Esigodlweni, home to just 971 people, and it it emerged almost a third of the population had been digging up graves or eating residents.
Mr Majola told the BBC: ‘Most residents were shocked by this and now live in fear.
‘A few confessed to have consulted with the traditional healer and knowingly ate human flesh.
‘But what has angered most of us here is how gullible our people have become.’
Armed police stand guard outside the magistrates court in Estcourt, South Africa, where crowds gathered following the brief court appearance of men accused of killing and eating human flesh
Armed guards were forced to beef up security as tempers flared at a magistrates court where the five suspected cannibals appeared in front of a judge last week.
Police are now following up reports that the cannibals robbed graves to source flesh and bones.
Mr Majola added that community members had also allegedly confessed to digging up graves under the orders of 33 year-old Nino Mbatha, and giving him the bones.
Zanele Hlatshwayo, 25, is thought to be the woman who was murdered and cut up before her flesh was shared around neighbours in an unfolding cannibal saga in Estcourt, a town in the uThukela District of KwaZulu-Natal Province
‘He told them that digging up the graves would make them strong and protect them from harm and that bringing him the bones would bring them wealth in the future.’
Zanele Hlatshwayo, 25, is thought to be the woman who was murdered and cut up before her flesh was shared around neighbours in an unfolding cannibal saga in Estcourt, a town in the uThukela District of KwaZulu-Natal Province.
Hlatshwayo’s mother, Philiswe, now fears the worst after police showed the family blood-soaked clothing found on what was left of the body which appeared to belong to that of her daughter, from 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. She 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 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.
One of the killers walked into the police station in Estcourt, pictured, and told officers that he had become ‘tired of eating human flesh’
Three of the men arrested by police initially allegedly raped and murdered the woman before butchering the body and eating the flesh.
Crowds of residents gathered outside Estcourt magistrates court Monday as the trio appeared on murder charges alongside a fourth man, 31, accused of possessing human flesh and tissues.
They were all remanded in custody and are due to reappear in court this week and a fifth person has since been arrested.
The stunned local councillor Mr Majola said one of the suspects led community members and police to the woman’s body.
‘It was buried under big rocks and we had to call a machine to remove the rocks,’ he told News24.
‘They showed us the body parts in one of the houses.
Mr Majola added that authorities fear the group had killed more victims, saying: ‘it cannot only be 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.’
Police spokeswoman Captain Charmaine Struwig said: ‘Three of the suspects face charges of murder and charges relating to the possession of human organs and tissue.
Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said the man handed over bodyparts during questioning
‘A fourth suspect faces charges relating to the possession of human organs and tissue.
‘The three suspects are alleged to have murdered a woman and then cut her body up.
‘Allegations are that some consumed some of her flesh while some of her body parts were shared with the fourth suspect in Amangwe.
‘Human remains were found at one crime scene in Estcourt and another crime scene at Amangwe.
‘At this time only one person is suspected of having been killed and her identity is as yet unknown.’
Another spokeswoman, Colonel Thembeka Mbhele, said the three main suspects were arrested on Friday night after one walked into Estcourt police station with his ‘tired of eating human flesh’ bombshell.
She said: ‘When he was questioned, he produced part of a human leg and a hand.
‘Further investigation led police to a house where they were met with a foul smell, and more human remains were found.
‘A second suspect was also arrested in Estcourt and a third in the Amangwe area. More body parts were found.
‘It is alleged the suspects raped, killed and cut up the body of a woman, which they then consumed.’
‘Muti’ medicine, a term used to describe ‘traditional’ practices in South Africa is common, and so called ‘muti killings’ have been reported from time to time, where people are killed for their body parts to be used by witchdoctors.
People with albinism are particularly at risk of muti killings due to the belief held by some that their body parts impart power and health to those who consume them.
Earlier this month, a man was found in Durban, 100 miles from the scene of the latest incident, with a human head in his backpack.
He was thought to be attempting to sell the head to a witchdoctor.