Seven men suspected of cannibalism have appeared in a South African court with one of the accused reportedly wanting to plead guilty to charges that have shocked the country.
Angry residents gathered outside the courthouse in the rural town of Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal province, with one protester heard shouting: ‘They must rot in jail, our children are now scared of going to school.’
The accused, all in their 30s, are charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and possession of human parts.
One of the suspected cannibals complained to the court yesterday he and his co-defendants had been assaulted while in custody.
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
Five people were initially arrested last month in Estcourt and two more have since been held.
Prosecution spokeswoman Natasha Ramkisson said: ‘This is a very complex case, and more investigation is being conducted.’
One of the accused is said to be a traditional healer and The Times Live website reported defence attorney Thandeka Hadebe told the court that one of the men, who was not identified, intended to plead guilty.
South Africa has no direct law against cannibalism, but mutilating a corpse and being in possession of human tissue are criminal offences.
The case has been adjourned until October 12 as police carry out their investigations of what is believed to be a tribe of cannibal witch-doctors.
Last month, officers found eight human ears in a cooking pot as it emerged villagers were coerced into eating flesh because it would make them bulletproof.
The suspects were 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 300 residents allegedly admitted eating humans and digging up graves.
Grim details of the case have emerged after the arrests 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 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.
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
Police were 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.
‘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 people n arrested in Estcourt for cannibalism.
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.
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.’
Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said the man handed over bodyparts
Police spokeswoman Captain Charmaine Struwig said: ‘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, talking about the initial suspect 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.