South African serial killer arrested – after five years

As the One Billion Rising campaign kicks off I visit a South African village of just 600 people where police took five years to arrest a man for raping and murdering 24 women and children. Noxolo was on her way …

As the One Billion Rising campaign kicks off I visit a South African village of just 600 people where police took five years to arrest a man for raping and murdering 24 women and children.

Noxolo was on her way to college when she received a depressing phone call from her auntie informing that her family had been attacked. Her 16-month-old son, her mother, younger sister become victims of one of the worst serial killings in South Africa’s recent history.

They were among 24 women and children that have been axed to death in a killing spree in Tholeni between 2007 and 2012. This tiny village of 600 population in the Eastern Cape of South Africa became known as the ‘village of death’.

They were gruesome killings. Almost one in 20 of the people in the village were brutally murdered.

In most case the victims suffered two wounds, a gash to the head and a severed artery in the neck. Some were raped before they died. All the attacks occurred at night inside the victims’ houses.

The villagers grief is endless but Noxolo’ grief defies description. She left the family home in Tholeni in the morning on May 28, last year to go back to her college in East London, South Africa. She did not know it would be the last time she will see her loved ones. Few hours later, a murderer was on his way to kill her mother and her younger sister Lukhayo, who was 13-years-old. Only her baby brother Inam survived the bloodbath.

‘When I received the phone call saying your family has been attacked, I came back to Butterworth,” Noxolo told me as tear dribbled from her eyes. ‘I get into the hospital and saw my mother’. Noxolo was too distressful to describe what she saw. but pointed to her neck and at the back of her head indicating where they were hit.

Her young brother Inam who survived the brutal attack is also too traumatised to talk about what he saw happened that night. He suffered an axe blow to his head. he’s being left with some paralysis, on the right side of his body.

It’s just over 6 months since the attack in which 12-year-old Inam’s mother, sister and baby-nephew died. That he survived is a miracle says his grandmother, who now looks after him.

And Inam does have dreams for his future.

“I want to work when I grow up,” he told me. “I want to be a head teacher.”

Some of the villagers have left their homes and sought shelter in nearby villages and towns.

Others are now seeking safety in numbers, sleeping in groups at night to protect themselves. They set up a women’s refuge in response to one of the worst episodes of killings in the country.

The women sing and pray together. “Every time someone knocked at the door we’d ask ‘who’s there?’ they told me. “We have not slept well for a long time. We were afraid that the murderer was upon us.”

“This things that have happened in this village are heartbreaking. There isn’t any laughter left in us. We have cried to the Lord asking Him to protect us.”

In 2011, two female relatives of Sandsani Gomba were murdered. He took me back to the room where Nomvuyiseko and Siyathandi died.

“When I got into the house, I saw my sister and her granddaughter, lying on bed soaked with blood,” said Sandsani.
“There was blood everywhere… my God!”

All the men in Tholeni became suspect and had to have their DNA tested by the police. Paranoia spread among the villagers.

“We were all accusing each other within the village.”

Meanwhile, the search for the serial killer was stamping the police. I took them five years but they finally made an arrest last year.

The suspected serial killer Bulelani Mabhayi, who has been in custody since his arrest on August 12 2012, appeared in court last week and has been referred to a Psychiatric Hospital for mental assessment. 

Police have since formed a task team to investigate the murders. Butterworth police spokesman Captain Jackson Manatha said: “This is a wonderful job and I call it the breakthrough of the century.”

“For the past five years, nobody came forward but because Butterworth Police are the most intelligent in the country, cleverest police officers in South Africa; it was police intelligence-driven information. That’s how he arrest came.”

The 39-year-old suspect is facing 23 counts of murder, eight counts of housebreaking and five of rape. The counts of murder all relate to the killing of women and children in Tholeni. The trial starts on March 5, 2013.