A Gauteng community is tearing itself apart as neighbours turn on neighbours and police flee from airborne stones.
Residents are on edge after the bodies of two children, aged six and eight, were discovered at the weekend. This follows the murder of two children in April and June. Residents said they will march on the local police station today to demand action.
Orange Farm is one of the youngest townships in SA and is rapidly expanding.
You travel to the area by taking the Golden Highway from the Johannesburg CBD past Soweto, Devland, Ennerdale and Vlakfontein before the road reveals an expansive open area leading into the Free State.
Orange Farm is Johannesburg’s southernmost township with the feel of a small community — fenced properties sporting fine lawns, topiary bushes and flowers.
From the outside it appears to be a wonderful place to raise children, with several schools in the area and space to play.
But most children will spend their time indoors after the recent murders.
Mpho Makondo, 8, and her neighbour Simphiwe Mncina, 6, were found murdered early on Saturday after they had been reported missing the night before.
Police said the motive for their murders will be determined by postmortems. Family members said they have been visited by the police Occult Unit.
Both families were at a pathology laboratory on Tuesday to identify the bodies when TimesLIVE visited the area. Family members in the Mncina household asked us to return when family elders were present to speak.
The Makondos, four generations of a close-knit family, shared what they knew about the day the two children disappeared.
Family spokesperson Eric Peete, uncle of Makondo’s father, Moeketsi Malajtie, said the children were best of friends and spent most days playing together.
On Friday at around 6.30pm, Makondo’s aunt, Malehlohonolo Malatjie, went to a salon on the corner of their road in Extension 4.
Only 150m away from home, the children often went with Malatjie when she had her hair done there.
A few minutes into her treatment, the electricity went off, so Malajtie thought it best to walk the children back home as it was too dark to play outside.
Peete said: “She was three houses away from the family home when she stopped and watched the children enter the property. Once they were inside she went back to the salon.
“We think what happened then was that Mpho wanted to take Simphiwe home and they left the premises again.”
When Malajtie arrived home, Makondo’s grandfather, Thabisang Malatjie, head of the household, asked where the children were.
“That’s when we realised they were missing,” Peete said.
“The family went to Simphiwe’s house in a panic, but they were not there ether. The community came out in numbers and searched everywhere near the home.
“At 2.30am on Saturday the children were reported missing at the police station. The police acted immediately and began searching. At 4am they said they could not continue searching with us as the area we were starting to enter had suffered a complete blackout and was too dark to work in.”
The family went back home to regroup.
Phindile Peete, Moeketsi Malajtie’s aunt, said on Saturday morning at around 5.45am a community member screamed into the family room “come quickly”.
“I tried to run fast because the little children were in front of me and I didn’t want them to see what the community had found,” Phindile said.
The destination was a popular tavern in Extension 4. The same tavern where the body of Mzwandile Zitho, 5, was discovered on April 15.
“The street was full of people. I saw a child’s body [Mncina was found first] covered by the community on the grass opposite the tavern.”
Phindile grew emotional when she recalled how Makondo’s body was discovered 100m away.
“I can still see it in my head. It’s so painful.
“There was screaming and crying, ‘they have killed her’. She was lying hidden after they dumped her under a big rock. She had no clothes on.”
Peete said there was a note found on Mncina’s body. It is unknown as yet what was written on it.
The family believe both children and the boy killed in April were murdered for muthi purposes.
Although sister publication SowetanLIVE reported Makondo and Mncina had a black substance on their mouths, Phindile said she had no knowledge of this because she did not want look too closely at the horrendous sight.
While the family spoke to TimesLIVE, Makondo’s father sat silent; it seemed there were no words to describe how he felt.
His great grandmother, Esta Mosesane, took over for him.
“We just want justice. It’s painful and we are hurting. We want these guys to be arrested and to serve long terms in prison.
“Mpho was in Grade 3 at Madume Primary School. She was very clever and talkative. She liked to play teacher-teacher, and I believe she wanted to teach when she grew up.
“We just don’t trust anyone these days,” she said as her thoughts went to the other children who died in Orange Farm.
Mzwandile Zitho’s body was discovered on April 15 at 10pm, hours after he was reported missing by his grandmother.
According to police spokesperson Capt Kay Makhubele, he was found naked in an upright position next to a fridge in a tavern on the same road on which the bodies of Makondo and Mncina were found.
According to his grandmother, a bottle of muthi was found on the scene.
A tavern owner and his wife were arrested for the crime but the charges were withdrawn on August 28.
Ansia Kheha, 3, was found stuffed in a plastic bin after she went missing on June 18. Her death differs slightly but is no less horrific for her family and the community.
An informal waste picker found her body in a field with a stab wound in her upper body.
These crimes are yet to be solved.
Heightened tensions lead to false accusations
During our interview with the family, a three-year-old boy was reported missing after being seen at Makondo’s school, Madume Primary, at 12pm.
When the reporter arrived at the school, a large gathering had formed. The information from the community was that a man had last been seen with the boy.
Then shouts rang out. Hundreds of people flowed between buildings and into a wetland area created from storm water drainage and sewage overflows in a dip the township.
The man, it was alleged, had been chased into the wetland and was hiding among tall reeds.
Men carrying machetes and axes entered the reeds and the crowd cheered when a machete was thrown into the vegetation.
But a Grey Herron and not a crouching man was discovered. The bird was kicked into the air and a cricket bat was brought down, breaking its back. A man tossed the broken body into a pool of mud and another ended its suffering with an axe. A gruesome reminder of what would happen to anyone caught in the reeds that day.
A single shot was fired from the opposite side of the area, causing women with children to leave for their safety. Then a fire was started to smoke out the suspect.
— Alex Sweet Patrick (@IamAlexSweet) September 22, 2020
The sentiment in the crowd was that police should have been there to help the community catch the alleged kidnapper.
Community member Bongani Thlubi said he had alerted police about the man in the reeds, but was “belittled” by them.
He said the community was sure the man in the reeds was the perpetrator because someone had chased him there.
Resident Ntombo Faku said: “Why aren’t police here helping us? We are always doing the work. We cannot go on like this. The community is grieving. We will toyi-toyi for the police station to close.”
While the reeds burned, a police vehicle entered the scene.
An officer, who did not want to be named, was driving past on his way to deliver a mother and her three-year-old child back home.
When told the community was trying to flush out a man in the reeds, he responded: “The mother and her child are here with me. The child was never taken. His mother panicked when she couldn’t find him. He was playing. Now an innocent man will die for nothing.”
Orange Farm earlier today. Police arrive on scene with the toddler who went missing and his mother. They said the child was never abducted. The community was having none of it. @TimesLIVE @SundayTimesZA pic.twitter.com/p9bLBKFXnd
— Alex Sweet Patrick (@IamAlexSweet) September 22, 2020
The vehicle left the scene as stones rained down. Police were no longer welcome.
The man in the reeds was never found.
• The funerals of Mpho Makondo and Simphiwe Mncina will be held at the Multipurpose Centre in Extension 4 at 7.30am.
BY Alex Patrick