“The entire village will kill itself.”
These were the chilling, desperate words of Emalahleni municipality mayor Ntombizanele Koni speaking at Zingqolweni village in Cacadu (formerly Lady Frere), where an extraordinary war over drugs and money is ripping a once close-knit Eastern Cape community apart.
On Wednesday night, six men aged between 21 to 27 were slain by an angry mob — local community and council leaders said the older people in the community had struck back against a gang, the Amaphara.
Since December, seven elderly people, mostly women living alone, have been killed in the village.
It is believed Wednesday’s “executions” were done by enraged villagers who wanted revenge.
At the heart of it all, said sources, was the slaughter of the elderly, allegedly for their grant money — to satisfy drug cravings.
The death toll in three months stands at 13.
A seventh man is fighting for his life after he suffered severe burn and assault injuries on Wednesday night.
Provincial police commissioner Lt-Gen Liziwe Ntshinga ordered a 72-hour activation plan.
She said: “My forces are not going to sleep until the heartless criminals are found. Mob justice remains a serious offence and those who continue to engage in vigilante-style activities must face the consequences of their actions.”
Community leaders said the police were well aware of the tension in the village and that previous interventions had failed.
Police spokesperson Brig Tembinkosi Kinana, said the mob killing happened at Zingqolweni and neighbouring Maqhashu village at about 5.45pm.
Kinana said: “Police were alerted by a community member of four young men who had been burnt alive in the open veld.
“As they were working at the scene another report arrived of two more bodies of young men found hanged in the nearby forest in the Maqhashu administrative area.”
A once peaceful village was now the epicentre of murder, rape and drugs, said mayor Koni, ward councillor and resident Cecil Bobotyane and headman Mzimasi Nqwenani.
Bobotyane said: “The community of Zingqolweni fears more bloodshed after this week’s killings. We call on the police to act swiftly to protect lives.
“The young men were accused of terrorising elderly villagers, robbing them of their old age social grants, killing and raping others and creating havoc in the community.
“It is believed the community became fed up and protected themselves from the rule of terror from the Amaphara, as they call them.”
Bobotyane, Koni and Nqwenani called on the community to not take the law into their own hands.
Koni said: “I have been to this village many times, with government leaders and SAPS provincial management, led by Ntshinga. A large contingent of police was deployed to instil law and order.
“But, soon after they left, the killing and rape of elderly people resumed. But we urge our people not to make things worse by taking the law into their own hands with revenge killings.
“This will not help, but will make it worse and the entire village will kill itself. We need cool heads, and no more bloodshed; two wrongs cannot make a right.”
A large contingent of police has occupied the village. There was tension when police tried to address a group of men.
The men said if the police tried to arrest one of them, they would have to arrest all the men of the village.
Slain Bubele Pupu’s mother Nokhwezi, 64, said her son and another man had been hanged in the forest with wire, doused with petrol and set alight.
Bobotyane said the community knew the young men to be Mphumezi Maliwa, John Gingqini, Khananda Nkunkumana, Xolani Mhlomi, Bubele Pupu and Yongama Mbovane.
Bobotyane named those who had been slain and robbed in the past as: Gcobile Fihla, 60, killed on December 1; Nowezile Mbovane, 78, killed on January 4; Nozaziyedwa Nontyida, 68; Nosizwe Victoria Yawa, 68; Mthemkana Mpoqane, 88; Nowezile Khuphiso also called Nomsisi Somkhosi, 82 — all slain on February 1.
“A seventh elderly deceased Mthuthuzeli Mfinyongo, no age given, went missing after he was last seen drawing his old age grant on April 7. His decomposing body, full of stab wounds, was found in his locked house six days later.”
It is believed this discovery triggered the community’s rage. Villagers allegedly gathered at a large open-air meeting and vowed to hunt down members of the Amaphara gang.
Both Bobotyane and Nqwenani said the killings had created a siege mentality.
Nqwenani said: “I fear more bloodshed. This village is in turmoil. We live in fear. These are the people I lead and I cannot be proud of leading a community where people are killed like dogs.
“I urge police minister Bheki Cele and the provincial police leaders to instil law and order in this village before we are all killed.”