A dark cloud hung over Matukeng yesterday following the gruesome murder of three members of the same family and the severe assault of two others, amid accusations of witchcraft.
According to neighbours who spoke to the Sunday Express, four men reportedly broke into where the five family members were asleep at around 2am, and attacked them with stones, knives and sticks before setting the house on fire.
When the Sunday Express crew visited the home yesterday morning, smoke was still billowing from the smouldering rubble of the two-bedroomed house built a few metres from the highway leading to the Maseru South West suburb.
Police suspect the arson, murder and attempted murder was sparked by suspicions that one of the victims bewitched a 19-year-old man who died on March 6 in Butha-Buthe.
The Officer Commanding Maseru District, Senior Superintendent Mofokeng Kolo yesterday afternoon led a team of officers who raided the home of the suspects and picked three of them for questioning.
“We will soon get to the bottom of the matter and ensure the perpetrators are brought to book,” Kolo said.
Kolo said the teen in question had died at the home of a certain popular Butha-Buthe traditional healer where some family members had taken him suspecting his sickness had been caused by witchcraft.
“Right now, we are dealing with the crimes that have been committed but soon, our investigations are going to widen and closely look at what triggered this attack. We are going to follow up every claim that is going to be made and decide on the action to take based on the evidence we would have gathered,” Kolo said.
However, one of the victims, who could not be identified since her next of kin had not been notified, was 75-year-old ‘Mamokhathi Binyane who also happened to be the owner of the burnt house.
She and her two nieces, aged 21 and four, were all burnt beyond recognition.
The late Binyane’s sister, ‘Mamojalefa Nthako, 70, and her 28-year-old niece ‘Mahali, who were also sleeping in the same house, survived the attack and are now battling for their lives at the Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital.
Neighbours and some family members who were at the funeral yesterday expressed shock at the attack they said was the first of such magnitude in their neighbourhood.
“It is frightening that this level of barbarism can happen here in Matukeng. Lives have been lost and what have the perpetrators benefitted apart from stirring more anger and hatred?” one neighbour asked, shaking her head in exasperation.
Other neighbours said they had heard nothing when the attack was taking place and only woke up when they saw light and suspected there was a house on fire.
However, according to one of the victims, ‘Mamojalefa Nthako, who spoke from her hospital bed, they all woke up following some loud bangs on the door.
“It sounded like they were hitting the door with a blunt object or large stone.
“We all woke up and enquired who was knocking at such hour, but we became frightened when there was no answer.
“Then suddenly, the door was kicked in and I could see four men armed with knives, stones and sticks. They started beating us but never said what crime we had committed. My four-year-old niece was also beaten up with the same weapons used on us,” Nthako, who was struggling to breathe and had a tube draining fluids from her lungs, said.
Nthako explained she was stabbed twice around the chest and also struck on her head several times with a stick. “It was a bit dark and I am not quite sure who attacked us. I am lucky to be alive because I could tell from their anger that they wanted us all dead.”
Nthako said after the assault, the gang sprinkled petrol around the two-roomed house, including on the blankets they were sitting on, before setting the house on fire. She suspects her sister and two nieces who died, might have been unconscious or dead as a result of the beating when the house was set alight.
“I don’t know how I managed to drag my battered and bloody body outside in that smoke and heat. But by the grace of God, I managed to crawl to my neighbour’s house and reported what had happened,” she said.
The Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital unit manager ‘Mahlompho Lekhoro said they had managed to stabilise Nthako’s condition following the serious chest and head injuries she suffered. However, Lekhoro could not say the same about the niece ‘Mahali who was admitted in the intensive care unit.
“I cannot say the same about her niece; she is still in a very critical condition,” Lekhoro said.
According to Lekhoro, ‘Mahali suffered 53-percent burns.
“She sustained severe burns all over her body. We are doing the best we can to stabilise her condition.”
In the ICU, ‘Mahali lay helpless with bandages on her face and head. Only tiny spaces for the eyes could be seen while a tube was inserted through her mouth.
Her whole body also had a special covering as she lay motionless yesterday.