10 family members murdered in KZN at behest of sangoma for ‘cleansing ritual’

The crime scene where 10 members of the Memela family were shot and killed while they were asleep on Thursday midnight. Picture: Bongani Hans

The crime scene where 10 members of the Memela family were shot and killed while they were asleep on Thursday midnight. Picture: Bongani Hans

Published Apr 23, 2023


A mass killing of 10 family members in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal at midnight on Thursday has been linked to a cleansing ritual involving a foreign national traditional healer.

It is also believed that gunmen took advantage of darkness caused by Eskom’s rolling load shedding.

Among the Memela family members who were killed were heavily pregnant Nana Memela and her disabled sister, Fikile.

According to Police Minister Bheki Cele, police had at the scene established that the killers had been assigned by a traditional healer from eSwatini to do the killing as part of a cleansing ritual.

Cele told the media that the suspected gunman that police later killed in a gunfire exchange “was a highly wanted person, police have been after him for some time.

“The link is the information that the police received that those people who shot here (at Memelas) are there doing a cleansing activity.

“So, scientifically, forensically (and) ballistically they will be linking that, but the information that was given in this crime scene immediately led to what they told the police and they found exactly that.

“As police approached that particular area (where suspects were located) they encountered the exchange of fire, and indeed, those people were found to be doing cleansing there, (and) it has been confirmed by one of them (an arrested suspect) that their inyanga (traditional healer) that comes from Swaziland ... and the police are going to be looking for that inyanga,” said Cele.

The shooting in Imbali township’s unit 14 happened less than a year after another shooting in the capital city’s Sweetwaters village which claimed the lives of four patrons and left eight others wounded at the Samkelisiwe Tavern in July last year.

The Memela family believed that load shedding made it easier for two assailants to enter their property, break into the house unnoticed and shoot the victims who were faster asleep.

“They took the advantage of the load shedding to attack, knowing that they would not be seen,” said a family member who asked not to be identified for fear of her life.

The family member lives in her own house a short distance away from the crime scene and believed that had she spent the night at the house with the deceased as she normally does, she would have been also killed.

Sunday Independent was sent a voice clip circulating on a WhatsApp group that the shooting followed a fight that broke out near Ikusaselihle High School on Thursday morning, which led to the suspension of learning and teaching on Friday.

According to the voice clip, a group of people, including pupils from the school, were engaged in a fight which led to a man being stabbed.

The lessons were suspended in fear that pupils, who were involved in the fight, might be attacked while inside the school premises.

“My worry is that this fight involved the pupils from the school and that some people might come to attack the pupils inside the school premises,” said the voice clip of a person believed to be a school official.

Local residents confirmed the fight at school, but the Memelas believed that it was not linked to the murder.

Among the Memelas who were killed was unemployed Beatrice Memela, the head of the family who was in her late 50s. She was still mourning the murder of her husband Themba Memela who was shot at his home late last year.

Although Nomfundo and Aphelele Memela were pupils at Ikusaselihle school, the family does not believe that they were involved in the earlier fight.

“Now, we are helpless and wondering how we are going to bury all these people, since no one is employed in the family,” said another family member.

Pietermaritzburg is known for sporadic mass shootings mainly involving business and drug trade competition.

“But I don’t know what was the cause of this attack now and last year since no one in this family is involved in any kind of business.

“Ever since my uncle (Themba) was killed in November last year we have been living in fear, but with this attack, the fear is worse,” said the family member.

Talking to the media ahead of Cele’s arrival at the scene, KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker confirmed that the shooting took place while there was load shedding in the area.

He said three males and seven females were killed. It seems the motive was murder and not robbery, since Naicker believed the attackers did not steal anything from the house.

The province had been engulfed with murders involving shootings in the recent past. This includes traditional leaders such as 63-year-old Induna of KwaNxamalala tribal authority Qalokunye Zuma who was gunned down in front of his family members in January. This was followed by the murder of Induna David Mkhize, who was a prominent leader of King Misuzulu’s traditional regiments in Umbumbulu village, south of Durban, in February.

Naicker told the media that the shootings were widespread in KwaZulu-Natal and unrelated and were linked to “much bigger social problems” which he said police alone could not solve.

Sunday Independent