Friday, 1 April 2016

Killed for their body parts


 

The body of a male is carried from the spot where it was discovered by residents in George Township. Picture courtesy Chanda Mwenya
 
 
JACK ZIMBA

“THIS is where we found one of the bodies,” says Mason Zulu, pointing to a spot in the middle of a road that resembles a stream.
The rains have washed the spot, and there is now no visible sign of the cruel crime it presented just a few days before. But the residents of Lilanda and neighbouring George townships are still reeling from the shock of the macabre sight of four disfigured bodies littered around the two sprawling townships, west of Lusaka.
The four male victims were killed in the area or had their bodies dumped there by their assailants, who harvested some body parts – eyes, ears, tongues and sexual organs. Many residents link the murders to people seeking fortune charms from witchdoctors.
All victims were poor and could not have been killed for their possessions.
It also seems that the victims had one thing in common on the fateful night of March 16: football.
That Wednesday night, Erias Longa left home to watch Champions League matches at a drinking place called Makaveli, about 300 metres away. The Spanish side Barcelona was playing against Arsenal, while Bayern Munich were facing Juventus. Both matches started at 21:45 hours and could normally have ended about 23:45 hours.
But forced into extra time, the match between Bayern Munich and Juventus ended about 00:15 hours, the time Erias, who was aged 19, would probably have left the joint to walk back home where he lived with his single mother.
His friend had left the sleazy joint when the games reached half-time, but Erias is said to have insisted on staying until the two matches ended.
He never made it back home. His mutilated body was found midway between Makaveli and his home.
Erias’ mother, Cecilia Longa, woke up on Thursday morning to the terrifying news about bodies discovered in the township and she joined a crowd of curious residents that had surrounded one of the bodies that lay 100 metres from her derelict two-room house.
The young mother could not recognise her own son and she moved on to another spot about 200 metres away, where another body lay.
Such was the brutality of the killings that the victims were hardly recognisable, even to their close relatives. The killers bludgeoned their victims to death with blunt objects such as stones, before conducting the gory surgery of removing some body parts.
“His face was smashed, that is why I couldn’t recognise him. They killed my son like an animal,” says Ms Longa, holding back tears.
Erias was an only child of the young mother, and the family’s breadwinner. 
BODY OF EVIDENCE
Boris Mzumara was a 31-year-old divorced father-of-one of no fixed abode. He made a rough living doing odd jobs. His body was discovered near a stream.
His face was so disfigured that he could only be identified by the clothes he was wearing the night he met his fate – a blue jean trousers and green T-shirt.
At his brother’s house, perched on a hill at the edge of Old Chingwere Cemetery, Boris’ family struggles to come to terms with the gruesome murder. His freshly-dug grave lies just 300 metres from the house where his family and friends had gathered to mourn his death.
“It is a strange experience, a dark hour in our family. My nephew died a terrible death,” says Boris’ uncle, Musunga Chileshe.
Mr Chileshe was informed about Boris’ death by his neighbour three days after the murders happened.
And then there was William Chela, a 38-year-old bus conductor who lived alone after divorcing with his wife some years back. He, too, was an ardent fan of European football and after his violent death, a black Chelsea wrist band and copper bracelet, would help friends to ID him at the mortuary, as his face was smashed beyond recognition.
Mr Chela’s body was the first to be discovered in the wee hours of Thursday, March 17, by a young woman dropping off from a taxi. The woman, who lives in the same yard where the bus conductor lived, had been out watching the football games.
Mr Chela’s body was deposited right on the doorstep of his small house. 
Police were called in and they would discover three more bodies within a radius of about two kilometres.
A streak of blood on the ground from where Mr Chela’s body lay, led to another body; that of 25-year-old Alex Zulu, a poor fella who sold brooms for a living.
On the night of the murders, Mr Zulu had been out watching football at a drinking place with his housemate. The two parted before the games ended. The victim is said to have gone to the loo but never returned.
ORGANISED CRIME
And before the community in Lilanda and George could comprehend the gruesome deaths, another body was picked near a market on Sunday, March 27. The victim, who had a gush to his head and severed ear, is believed to have been in his 30s.
Then yesterday, another man, only identified as Nkole, was killed at a tavern in George Township around 04:00 hours, while another is nursing a cut to the head.
According to the surviving victim, Crispin Sianganjo, three men entered the room where the two were sleeping, struck his friend on the head with a wooden object then turned on him.
He says one of the attackers was wearing a long green coat with the word “POLICE” written on it and police boots.
“One of them was carrying a gun,” he says.
Crispin hid from the attackers after they started searching for money in an adjacent room.
Nkole worked as a bus conductor.
These recent killings have the hallmark of organised crime, and have heightened fears among residents that there could be a syndicate working with witchdoctors for the supply of body parts.
In Tanzania, albinos are targeted by witchdoctors who believe that their body parts can be used in charms to bring fortune.
In December last year, a 36-year-old albino Jeffrey Sikanyai, had his arm chopped off and left to die of his wound. His body was discovered in Lusaka’s Zani Muone.
His death remains a mystery to his family and the nation.
And there is now a spike in cases of murders where victims have been discovered with some body parts missing, especially in Lusaka.
On February 18, a body was discovered in a hole at a farm in Chamba Valley. The decomposed body belonged to a male in his mid-30s.
And like the bodies discovered in George Township, the body in Chamba Valley also had missing parts.
Could these be related?
So many questions surround the murders.
Were the victims randomly picked?
If so, then why did the killers dump Mr Chela’s body at the doorstep of his little house?
Meanwhile, the four murders have also refreshed people’s memories of Ruth Mbandu, a beautiful college student who was brutally murdered and had her face peeled off in July 2012. But the question still remains why the lead in the investigation suddenly went cold.
Investigations into other such killings have equally not led to any arrests.
Police say investigations into the murders in George Township are still ongoing and no arrests have been made so far.
Ms Longa now prays to God for the arrest of her son’s killers.
“I know God will answer my prayers,” the grief-stricken mother says.