Cult believed to be behind Umtata graves

Eastern Province Herald (South Africa), June 24, 2003
By Madoda Dyonana

A mysterious religious cult is said to be behind the discovery of eight shallow graves at Mandela Park informal settlement here last week.

In the Umtata magistrate’s court yesterday, 12 men facing charges of concealment of deaths were granted R300 bail each.

No formal charges have yet been laid against them.

The grave site falls within the compound of a religious sect which forbids its members to work or attend school.

Cult members reportedly spend all their time worshipping, claiming that they are awaiting the return of Jesus Christ.

It is thought the worshippers, including young children, might have fasted for a number of days as part of the ritual.

The bodies of those buried could be exhumed today after an exhumation order has been obtained.

But locals in Mandela Park, 3km from the centre of Umtata, said they had suspected something was wrong with the church’s practices as its members were not allowed to work.

They said children were forbidden to attend school or access social security grants.

Mkhuseli Nokhwali, whose son Phikolomzi has reportedly died, said Phikolomzi had left home to stay in the church about eight years ago and never came back.

“I was so shocked to hear that my son passed away and received a pauper’s burial. I believe it’s the work of the devil.”

Nokhwali described his son as someone who appeared possessed by certain spirits.

“He never wanted to listen to anyone about his dangerous religion.”

The two houses used by the church were being protected by the police.

Visibly shocked locals said: “We can’t believe this has been happening in our own back yard. We want to see this house demolished.”

Another resident, Nozuko Diko, said she felt traumatised by the incident: “It’s a shame that people could use God’s name to practise evil,” she said.

Community leader Jongisizwe Ndzambule said the community had been aware of the illegal burial after relatives of one of those who had disappeared visited the church last week, alleging their son was buried there.

After a complaint had been made, police made 14 arrests.

Ndzambule said church leader Nokulunga Fiphaza had disappeared with most of the congregation. Those left behind were being housed by community leaders.

Most of the members came from Port Elizabeth, East London and other parts of the Transkei.

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