AN EASTERN Cape community devastated by a spate of killings will have to relive the trauma from today as a man suspected of being one of the worst serial killers in South African history goes on trial.
Bulelani Mabhayi, 39, will appear in the Butterworth Magistrate’s Court for allegedly terrorising the people of Tholeni, a village that became known as the “village of death”.
Mabhayi faces 37 criminal charges – 23 of them murder.
Police spokesman Captain Jackson Manatha said Mabhayi is charged with a number of unsolved rape and murder cases that had the people of Tholeni living in fear from 2008.
Despite Mabhayi’s arrest and imminent trial, people of Tholeni village continue to live in fear.
Theron Mxunyelwa told the Daily Dispatch three members of his family had been hacked to death, allegedly by Mabhayi. A fourth, a teenage boy, barely survived and is now brain damaged.
Mxunyelwa’s niece Noxolo said both her mother and one-year-old son were hacked to death.
“I was away and my mother was looking after my son,” she said, before she abruptly stopped speaking.
Mxunyelwa said Noxolo was afraid and traumatised by the murders.
Pointing at the Dispatch reporter’s feet, Mxunyelwa said: “This is where we found them in a pool of blood.”
He stood only metres from a Department of Justice imbizo tent, erected as part of the launch of South Africa’s first new Sexual Offences Court at the Butterworth Magistrate’s Court on Friday.
If found guilty of the 23 murder charges brought against him, Mabhayi will be among South Africa’s top three serial killers in the country’s known history, and the worst in more than a decade.
The “South African Strangler” Moses Sithole raped and murdered at least 38 women before he was arrested in 1995. Sithole was convicted of the murders and another 40 rapes, and sentenced to 2410 years imprisonment in 1997.
Mabhayi is related to convicted murderer Mqwalaseli Mabhayi, who was last year sentenced to two life terms and an additional 10 years for the murder of a 70-year-old Tholeni woman and her 12-year-old granddaughter.
Mxunyelwa said he feared for the future of Tholeni.
“Many families here still live with this pain, and what if he [Mabhayi] wasn’t the only killer?”
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe on Friday expressed the government’s condolences and solidarity with the Butterworth community for the brutal killing of the villagers.
In an exclusive interview with the Dispatch, Radebe said the allegations against Mabhayi, if true, were “heinous”.
“Justice must take its course, and if proven guilty, Mabhayi must face the harshest sanction possible under South African law.”
The minister spoke to the Dispatch shortly after launching South Africa’s first new Sexual Offences Court in Butterworth.
Radebe, his deputy minister Andries Nel, and Eastern Cape MEC for social development Pemmy Majodina, among others, spoke at the imbizo in Tholeni village.
“We express our deepest heartfelt condolences with the Tholeni community,” Radebe said, adding Tholeni was intentionally chosen as the site for the imbizo.
Mabhayi was nabbed by police in August last year, shortly after he allegedly murdered an elderly Tholeni woman the week before.
His arrest came a few hours after police discovered the body of Nophumzile Lubambo who had been hacked to death in her sleep.
Her death brought to 19 the number of people killed in the village since 2008.
Mabhayi will appear in court today in a special sitting of the Mthatha High Court in Butterworth, arranged in order to provide the families of the Tholeni victims the opportunity to sit in on the trial proceedings.
Please read the read of the story at the Daily Dispatch.