Members of the police and residents combed the mountains and rivers in search of the 79-year-old Gerson Sikhiphathe, who went missing on 19 August, but he could not be located. Inset: The 79-year-old Gerson Sikhipha. Photos supplied.
The disappearance of the 79-year-old Gerson Sikhipha of Tshitavha Sambandou Village outside Thohoyandou has rekindled rumours that something sinister is happening in the area. Sikhipha went missing on Thursday morning (19 August) and has not been seen since.
Over the course of the weekend after his disappearance, the police and members of the community combed the mountains and rivers in search of the old man, but he could not be located.
One of the many concerned residents, who wished to remain anonymous, said the community lived in fear. Despite an outcry over crimes, including ritual murders, in this area nothing seems to be done to curb it.
“We wrote and called all relevant offices; we even escalated our pleas to the office of the President, but with no positive results. We went as far as to send our proposals on what could be done to the different offices, but nothing happened, and we are not taken seriously,” he said.
Another community member said they were tired of people being killed and disappearing without a trace. “We have remained peaceful all along. These people are testing our patience; soon we will go for them, and no-one will like what happens then. The law is failing us, and we will be forced to do things our way,” he threatened.
Tshitavha Sambandou Village has been home to many strange and mysterious happenings. In 2017, the village made headlines when grave robbers were caught allegedly desecrating graves and stealing body parts from corpses. Five people were arrested, among them two traditional healers, who stand accused of violating graves and corpses and defeating the ends of justice.
Traditional healers Erick Kwinda (49) and Avhapfani Nemungadi (42), Daniel Nephawe (23), Colbert Nemasisi (29) and secondary school learner Mathadzhila Munyai (20) were all arrested at different locations. Nephawe was arrested in the Western Cape at a house that belonged to Erick Kwinda. These cases are still ongoing, and the suspects have all been released on bail.
Munyai and his father, Ceazear Mutele Munyai, who was a well-known Sangoma in the area, were both killed by an angry mob at Ha Mutele B Village earlier this year. They were accused of being involved with the disappearance of another person. Ceazear was in fact accused of being the one who had ordered his son to do the grave diggings, yet he was never charged.
The shocking revelations that body parts from corpses were being sold came to light after a 17-year-old former girlfriend of one of the accused confided in members of the community about how she and her boyfriend had dug up graves at night. The body parts, she alleged, were later sold to traditional healers.
As if that was not enough, the village experienced a series of people disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Some of them were found murdered in the bushes while others have not been found at all. Many of these cases have been associated with ritual murders – something that has become rife in the area.
Since 2005, at least 15 people have disappeared or died under mysterious circumstances.
The body of Phathutshedzo Netshilavulu (26) was discovered hanging from a tree in the mountainous area last year. He was reported missing on 21 August 2020, after he did not return home the previous day. His mother, Ms Netshilavulu, was very suspicious about the circumstances surrounding his death. “He was discovered ten days after he had disappeared, yet his body was not in a decomposed state,” she said. “I suspect he might have been ritually murdered and hanged (there) only a few days before he was found.”
Date:03 September 2021 - By: Maanda Bele
Maanda Bele, born and raised in Nzhelele Siloam, studied journalism at the Tshwane University of Technology.
He is passionate about current news and international affairs.
He worked as part of the Zoutnet team as an intern in 2017.
He is currently a freelance journalist specialising in news from the Vhembe district.