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South Africa’s sugar cane murders: Living in fear of serial killings



A sugar-growing community in South Africa is reeling after the bodies of five women aged between 16 and 38 were discovered dumped on farms, writes the BBC’s Kyla Herrmannsen.

Illuminated by the flickering of a small candle, Zama Chiliza’s relatives sit in mourning.

Items of her clothing – a white top and skirt – are laid out on a mattress on the floor, as is customary practice.

The candle is placed where her head would be – symbolising the presence of her soul. Until she is buried, this candle will burn day and night.

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The family now in mourning feared the worst after Zama Chiliza went missing in July

The 38-year-old went missing on 6 July, last seen on her way to the local supermarket, Boxer, in Mthwalume, a rural area about 90km (55 miles) south of the city of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal province.

“We were anticipating the worst… as each day passed, we started doubting she would come back alive,” admits her relative Musawakhe Khambule after initial police searches yielded no results.

‘She became a statistic’

Her family’s fears were confirmed on 11 August – five weeks after her disappearance – when a body was stumbled upon by women collecting wood on an abandoned part of a sugar cane farm on the outskirts of Mthwalume town.

A short walk into a forest-like part of the farm leads to the base of a tree where Ms Chiliza’s remains were discovered – the large leaves used to hastily hide them are still at the scene.

“Her body was already decomposing. But we found the lead from her identity document,” says Mr Khambule.

He described her as humble, cheeky at times but quiet – not the sort of person to get into trouble as she was focused on looking after her 15-year-old daughter.

“She really was that type of person that loved her family, she loved her child so much, she would always be with her,” says Mr Khambule.

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Pressure mounted on the police after the fifth body was found in mid August

The family had been aware that the bodies of some women had been found in the area months prior Ms Chiliza’s disappearance – but they never anticipated she would fall victim to such a gruesome fate.

“These deaths started happening while Zama was still alive. We would hear about the horrific murders. At some stage Zama and I even discussed these mysterious killings and had our own theories about them,” says Mr Khambule.

“We were really worried when she disappeared,” he admits, adding: “We woke up one day to be told that Zama had become a statistic.”

Women under attack in South Africa:

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Media captionThembi Maphanga was doused in petrol and set alight by her partner

Indeed South Africa has among the world’s highest crime rates – and last year President Cyril Ramaphosa himself admitted that the country was one of “the most unsafe places in the world to be a woman”.

Despite overall crime dropping during the first few months of a strict lockdown in the country, there have been several horrific cases of recently reported femicides.

Ms Chiliza’s body, the fourth to have been found in Mthwalume between April and August, made police suspect a serial killer was at work – and officers continued to search the area.

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Siyabonga Gasa says three of the bodies have been found on his sugar cane farm

Aided by sniffer dogs, they found another badly decomposed body of a woman the very next day on the same farm owned by Siyabonga Gasa.

Mr Gasa says the body was badly mutilated. Police have not said if any of the murdered women were sexually assaulted.

Three of the bodies were found on his farm and two on the neighbouring farm.

The scene is now marked by police tape, a wooden cross and a few bunches of flowers. Local women continue to gather there to hold prayer meetings, their mournful songs competing with the heavy wind.

‘No bail, rot in jail’

With fears of a serial killer on the loose, pressure mounted on the police, who arrested two suspects for questioning two days after the fifth body – which has yet to be identified – was found.

By Monday 17 August, six days after the discovery of Zama Chiliza, an angry crowd gathered outside the Mzumbe Magistrate’s Court in Mthwalume in anticipation of catching a glimpse of the suspects.

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Prayers sessions continue to be held for the vicims

“No bail, rot in jail” some of their placards read.

As their numbers swelled and their voices were raised in song, news spread that one of the suspects had allegedly taken his own life in police holding cells.

It was then confirmed that the remaining suspect would not be charged because of insufficient evidence.

This angered the crowd even more and under heavy police escort with sirens blazing, National Police Minister General Bheki Cele arrived to try and calm them down.

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This mobile polices station has been set up in Mthwalume town

He explained that the man who had allegedly taken his own life had confessed to the murders.

Yet his revelation that there might be more dead bodies to be found caused more unease – especially as locals, like Mr Gasa, think the man who confessed could not have been working alone.

“It’s clear that they were killed elsewhere and dumped in the farm,” he said.

“For you to carry one person on your own it’s impossible, you can’t, so this person who is responsible for these murders first of all they need to have a car to transport. The suspect who committed suicide did not own a vehicle – so who assisted him to transport these victims?”

‘I’m terrified’

Outside Mthwalume’s Boxer supermarket, women voiced their fears – not convinced by the assurances from officials.

“I’m scared. I’m terrified,” said one.

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Zama Chiliza was buried on Saturday but Musawakhe Khambule (L) says the family still wants justice

“I really thought hard before even leaving the house today because chances are that I might never be seen alive… I could be the next victim,” added another.

Mthwalume does not have its own police station, instead relying on the nearest one in Hibberdene, which is at least a 20-minute drive away.

To thwart fears, police have now placed a mobile police station in the town, which along with the surrounding area has a population of about 160,000.

Ms Chiliza’s body was finally laid to rest last Saturday.

The candle has been blown out – symbolising that her soul is now at peace and has joined her ancestors.

But her family and the town of Mthwalume more broadly are not at peace – desperate for some form of justice.

They fear nothing more will be done to pursue the case and that those who may have assisted in the killings may still be living amongst them.

“They need to be brought to book,” Mr Gasa says.

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Another blow as Judge throws out Kiggundu’s lawyer Muwema



When court sat on Friday to hear the Kiggundu’s application to stop independent audit, he did not have a written application, and Justice Henry Adonyo instead ordered the plaintiff’s lawyer Fred Muwema to go make a written application seeking court to dismiss the audit and return to court on September 30 for a hearing of the application. But this adds more pressure on Kiggundu who is choking with the loans.

On 31 August, the judge ordered the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda (ICPAU) to carry out and independent audit into the accounts of the businessman and financial statements exchanged between the two parties, and present a report to court.

When asked by journalists why he has filed for an application seeking dismissal of the audit, Fred Muwema had this to say. “We are saying that let the validity and legality of those credit facilities (loans) be decided first before you can audit” He said.

The ruling on the application of the main suit to determine whether the businessman owes loan arrears to the bank is set for 5th October 2020, after which a date for hearing of the case will be set.


Hamis Kiggundu through his companies Ham enterprises and Kiggs International (U) ltd sued DTB branches in Kenya and Uganda for deducting money from his accounts something which the bank contends and said they only acted as per the loan agreement of deducting 30% from Kiggundu’s accounts to recover the credit facilities rendered to him between February 2011 and September 2016

But Court documents filed by the bank in their defense shows that Kiggundu, between February 2011 and September 2016, was granted various credit facilities by the said DTB Banks.

First, via Ham Enterprises Limited, Kiggundu obtained a loan of $6,663,453 and another Sh2.5bn from the DTB (U) to finance his projects in the real estate business.

Later, according to New Vision, he got a facility worth $4.5m through Kiggs International (U) Limited from DTB (K) and mortgaged his properties, which include Plot 328 located at Kawuku on Block 248 Kyadondo, three plots that include 36, 37 and 38 on Folio 1533 Victoria Crescent II situated in Kyadondo and land on Makerere Hill Road on LRV 3716 Folio 10 Plot 923 Block 9.

Documents show that as of January 21, 2020, Kiggundu was in default on payment obligations of $6.298m on the loan facility of $6.663m, as well as sh2.885b on the demand overdraft facility of sh1.5b and the temporary demand overdraft facility of sh1b.

The banks say that Kiggundu was in default on the payment of another $3.662m out of a total loan facility of $4m and another $458,604 on a loan facility of $500,000, as of January 21, 2020.

The DTB consequently served him with a demand notice to either pay up or lose the assets that he submitted as collateral security. The bank threatened to attach a plot on Makerere Hill Road and other prime commercial properties.

Analysts says that Kiggundu’s lawyer is playing delaying tactics aimed at stopping the independent audit as ordered by the court earlier. Kiggundu had wanted court to believe his own audit of loan transactions, but that would amount to injustice to the banks that gave him money-DTB Uganda and DTB Kenya.

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Minister Rukutana charged with attempted murder, remanded




The state minister for Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana has been remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district.

Rukutana appeared before Ntungamo Grade One magistrate Nazifah Namayanja this afternoon from where he was charged with seven offences related to attempted murder, assault, malicious damage, and threatening violence.

Rukutana was captured in a video that went viral on social media showing him grabbing a gun from one of his bodyguards and started shooting at a vehicle belonging to supporters of his political rival Naome Kabasharira. At the time of the incident, Rukutana had just lost the Rushenyi country NRM flag to Kabasharira.

The prosecution alleges that on September 5, 2020, at Kagugu village in Ntungamo district, Rukutana and others still at large assaulted Julius Niwamanya and threatened to kill or injure him together with three others. The others are Stuart Kamukama, Dan Rwibirungi, and Moses Kamukama. 

It is also alleged that Rukutana also willfully and unlawfully damaged a motor vehicle registration number UAR 840X Toyota Rav 4 type which belongs to Moses Muhumuza.

According to the Judiciary public relations officer, Jameson Karemani, Rukutana has not taken a plea of these charges against him since they can only be tried by the chief magistrate who was not in court today.

As a result, the magistrate decided to send him to Kyamugorani, awaiting his return to court on Tuesday.      

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Lira district headquarters closed over COVID-19




Lira district headquarters have been closed after one staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week. 

On Monday morning, district staff were blocked at the gate with only the deputy chief administrative officer, his secretary and the receptionist allowed access to their offices. 

Paul Samuel Mbiiwa, the deputy chief administrative officer says that only heads of department will be allowed at the headquarters while the rest will work from home. He adds that the restriction will help to curb the spread of the virus.

“You see corona is not a joke. We have taken a step at fighting it and that is why you are seeing the staff outside. Even in my office here I do not want people to come if there is anything we can discuss on the phone.”

Francis Okello Olwa, a senior community development officer who doubles as the district spokesperson says that the entire district offices will be fumigated and closed for two days.

Health authorities in the district are planning to take samples from all the staff because they could have interacted with the one who tested positive. Currently, there are 19 COVID-19 patients under treatment at Lira regional referral hospital.     

On Sunday four health workers at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Dr Patrick Odongo, a senior medical officer at the hospital also succumbed to the virus.  

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