Fourteen people were arrested today in South Africa after an elderly couple were burned to death by vigilantes who accused them of being witches. (Daily Mail By STEWART MACLEAN)
Grandparents Elsa Dubazane and Rafael Zukhulu, both 63, died on Wednesday after being attacked by a gang at their rural home.
Police spokesman Jay Naicker said nine men and five women were arrested in the early hours of this morning in connection with the tragedy.
The suspects, aged between 18 and 40, were today being questioned at a police station near the scene of the double murder in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province.
Colonel Naicker said: ‘This was a terrible attack on two old people.
‘Police were called to the couple’s home early on Wednesday and discovered that they had been attacked and killed and that their home had been burned.
‘Our investigations have suggested that this may have been a case where the community accused the victims of witchcraft.
‘It seems a rumour went around the locality that they had been practising witchcraft.
‘However there is no evidence to suggest that they were anything other than innocent victims.’
Colonel Naicker said the 14 suspects would all be charged with two counts of murder and arson over the incident, which happened near the township of Ntuzuma around 20 miles north of Durban.
Local media today reported that the couple were attacked by a mob who arrived at their home around 12.30am on Wednesday.
Their tenant Simphiwe Dlamini told the Mercury newspaper she heard screams and saw the elderly pair’s home ablaze.
She said: ‘I was asleep and my boyfriend woke me up after he heard loud screams.
‘We went outside and saw that the granny’s house had caught fire and a mob was standing outside.’
Ms Dlamini said Mr Zukhulu fled the property but was captured by the gang, who allegedly burned him alive by hanging a blazing tyre around his neck.
She added: ‘The grandfather managed to escape, but they chased and caught him on the road.
‘The mob then set a tyre alight and hung it around his neck while his grandson watched.’
Councillor Mbuyiselwa Sibiya told the Mercury he received a call about the incident at 1.30am and called the police.
But he said the officer feared for his life and refused to go to the scene.
When officers did arrive later they discovered the couple’s bedroom and kitchen burned to ashes.
Colonel Naicker confirmed Mrs Dubazane’s body was subsequently found in the bedroom at their home and her husband’s laid outside on the street.
Their seven year old grandson was taken away by police for his own safety.
The Mercury reported that Wednesday’s murders followed a previous attack on the couple last week.
The frightened grandparents gave an interview to the newspaper at the weekend in which they told how they were assaulted on Friday by a gang armed with axes who accused them of witchcraft.
Police said it appeared some members of the local community believed the elderly pair were somehow linked to the death of their granddaughter Zakude Shozi, 16, who died in hospital on January 3.
Colonel Naicker said the investigation into the tragedy would continue and the suspects, who have not yet been named, would appear in court next week.
Local officials have condemned the brutal murders.
Sazi Mhlongo, chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal traditional healers board, told the Mercury he felt outraged over the tragedy.
He added: ‘This irritates me because people are killed without any proof or evidence that they practised witchcraft.’
Belief in witchcraft remains common in many communities across Africa.
Yesterday’s deaths follow a string of previous recent attacks on suspected witches across the continent.
Last year police in South Africa warned people not to take the law into their own hands if they suspected others of black magic.