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Disturbed by the pungent odour that seemed to have its source in the vicinity, a group of women collecting wood discovered the body of a young woman in Mthwalume, South Africa; this was the fifth body found there since April.

The local police are on their toes, suspecting that a serial killer is on the loose. The safety of women in South Africa is on the downward slope as these consecutive murders have increased fear and uncertainty among its citizens. But, this is far from being an isolated incident.

Zama Chiliza was on her way to the local market when she went missing. And, after nearly five weeks of disappearance, her family slowly started to let go of the hope that she would be found. Upon hearing the news of her death, a feeling of immense grief followed as relatives experienced their worst nightmare transition to reality.

In March, two sisters (aged 16 and 25) went missing and their stiffs were recovered a month later. The missing case of a woman turned into a case of murder in the span of a week. Now, all of Mthwalume wears a doleful look as two bodies of young, innocent women have been found in the brief time frame of 24 hours.

The police have arrested two suspected men in relation to this case.

On 17th August, an angry mob gathered outside the Mzumbe Magistrate's Court. They began to protest and demand that the suspects be left in jail and not be given bail. In a sudden turn of events, one of the suspects had reportedly committed suicide while in custody.

Tempers shot through the roof when the crowd was informed that the second suspect would not be charged due to lack of concrete evidence.

Seeing the anger of the mob intensify, the National Police Minister, General Bheki Cele, had to step in. He confirmed that the man who took his own life confessed his involvement in the murders.

The National Police Minister has also stated that he believes this suspect couldn’t have been unaided in his crimes and that he must have been a part of a group. He also fears that there will be more bodies to be retrieved. Nevertheless, search parties accompanied by sniffer dogs and mobile police stations have been dispatched.

The relatives of the victims try to put on a brave face at the funeral they find themselves in, but fear looms over the community. The leader of a local women’s organization- Hlengiwe Gambushe, says that women in the area are no longer feeling safe. Women are becoming more reluctant to step out as a feeling of impending danger draws them back to the safety their homes offer.

South Africa has been rather infamous in terms of the safety of women and its femicides. This has been accepted by President Cyril Ramaphosa himself. The KwaZulu-Natal province (where Mthwalume is located) had a disturbing murder rate of 42.6 in 2019-20. The country, however, has seen a slow but steady decline in its otherwise alarmingly high crime rates.

These cases show how harmless lives are exploited for reasons that cannot justify the gravity of the crime committed. These were five innocent women, caregivers to their families, mothers to young children, and daughters to proud parents. They were left in unexpected places in unidentifiable states, with the morbidity of the sight sending shivers down spines. The cruelty that these women have been subjected to goes on to prove what Shakespeare once rightly said: “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”

Reporter- Sukruthi Sanampudi

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