It’s a dirty little secret in South Africa, one that in 2010, became a problem once again on the rise. Called “muti murders” or “medicine murders” (sometimes termed “ritual murder” or muthi-murder), it takes its name from the Zulu word “muti”, the term for traditional black magic medicines that utilize human body parts and flesh as critical ingredients to produce supposedly miraculous medicinal effects. The phenomenon is widely acknowledged to occur in southern Africa where it is estimated that from 50%-90% of the population believe in black magic and witchcraft. Body parts from dead corpses work fine for their purposes but the best muti medicine ingredients are taken from body parts that are harvested while the victim is still alive. The Limpopo province alone once recorded 250 muti-murders in a single year.
Muti cases continue to rise today. On October 11, 2013, the second largest hospital in the African country of Swaziland, was accused of operating a black market in human body parts used in black magic muti spells. Described as “an open secret”, people come to the hospital from neighboring South Africa to buy bones, hearts, brains, genital organs, tongues, ears, eyes, hands, legs, lungs, arms, jaws, fingers, and other human body parts to use in muti medicines.
What is “muti” medicine and how does it relate to muti murders?
In Africa, the word “muti” is the Zulu word meaning “medicine” – but not medicine in the sense that the modern world is accustomed to. In Africa, particularly south Africa, medicine is manufactured using “traditional” means. Healers, or witch doctors, grind up human body parts (body parts from children and albinos are considered especially desirable) and mix them with roots, herbs, seawater, and animal body parts to prepare potions and spells for their clients. The resulting medicine can be rubbed on the skin, into open wounds, or ingested per the witch doctor’s instructions.
Citizens from countries outside of South Africa will find the belief in muti medicine and witch doctors difficult to fathom. The Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling explained Africa’s deep underlying belief system of muti:
“In traditional African beliefs, it is assumed that there is only a certain amount of luck in society. Each individual receives a portion of that luck. It is therefore believed that if another person is successful, then they have obtained an extra portion of luck via devious means, usually with the intervention of the supernatural.
Setbacks or calamities, such as drought or illness, are signs that the natural and social order have been disturbed. One means of obtaining this extra portion of luck or restoring the natural order is through the use of strong muti. It is with this strong muti that muti murders are often associated. Muti made from human body parts is considered to be exceptionally powerful.”
The paper went on to explain the perceived value of various body parts in muti medicine.
“Just as different ingredients in a recipe are used for different purposes, certain body parts are used for particular goals. For example, eyes may be stolen and used in a magic ritual to help restore a client’s failing eyesight, whereas severed hands are used to assure business success, and genitals are believed to attract luck.”
Body parts taken from live victims are the most powerful because it is believed that the agonized screams of the victims, before they succumb to shock, makes the muti more potent. Given their requirements, muti murders are particularly brutal, with knives, machetes, sharp rocks, or glass shards used to cut and hack off limbs, breasts and other body parts from their victims. For some reason unbeknownst to foreigners, muti murder victims are often murdered close to rivers or other bodies of water.
The muti murder threat to albino Africans
Live Science recently reported a brutal incident that occurred in 2009 during which 50 albinos, known in Africa as “ghosts” or “zeroes”, were murdered for their particularly valuable body parts and skin. Live Science noted:
“An albino’s’ arms, fingers, genitals, ears and blood are highly prized for their especially powerful magic, according to believers.”
The purported use of albino body parts in muti spells varies greatly. For example, fishermen on Lake Victoria will weave albino hair into their nets to improve their catches while miners in the Mbeya coalfields have been known to splash albino blood on the ground, wear albino muti charms (often body parts or albino flesh ground up into paste) or bury albino bones to “attract” gems and gold to the surface.
In a 1999 interview with a well-known Zulu witch doctor, the doctor was asked about muti-murders and their relationship to albinos. His response was surprisingly candid.
“Not all Africans have black hair. There are Africans who are regarded as very holy, as very sacred. These are Africans who are born with natural red hair. These Africans are believed to be very spiritually powerful. Now, in Africa, such people, albinos or red-headed Africans, were the most victims of sacrifice, especially when they were just entering maturity – whether they were males or females.”
In an albino muti murder in 2000, a gang clubbed 20-year-old Enicko Simkoko as he worked on a remote field near Mbeya and skinned him alive. They were caught when the “middleman” was spotted drying the skin in his hotel room. Apparently the “client” had paid 5,000 dollars for the valuable albino skin. Around the same time another gang were caught after butchering 14-year-old Leo Kimwegile-Swile as he herded his father’s cattle. In another case, the murderers were caught when an undercover policeman bought from them the skin of 11-year-old schoolboy.
In the Mbeya area, by November 2008, there were 30 known albino mutilations. By January 2009, there were 53. In 2014, there were 65 recorded cases. By 2016 the United Nations warned,
“Malawi’s albinos are at risk of “total extinction” amid escalating attacks against them for their body parts.”
The harvest of body parts from dead muti victims
In cases where body parts from the deceased are needed, they are often obtained illegally from area hospitals or stolen by grave robbers from corpses that they remove from fresh graves (it is uncertain whether or not the traditional healer would be able to tell if a body part is removed pre- or post-mortem). In other cases, a living person’s nail clippings or hair cuttings may be secretly collected by, for instance, a jealous neighbor or friend and used in potions targeted against that person. These types of harvests are the least disturbing.
The harvest of body parts from live muti victims
To obtain body parts from a live victim, the victim is identified and ‘purchased’ via a transaction involving an often-minimal amount of money. The victim is often abducted, typically at night, and taken to an isolated place for the harvesting of body parts. It is usually intended that the victim be mutilated while conscious so that the muti medicine can be made more potent through the screams of the tortured victim. Mutilation does not take place specifically in order to kill the victim, but it is of course, expected that the victim will die as a result from his wounds.
Notable muti murders reported in the press
There have been many muti murders reported internationally. Often details of the murders are sketchy – police are reluctant to release information to outsiders – and most reports of muti murders never reach the outside world. Here’s a sampling of a few notable muti murder cases that did make national news.
The 1994 Mogomotsi murder
In 1994, a 14-year-old named Segametsi Mogomotsi was murdered in Mochudi, Botswana and his body parts removed. The killing was widely believed to have been for muti, and the police even recovered some of the excised organs. However, before being tested to identify the organs as human, the evidence was accidentally destroyed leading to accusations of police complicity in the muti murder. The case remains unsolved.
The 2008 Kei Ripper murders
In 2008, a rash of muti-murders occurred in the Butterworth area of South Africa. Known as the Kei Ripper killings, it was believed that a local witch doctor was responsible for a spate of murders in which body parts were harvested from the victims. The murders began with nine-year-old Vika Nqwiliso, who was butchered in front of three of his friends by a man in October 2008. Authorities later found his body with his organs sliced out.
A few weeks later the body of Nobijolo Dulini and that of an unidentified middle-aged man were found in nearby Dutywa, both with missing facial and body parts. Three people, Macebo Langeni, Mvuleli Mdolo and Veleka Mkiva, were attacked by the Kei Ripper (some lost body parts as a result) but survived.
As the investigation progressed, it was theorized that the murders could be the actions of more than one person. Several suspects emerged as “helpers” in the crimes, including one who was arrested while in possession of a “medical bag containing a woman’s placenta, the severed head of a cat, and chicken skin.” The suspects confessed to one of the killings, the murder of Khanyisa Mama, whose body was found in a forest, eyes, heart, and genitals missing. Khanvisa Mama quickly became the focal point of the entire Kei Ripper investigation.
One of the three victims who survived a Kei Ripper attack described her ordeal in a public news report. 40-year-old Veleka Mkiva, a community health worker, told how she was standing at a popular hitchhiking spot near her village of Xawuka when her assailants came up behind her. They showed her a piece of paper with sketches of body parts and said she must choose which one she wanted to lose.
“One of them asked me which parts I could offer them and when I refused, he pulled out a gun and a knife. I was scared and gave him my breasts to cut off. It was painful and I passed out while he was still trying to cut them off.”
During the attack, two of the attacker’s accomplices stood by on “lookout”.
“Before I passed out, I saw a car approaching from the villages. They ran away without finishing their job.”
The Kei Ripper case is particularly difficult to report on, not only because news reports of the attacks are sketchy and well… disturbing, but because some of the suspects were stoned by villagers before they could be arrested, and several suspects were mysteriously released from police custody before they could be tried. Other suspects were captured and detained and a few even offered confessions, but alas, those who did confess to the murders later claimed that they “confessed” to the murders only after the police brutally tortured them.
In addition to potential police corruption and falsified confessions, another key factor served to stifle progress of the Kei Ripper case (and other muti murder cases). In South Africa, the witch doctors themselves are feared by the local citizens.
“People who do witchcraft are seen as very powerful people by the community. It is a very secretive activity.”
One Kei Ripper suspect, “Gwayi”, confessed and later recanted his confession claiming he had been tortured by the authorities. Nevertheless, police said that Gwayi described how he came to begin harvesting muti-body parts for an underground witch doctor.
“Gwayi told us what happened and the money he was promised by a man. He was told to look for a person whom he would kill for body parts – and it was preferred that the victim was alive at the time the parts are being harvested.”
Gwayi found four boys at a nearby forest and approached them. Gwayi said he had lost a cow and asked the boys to help him find it. Then, as they were busy searching for the lost cow, he sat them down, one by one, and asked them if they would play “a game of killing each other”. The boys asked if they would wake up again and he told them that he would be able to wake them up after the killing. The decision was made to start with Vika, the youngest child in the group.
According to the investigators’ report:
“A sharp instrument was used to cut open the boy’s chest while he was still alive, the penis was then cut off, the liver was also removed, and the little finger was also hacked off. All this time the boy was crying. He then stopped crying.”
One of the boys apparently asked Gwayi to stop because Vika was dying.
“I told them he will wake up,” Gwayi said in the confession. Gwayi then allegedly asked the boys who would be willing to take Vika’s eye out, but none agreed because they were afraid.
Gwayi then used a sharp object and took the boy’s eye out. The young boy died during the attack.
The 2010 Human Rights League investigation
The Human Rights League investigated the muti-murders in 2010 in a study titled the Trafficking Body Parts in Mozambique and South Africa. One of the interview samples included in the report was of a case in Bloemspruit where a woman who wanted to become pregnant went to a “sangoma” (witch doctor) who provided her with a magical belt to wear. Dangling from the belt were children’s fingers and penises.
“She was made to drink a concoction she believed contained human blood and fat and she was given a piece of flesh which she believed to be a human organ, perhaps a heart. She sliced small pieces from the flesh each night and fried them on a stove.”
Muti-murders in modern day times
Lest you think the situation in “modern” Africa has improved and muti murders are a thing of the past, a report from November 2012 should renounce any such thoughts.
According to a report in the African news, a Gobho Village farmer went missing on November 12, 2012. His cellphone had been switched off and he could not respond. The man was working in the mountains near his home with his herdsman, who reported him as missing. Upon hearing of his disappearance, his son went searching for his father. He too disappeared. When he did not return home after eight days, the authorities were called in to investigate.
Authorities initiated a search of the area. After two days, they found the badly mutilated bodies of the two victims, buried in shallow graves and covered with shrubs, located near a river stream. The heads of the victims were found placed next to the victims’ feet. Arms, tongues, eyes, and “other body parts” had been removed.
A similar mutilation and murder of a local woman had occurred in the same spot only 4 years earlier.
Example of a witch doctor advertisement (broken English partially corrected for clarity)
The following was taken from the webpage of a prominent South African witch doctor a few years ago. The website has since been taken down. In broken, but understandable, English, the witch doctor describes his services and the many black magic spells that he offered.
International Spiritual Traditional Healer in South Africa
Tel: +27734444923 Fax: +27865529072
Physical Address: Kitchener Avenue, Corner Durham Street
House Number 11, Bez Valley [Johannesburg]
Branch in Northern Cape : Enquire for information
Chief Dungu originally from the pemba islands is blessed with powerful Spirits [ ancestral powers] to meet all your needs to satisfaction, all my services are beyond human imagination, and many have always asked me what is behind my services because of their effect to their problems
I can cast spells no matter how far the client may be and my spells are guaranteed to work in 3 days. I’m here to treat, heal and pay attention to whoever has problems using true African herbs. With the guidance of my strong spiritual powers , I do the following: swollen body, misfortunes, to bring back lost lover, removal of misunderstandings with any one, demands/debts, tuberculosis, court cases, customer attraction in business, diabetes, blood pressure, are you looking for a job, success/promotion of any kind, education, prevent thieves from attacking people and property, to be liked at work, weak body, pains in joints and stroke, gonorrhea, women who cannot produce, asthma, vomiting all the time, women with pregnancy problems, men’s penis which cannot erect powerfully, removal of bad lack and give good lack, bewitched people, diarrhea, fortune teller, to make men’s penis big and strong permanently, are you addicted to drugs/alcohol and want to stop it?, do you need help on aids symptoms, do you want to slim/loose weight?, is your partner cheating on you and want to stop it?, control of finances [expenditures], to be loved alone by your partner, control family matters, protection, are you looking for a lover [marriage partner], etc.
Have you been disappointed? Have you reached the dead end of your life? Have you lost hope? No matter how your situation may be, through my strong ancestral powers all is possible. Many have been successful through my spell casting and its also your chance to experience a complete change in your miserable life. It’s never too late through my strong ancestors all is possible. It’s time for you to break through your problems and not to spend another year regretting saying that i wish i had known. Remember you were born lucky and why do you give chance to certain obstacles that have taken all your happiness and joy and have left you with misery suffering? I am here to help you to over come all your problems including the following;
Be My Valentine Spell
Help bring that special person closer to you!
The Luck Spell
You can change your luck instantly! If you need good luck to happen today, ask for the Luck Spell.
Master of White Magic
Once he makes the psychic connection with you, your life will never be the same!
The Ramah Spell
If you have a pure heart, you could be blessed with riches!
End Regret Spell
It’s time to put the past behind you and continue on with your life!
If a past mistake is haunting you, preventing the two of you from reuniting, don’t give up.
The Wealth Spell
Let the Wealth Spell position you to reap the financial as well as romantic windfalls you so deserve.
Allow this gifted telepathic to put his extraordinary powers to work for you!
Ra Rapprochement Spell
From the heartland of the French countryside comes this very powerful spell to help you reunite with your lover
Warlock Lover Spell
It is possible to win back your lover’s heart because a gifted psychic awaits your call for help
The Krakow Spell
Become the master of your life and determine the course of your destiny!
Mend a Broken Heart
You are at a crossroads… but don’t give up yet!
The Shaman’s *****c Spell
Once your lover is turned on to you, think of the possibilities!
The Seduce Me Spell
This remarkable spell is designed to open the heart and mind of that special person to your irresistible allure.
Give Me My Money!!
It is time for you to enjoy the wealth, comfort, and respect you deserve!
Triple Cast Spells
The Mother of All Spells! A master psychic will cast your spell once, then again, then one more time!
Retrieve a Lover
If you long for the return of a lost lover…there is something you can do about it!
Growing His Love Spell
It’s time for you to take that leap of faith and call upon a powerful psychic to help get your man
Cleansing your aura will remove the imperfections and dark clouds that surround it–allowing love and money to flow through your aura into your life.
Authentic Voodoo Spells
Once you open your heart and mind to this awesome power, miraculous changes in your life could happen to you!
The Lust For Me Spell
Stimulate the lover of your choice to have strong, uncontrollable thoughts about holding you, caressing you, making love to you.
Purge Evil Spirits
If you sometimes feel as if you have an enemy within, this is the spell for you.
The Black Curse spell
Because it can bring about horrendous times for the person to whom the Black Curse is directed, please do not request this unless it is absolutely necessary.
It’s time to tie the knot!
Urgent! If your need is immediate and time is short! Banish Them! Vanish Them!
This is not a spell.
It is a curse!
Sample African witch doctor advertisement
Here is another example of a South African witch doctor advertisement that was published in local African newspapers in 2008.
Muti ingredients and the function each body part provides in a muti spell potion
Each human body part is purported to perform a specific function in the muti spell. The following was posted in a forum on the Internet, supposed by a African witch doctor, and explains the purpose of the various human body parts used in muti medicine potions.
Muti and the body parts required
Severed hands: buried under the door of a shop or business these would bring customers to the premises, making the owner wealthy.
Breasts: widely regarded in African traditional culture as the source of “mother luck”, which would be used in magic potions to bring good fortune.
Genitals: both male and female are in demand, used by sangomas (witch doctors) to boost virility in men and fertility in women.
Adam’s apple: would be used to silence a witness who was intending to testify against a sangoma’s client in court.
Skull: used to protect members of one tribe from another by burying the enemy victim’s head in the tribe’s village.
Eyes: supposed to confer far-sightedness.
Tongue: used to smooth the path to a girl’s heart for a prospective lover.
Body fat: usually taken from the stomach, the fat is regarded by some people, especially the Venda, as the source of a good harvest.
Sperm and urine: also widely seen as a source of good luck.
Atlas bone: regarded as powerful muti because of the belief that the circulatory and nervous systems run through it.
Brains: would help to confer intelligence for anyone stupid enough to take it.
In-Article Image CreditsAfrican witch doctor market - dried llama fetuses and bones via Flickr by Revolution_Ferg with usage type - Creative Commons License
Witchcraft witch doctor market via Flickr by Revolution_Ferg with usage type - Creative Commons License
Two Lassa Witch Doctors Nigeria via Wikimedia Commons by CDC with usage type - Public Domain
Witch doctor of the Shona people close to Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe via Wikimedia Commons by Hans Hillewaert with usage type - Creative Commons License. August 1989
A Niam-Niam medicine man or shaman, equatorial Africa via Wikimedia Commons by Wellcome Images with usage type - Creative Commons License
Featured Image CreditAfrican witch doctor hut via