Plastic-wrap serial killer has cops asking: whose child is next?
The same community has barely had time to recover from the terror of another serial killer
The group of men from Secunda’s eMbalenhle township who went searching for a missing schoolgirl last week Wednesday hoped for the best but feared the worst.
This was after all the same place where three other children had been raped and smothered with pieces of plastic before their bodies were dumped in the past three years. A fifth victim, Princess Mahlaba, 26, was also raped and murdered and her body left in the cemetery in 2017.
Their search, however, reignited the fear the community has been dreading for the past few years – there is a rapist and killer in their midst who shows no sign of stopping.
The body of Mihle Zingamo, 14, was found dumped hours after she went missing, next to one of the numerous footpaths between the houses.
Her feet were tied and her mouth gagged with plastic. She had lost a lot of blood.
Now Mpumalanga police are searching for the suspect(s) responsible for the rape and murder of Mihle’s rape and three other victims who suffered similar fates in the same township.
The earlier victims died between 2016 and 2018. They were raped, killed and dumped in the open.
Mihle’s death comes a few months after an 11-year-old girl was also found raped and killed. Her body was also wrapped in plastic and dumped near a river.
Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi told Times Select this week that they were searching for a person or people behind these murders. “These are senseless murders of innocent people. Again today we are shocked after this latest victim, a 14-year-old, was found murdered. This is shocking, but police are doing their best to arrest the suspects,” said Hlathi
Mihle went missing last week after she was sent to the shop. Getting worried when she did not return, her family reported her missing to the police. In the meantime, a group from the community volunteered to help look for her.
Her father, Nhlanhla Dladla, told Times Select they were still coming to terms with what had happened. “We are devastated. This is not the first time this is happening here.”
She was buried on Thursday.
Among the group searching for Mihle was Bongani Nkutha, who lost his 11-year-old daughter Nokulunga in August 2016.
“We walked past the place where Mihle’s body was eventually found, but there was nothing. But when we returned a long time later, the body was lying there. We think the guilty person must have done it while we were searching somewhere else. The person is still at large, and we fear that another child or person will fall victim of this,” said Nkutha.
He said the recent incident was a painful reminder of what happened to his daughter in 2016. “She came back from school, changed into her play clothes at her grandmother’s house and went to play with other kids. She never returned,” he said.
He came back home from work after 5pm. “I heard the news, and we started searching for her. We went to the police at about 9pm.
“Today we are still in the dark, but we don’t want to see another parent going through this. We are worried because the person is here with us, in this community.”
In May this year, a second girl in his family, Rato Nkutha, also 11, was found dead in Extension 15 in the same township. According to police, the girl was sent to a nearby shop and her mother became worried when she never returned home.
The family went to search for her but with no success. The matter was then reported to the police.
A missing person’s inquiry was opened and a search team consisting of detectives, K9 Unit and divers was assembled immediately.
Two days later, police were summoned to a house in Extension 15 at eMbalenhle, where a body of a minor was spotted. The body was positively identified as that of Rato. She had been raped and murdered.
Nkutha said his daughter’s death shocked the community. “We didn’t know that her death would be the start of these other murders. Her cousin was recently murdered, and the community is shocked that these murders continue while police are struggling to make arrests.” Hlathi would not say if they suspected a serial killer on the loose in the area, but he confirmed there were similarities between the cases.
“I’ve visited the crime scenes, and I saw how these girls were murdered. All I can say now is that the police are investigating. Several suspects that have been identified by the community will be approached as the police further investigate this.
“We are calling for calm from our community and they must not take law into their own hands,” he said.
Four years ago, in 2014, a serial rapist and murderer from the same township, Bheki Khumalo, was sentenced to 22 life sentences by the Secunda regional court after, over a period of seven years, he raped his victims aged between 12 and 60 in the bushes about 8km outside eMbalenhle. He was convicted of 21 counts of rape, murder, 17 kidnappings and robberies.
Raped and killed
2016 In August 2016, 11-year-old Nokulunga Nkutha was found stripped, raped and murdered, and her lifeless body was dumped in the township.
In November last year, an eight-year-old girl, whose name has not been released by the police, was abducted while playing with her friends. She was later found raped and killed.
In September last year, 26-year-old Princess Mahlaba’s body was found at the local cemetery by people attending a funeral. She, too, was raped, murdered and dumped in the cemetery.
In May, Rato Nkutha, 11, who was the cousin of Nokulunga, the first girl who was killed, was found raped and killed in Extension 15.
Then in November, the body of Mihle Zingamo, 14, was found.