It was an afternoon like any other. Six-year old Bukeka Modloniswa and her friends were playing in the streets when a stranger approached them with the promise of sweets and chips. It was the beginning of a gruesome tale - one that has become a recurring tragedy for many South African families.
In Finetown, 30 kilometres south of Johannesburg, everybody knows everyone else and, although people noticed the stranger, no one suspected his dark motive.
At her workplace in Vereeniging that afternoon - the 8th of January 1998 - Bukeka's mother, Isabel Modloniswa, had an uneasy feeling. She had an anxiety to return home. "At work I lost all my strength - I couldn't do the work. I asked if I could go home. I arrived there between three and four in the afternoon," says Isabel.
But by then Bukeka had disappeared without a trace and that evening, after a fruitless search, Isabela and her husband reported her disappearance to the Ennerdale police. A week later Bukeka's decomposing body was found in a black plastic bag one hundred metres from the family home. The head had been severed from the body and the skull was found some distance from the body.
"They said they found the body of a child which was incomplete - both arms were missing and her rib cage was empty when we found her," says Isabel.
Recently a second murder held the community of Central Western Jabavu in the grip of fear. A body was found at the end of a street - the head was found in a completely different location.
Eleven year old Tshepo Molemoki, an avid soccer player for Mofolo Knights, left the soccer field and walked across the veld to his home a mere four hundred metres away. It was winter, getting dark, and when Tshepo did not arrive home his mother, Pienkie Molemoki - a teacher - became worried. Tshepo's brother Thabiso was sent by his mother to look for him at the soccer fields. On the way Thabiso met Tshepo's soccer coach who was checking on his players after having heard that a decapitated body, wearing one of his soccer jerseys, had been found nearby.
A while later Pienkie's two sons, their uncle and Tshepo's soccer coach went out to look for him. "After fifteen minutes my first son came back and asked me to sit down. I said to him, 'No, just say what you need to.' He said - 'Tshepo is dead. His body was found not far from here.' We went to identify the body and it was only then that I saw that he had been beheaded and had had his private parts removed. Initially it all did not look real. You don't want to admit that this is your child... you go outside yourself," says Pienkie, "I was sitting thinking, 'How do I bury a body without a head?', because to me a person, in many ways, is a head."
Tshepo's body was found at the end of a street. His head was found on the roof of a sports facility some distance away. "I can't work it out. As if dying itself is not enough, I I felt, I feel and I am still feeling that my child did not deserve to die like that. There is absolutely nothing that could ever warrant someone going to those lengths," says Pienkie.
In an attempt to solve these crimes Detective Kobus Jonker, head of the occult unit of the SAPS in Pretoria, was brought in.
"There has been a rise in muti murders. There are around thirty to thirty five cases countrywide - and these are only the cases that are reported. Often these crimes are seen as a normal murder and it would then not come through to us."
How would the head of a child be used?
"They would use the brains, but the skull would be thrown away most of the time. The skin is also used. The sangomas and the people believe that the atlas bone at the back of the head - the bone that connects all the nerve endings - has a power. It sells for around R2500. The genitals are used for fertility or in love potions by the sangoma," says Detective Jonker.
However, most muti murder cases are closed without being solved. But in Tshepo's case, Detective Inspector Noko Modiba made a breakthrough within three days. "According to information I received someone had seen the accused with blood on his clothes and hands. He was also in possession of a knife that had been coated in blood."
The suspect claimed to have been slaughtering a cow at his house, but his mother contradicted his statement. DNA matching resulted in the arrest of two suspects.
"Tshepo knew both of these boys," says Pienkie. "He knew one of them particularly well."
"The suspects admitted to having been promised money for the job," says Inspector Modiba.
"We are talking about big money here," says Inspector Jonker. "Around R12 500 is what they charge for genitals. They pay top price for a girl of thirteen or fourteen years of age... they are considered prize number one. Prize number two are very young children between two and seven years old... and 99 percent of the time these kids are alive when that body part is taken. If the person is alive it is believed to give the muti greater power."
"I must point out that it is not all sangomas who are bad. There are many who do a lot of good and give medicine in the form of herbs to the people," says Jonker. "Faith keeps me on my feet. If it wasn't for that, I would have lost my head years ago."
Tshepo's mother has also relied on faith while waiting for justice to take its course. Since their arrest, one of the alleged killers has pleaded insanity. Two more arrests have been made. Both were sangomas.
"I thought I could be strong," says Pienkie, "But I woke up one morning and I couldn't walk. As a mother, how am I going to get over this?"
For Pienkie there is the small consolation that her child's killers will be convicted. For Isabela Modloniswa, on the other hand - and for many mothers like her - there are still no answers.