Self-confessed serial killer Thabiso Mndawe, who appeared in the Masoyi Magistrates’ Court in Mpumalanga last week on five counts of murder, was a laconic, antisocial man with no known friends in Masoyi village.
Isaac Mokoena, a Masoyi resident and ward councillor, lives a stone’s throw from Mndawe’s house, where he is alleged to have buried five women.
Mokoena said the young man struck him as strange.
“When you greeted him, it felt as if you were troubling him because he was just too reserved and quiet – he didn’t like to talk,” said Mokoena.
“I don’t know who his friends are in the community … he was always alone.”
Mndawe (25) has left the rural community of Masoyi, situated outside Hazyview, reeling in shock after police dug up the bodies of five women in his yard last week.
After being apprehended by police, he confessed to having murdered Tokikie Tlaka (24), Banele Khoza (15), Felicia Mndlovo (17), Noxolo Mdluli (17) and Nomthandazo Mdluli (19).
His 17-month killing spree began in January last year and ended in May.
Mndawe charmed and lured his last victim on Facebook but had met the others randomly, said Mpumalanga police spokesperson Colonel Mtsholi Bhembe.
One of the victims, Khoza, is the younger sister of his girlfriend.
After allegedly murdering Mdluli, Mndawe allegedly toyed with her mother’s emotions by sending text messages using his victim’s phone, assuring Thembisile Mdluli that her daughter was still alive. As a result, the young woman was not reported missing to the police.
“I’m fine and alive, read the messages,” Mdluli’s uncle, Enoch Shabangu, told City Press this week.
“Girls nowadays do disappear with their boyfriends. Noxolo’s mother suspected nothing and thought that she could have fallen pregnant and was afraid to come back home,” he said.
“Even when the police came to break the news, she still did not believe that her daughter was dead.”
Shabangu said he did not believe that Mndawe had worked alone as so many women were killed.
Bhembe said two women were found buried in a room with no roof; the flooring had been plastered over.
“The other three bodies were exhumed in his yard,” Bhembe said, adding that the police were leaving nothing to chance and were investigating whether Mndawe had killed any more women.
The forensic team had look for more bodies in the yard but found none, he added.
Bhembe was reluctant to explain what led police to a man his neighbours never suspected of being a serial killer, but he did tell City Press how Mndawe was caught.
“As part of our investigation into the missing persons in the area, police went to his house. He jumped through a window and ran away,” said Bhembe.
“Two days later, on July 3, his mother brought him to the police station. That’s when he confessed to killing the five women. But we are uncertain as to whether he has told us everything.”
The area has been plagued by missing persons cases.
In the same neighbourhood, a mob murdered a pastor, Bheki Malomane (36), and his nephew, Wonder Mbuyane (24), after a sangoma “sniffed” them out as having raped and killed two little children in April. Their bodies were found in a ditch.
But it turned out that the priest and his nephew were innocent. This, after police arrested Tshepiso Mokoena (22) for the crime.
The houses of Malomane and Mbuyane were also torched following the sangoma’s claims.
Meanwhile, Mndawe decided not to apply for bail when he appeared in the Masoyi Magistrates’ Court on Friday. He was not asked to plead and the case was postponed to August 28. The police are still collecting DNA and postmortem results.
The community is baying for Mndawe’s blood. They ran after the police vehicle transporting the alleged killer to and from court last week.
Isaac Mokoena said he had held various meetings with the community in an effort to calm the situation.
“The community is very angry, but I have appealed to them to remain calm and wait for more information to come out.
“There are lots of unanswered questions.”
Mokoena added that the community would ask the government to turn Mndawe’s yard into a monument in tribute to the victims.
“I have never seen such a thing in my life,” Mokoena said of the spate of murders committed so close by.