Serial killings elicit fear in KwaZulu-Nata SA
Illuminated by the flickering of a small candle, Zama Chiliza’s relatives sit in mourning.
Items of her clothing - a white top and skirt - are laid out on a mattress on the floor, as is customary practice.
The candle is placed where her head would be - symbolising the presence of her soul. Until she is buried, this candle will burn day and night.
The 38-year-old went missing on 6 July, last seen on her way to the local supermarket, Boxer, in Mthwalume, a rural area about 90km (55 miles) south of the city of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal province.
“We were anticipating the worst... as each day passed, we started doubting she would come back alive,” admits her relative Musawakhe Khambule after initial police searches yielded no results.
Her family’s fears were confirmed on 11 August - five weeks after her disappearance - when a body was stumbled upon by women collecting wood on an abandoned part of a sugar cane farm on the outskirts of Mthwalume town.
A short walk into a forest-like part of the farm leads to the base of a tree where Ms Chiliza’s remains were discovered - the large leaves used to hastily hide them are still at the scene.
“Her body was already decomposing. But we found the lead from her identity document,” says Khambule.
He described her as humble, cheeky at times but quiet - not the sort of person to get into trouble as she was focused on looking after her 15-year-old daughter.
“She really was that type of person that loved her family, she loved her child so much, she would always be with her,” says Khambule.
The family had been aware that the bodies of some women had been found in the area months prior Ms Chiliza’s disappearance - but they never anticipated she would fall victim to such a gruesome fate.
“These deaths started happening while Zama was still alive. We would hear about the horrific murders. At some stage Zama and I even discussed these mysterious killings and had our own theories about them,” says Khambule.
“We were really worried when she disappeared,” he admits, adding: “We woke up one day to be told that Zama had become a statistic.”
Indeed South Africa has among the world’s highest crime rates - and last year President Cyril Ramaphosa himself admitted that the country was one of “the most unsafe places in the world to be a woman”. - BBC