South Africa: Cannibal 'Tired of Eating Flesh' Gives Himself Up

Traditional healer drinks animal blood
A traditional healer drinks animal blood from a gourd during a gathering of healers and hunters in Mali's capital Bamako May 27, 2005. Cannibalism has been linked to some forms of traditional medicine. Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters

Four men in South Africa have appeared in court facing charges of cannibalism after one of them handed himself in to police claiming that he was "tired" of eating human flesh.

Appearing in court on Monday, three men, aged 22, 29 and 32, were charged with murder and possession of human organs and tissue while a fourth, 31, was charged solely with possession of human organs and tissue, The Times reported. The suspects are due to attend a bail hearing on August 28.

One of the men reportedly gave himself up to police in Estcourt, a town in South Africa's eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, walking into the town's police station on Friday and telling officers: "I'm tired of eating human flesh." When questioned, he produced parts of a human leg and a hand, South African news site News 24 reported.

Police spokeswoman Colonel Thembeka Mbhele said that the man then led police to a house where more human remains were found. Two further arrests were made in the town; one of the suspects was a traditional healer or witch doctor, known as a nyanga.

Police recovered the remains of one woman. "It is alleged that the suspects raped, killed and cut up the body of a woman, which they then consumed. The allegations by the suspect are that they would rape and kill the victims before they could cut them into pieces and eat their parts," Mbhele told News 24.

An investigation is underway to discover whether the men were part of a larger crime syndicate, and police have called people in the region who have missing relatives to come forward, the BBC reported.

The incident may have wider ramifications in the local community. Crowds gathered on Monday outside the court to try and see the suspects, who were guarded by police as they entered the courthouse. A local councillor, Mthembeni Majola, claimed that hundreds of residents had admitted to knowingly eating human flesh after being instructed to do so by the witch doctor, News 24 reported.

The case has raised suspicion of muti, a term used to describe traditional forms of medicine and cultural practice in South Africa and other parts of the continent. So-called muti killings have occurred in various countries, where people are murdered and their body parts used in purported medicines by witch doctors. People with albinism are particularly at risk of muti killings due to the belief held by some that their body parts impart power and health to those who consume them.

Earlier in August, a man was arrested in Durban—the region's biggest city located around 100 miles east of Estcourt—when police found him with a human head in his backpack. The man was suspected of trying to sell the head to a traditional healer.