MUTI – RITUAL SACRIFICE IN LONDON

The victim may be a blood relative or one of their own children, but is never a stranger and definitely never an enemy. The child is not killed because they are angry with it. They are thankful to the child. The child is actually being sacrificed so that these people can have something of an advancement. It is to attain a goal that is unattainable by normal sacrifice [the sacrifice of an animal], whether that goal is prosperity or high political office. To our western minds, the concept of ritual murder is gruesome. But 2,000 years ago Jesus Christ was sacrificed for the good of the community – and the theory is that this is good for the community.

PROFESSOR HENDRIK SCHOLTZ, review of Goal of Human Sacrifice by Jeevan Vasagar, the Guardian, April 20, 2002

During an average year in London, the Metropolitan Police and the Coroner’s Court deal with between forty and forty-five bodies recovered from the River Thames, but on September 21, 2001, officers were shocked to find the badly mutilated corpse of a child floating in the water near Tower Bridge. The body appeared to be that of an Afro-Caribbean boy, aged about five. For want of a real name, the police decided to call him ‘Adam.’ An autopsy revealed that Adam’s legs had been severed above the knees, his arms had been cut off at the shoulders and his head removed. It was concluded that the boy had died from a violent trauma to the neck after which his limbs had been ‘skillfully’ removed by an experienced butcher.

If this wasn’t horrific enough, speculation then grew as to whether Adam had in fact been the victim of a muti-style killing. It was also speculated that this murder might not have been the first of its type in Britain, but was perhaps the latest in a long line of killings by a murderous cult which had established itself within London’s African community.

Professor Hendrik Scholtz, an expert in muti murders, was swiftly flown in from South Africa. After examining the body, he concluded that the boy’s throat had probably been slit before the head was removed in order to drain blood from the body for use in a ritual. More significant still, it was discovered that Adam’s first vertebra (the one located between the neck and the spine) had been removed. In Africa this is known as the Atlas bone, the bone on which Atlas was said to have carried the world. In muti medicine the Atlas bone is a highly prized piece of the skeleton, for it is said to contain magical powers and give all those who ingest it the property of great strength. Professor Scholtz, together with a London-based forensic team, were also able to establish that the boy had been well-looked after prior to death. He was neither underweight nor malnourished and his stomach contents showed signs of containing Pholcodine, a cough medicine, suggesting Adam was well cared for before he died. In fact, everything pointed to a classic muti killing – the young boy had probably been ‘donated’ for sacrifice by his own family.

Muti, which in Zulu stands for ‘medicine,’ is a form of witchcraft prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. A muti murder is a particular manifestation, therefore, of a traditional type of African healing, but one with an especially black heart, calling as it does for human sacrifices. Some muti witchdoctors (known as Sangoma) make medicine from grinding down the body parts of the dead, and often call for children to be sacrificed because their flesh is said to be ‘purer’ than that of adults. Less than a decade ago in Africa, almost 300 murders a year were blamed on muti and even as recently as 2003 cases were being reported of muti killings. Six people were arrested by police near to a squatters’ camp in Bloemfontein, South Africa, after they had been seen trying to sell the body parts (head, hands, heart, feet, genitals and liver) of a twenty-year-old man. But although this case was gruesome in the extreme, it was only one among numerous other such cases in South Africa during 2002 and 2003.

In 2004 in Cape Town, two men and one woman were charged with killing a baby and afterwards frying her intestines in order to eat them. According to the accused, the intestines were supposed to help all three find a job. In South Africa, the incidents of muti killings have grown to such proportions that theirs is the only police force in the world to have established a special muti task force. The head of the task force, Gerard Labuschagne, admits that, although several hundred muti murders are investigated every year, most killings go unreported.

They happen in South Africa fairly regularly, at least one a month. But for many police officers they are nothing unusual. They are just treated as another murder, so there are a lot of muti-related killings out there that never come to our attention.1

Not all muti medicine or muti practices result in death. The Sangomas’ powers are said to be based on their being either directly connected to, or the reincarnation of, an ancestral spirit and more often than not the type of healing they practice is completely harmless. Sangomas are often involved in everyday affairs as mediators to sort out arguments between different parties. They are also called upon to heal souls, mend broken hearts, promote good luck and generally soothe their clients’ ruffled feathers. Research has shown that over 80 percent of South Africa’s population has, at one time or another, consulted a Sangoma – sometimes up to three times a year.

In this role, the Sangoma can be seen as vital to maintaining order within a community, and most of the 300,000 Sangomas working in Africa openly condemn any type of ‘black magic.’ Even when most Sangomas practice medicine, the type of products he or she uses will almost always be vegetable-based – roots, bark, herbs and flowers. Muti medicine can, therefore, be seen as another type of herbal healing and the practice of muti is simply the act of balancing ethereal elements with the physical complaint. For the more adventurous muti practitioner, animal products are implemented. Ingredients such as dried puff adders, crocodile fat or any number of potions made up from different parts of the elephant, lion and hyena may feature in the Sangoma’s healing repertoire. Visit any African market and there will be stalls piled high with animal bones, skulls and skins as well as fresh herbs. Women sit hollowing out gourds which are then used as medicine bottles. There might even be small huts erected next to the medicine stalls which act as consulting rooms. Yet for all that mainstream muti is innocuous, but when it is extended to include the use of human body parts to heal or bestow special powers on the patient it can surely only be described as evil.

Investigations in several African countries (other than South Africa) have concluded that it is the Sangoma who orders a killing to be undertaken, normally because he has a client who has made a particular request for help. If someone has suffered a stroke, for instance, the muti medicine required to remedy the condition would be a paste made up from the ashes of a severed hand mixed with water. Below is a short list of some other muti medicines made up from human body parts.

Male and female genitals are often used to confer virility

The eyes of a child would bestow far-sightedness

A victim’s blood would help restore vitality

Other body parts can also be used to promote vague concepts, such as good luck.

The breasts of a female victim would bestow good fortune

The Adam’s apple would be used to silence someone

The tongue would help smooth the path to a young girl’s heart

Body fat would ensure a good harvest

Brains would improve one’s mental abilities

Further to the ‘Adam’ case in London and the police concerns that his killing was connected to a muti-style cult, officers began investigating allegations that human flesh was now readily on sale in London. Police were already aware that West African gangs were importing large quantities of exotic animal meat such as that from lions, chimpanzees and giraffes, but now they were concerned this illegal trade was hiding darker secrets. Operation Swalcliffe was launched and in one dawn raid by environmental health officers on a shop in north London, two tonnes of unfit meat were confiscated along with the head of a crocodile which was being prepared for use in an upcoming ritualistic ceremony. The Observer newspaper, which reported on this raid, also recorded that Clive Lawrence, a meat transport director at Heathrow airport, was convinced that human flesh was finding its way into Britain and that this trade was inextricably linked to gangs who smuggled both illegal immigrants and drugs into the country.

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This image was prepared by police investigating the murder of ‘Adam’ and shows a computer graphic reconstruction of the boy’s body, utilizing the red shorts that provided a vital clue to the mystery of ‘Adam’s’ identity.

The intelligence we are receiving suggests human flesh is coming into this country. We are dealing with some very nasty people.2

If further illustration were needed of this, a BBC 2 television documentary, Nobody’s Child, highlighted the problem of muti killings by broadcasting the story of a woman called Helen Madide who came from the Thohoyandou area of South Africa. At eighteen-years-old she was the mother of a small boy, Fulufhuwani, but was separated from the child’s father, Naledzani Mabuda, who was a traditional healer or Sangoma. The documentary went on to explain how, while the couple were trying to sort out their marriage, Helen returned to live with her parents while Fulufhuwani frequently went to stay with his father and grandmother. The child’s father, as a healer, would most often confine his practice of medicine to traditional herbal remedies; however, as has already been illustrated, a small number of Sangoma prefer more potent medicines with which to practice their craft. Helen explained what ultimately happened to Fulufhuwani:

He [Mabuda] began to tell me stories. His ancestors said that he must kill me and the child so that he can be rich. He showed me the path and forced me to go along that path. He was pushing me and demanding me to go whether I like it or not. He said he was going to kill the baby first while I see the baby, then secondly he will kill me.3

Horrifically, Mabuda carried out his threat, slitting the child’s throat while forcing Helen to hold down her son’s legs. Once the child was dead, Mabuda began cutting off its hands, legs and sex organs. He then locked Helen away in a room along with her child’s remains. Mercifully, Mabuda’s family, fearing for their grandson’s safety, called the police. Helen was released and her husband arrested. He was sentenced to life in prison but, although justice was seen to be done in this case, there are hundreds of other victims. ‘We have children going missing every week from our townships,’ said Dr. Anthony Minnar of the Institute for Human Rights and Criminal Justice in South Africa. ‘The assumption is that those missing children are being put into prostitution and also that they are being used for muti murder.’4

So widely spread is the problem that in 1998 this particular type of killing became one of the main subjects of the bestselling novel by Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. When a boy goes missing, the horrific conclusion that everyone comes to is that muti was involved.

We don’t like to talk about it do we? It’s the thing we Africans are most ashamed of. We know it happens but we pretend it doesn’t. We know all right what happens to children who go missing. We know.5

As if to underline this, the Nobody’s Child documentary then went on to record the story of a survivor of one such attack called Jeffery Mkhonto, who told journalists that when he was twelve years old he was abducted by a gang of muti practitioners whose job it was to harvest body parts.

Having been invited over to a neighbor’s house, Jeffery found himself being attacked and having his genitals removed with a knife. Nor is Jeffery’s the only recorded account of a muti-style attack for in 2002, Times reporter Steve Boggan wrote an article outlining the horrific harvesting of body parts practiced on a ten-year-old boy, Sello Chokoe.

Chokoe, who was from a tiny village called Moletjie in Limpopo province approximately 250 kilometers from Johannesburg in South Africa, was searching for a neighbor’s donkey on July 30, 2004 when he was snatched by a group of men who subsequently held him down and brutally removed his right hand, right ear and genitals, after which they made a small hole in his skull and sliced away part of his brain. Miraculously, the boy survived the attack, only to be found a few hours later by another youngster, Bernard Ngoepe, who was out collecting some wood. Raising the alarm, an ambulance was called with the medics doing all they were able to save the young boy, but by the time a helicopter had arrived to rush him to hospital, Sello had slipped into a coma and ten days later he died.

Following the boy’s murder, all the children in Moletjie were, unsurprisingly, terrified. Steve Boggan reported that Bernard Ngoepe was so traumatized by what he discovered that he could barely speak for months after the incident and needed special counseling.

Meanwhile, back in Britain, police investigating the ‘Adam’ murder were continuing to draw a blank. Detectives had little to go on. After all, the body had no face, no fingerprints and no dental records which would normally help identify a corpse. No child of Adam’s age had been reported missing, nor were there any witnesses to his murder. The only clue police had to go on were a pair of orange (a lucky color in muti) shorts that the boy had been wearing. The label inside them was ‘Kids & Co.,’ a brand name for a British company, Woolworths, which owned a chain of stores in Germany. Amazingly, officers were able to trace the shorts back to a batch of 820 pairs in the age 5-7 bracket that had been sold throughout 320 German outlets, but after that, they again drew a blank.

A Sangoma sets out his stall in the West African state of Mali. Taken in the late 1950s, the photograph shows animal skulls for sale alongside plants and other items used to make healing or ritual potions.

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Similarly, when police started questioning London’s Afro-Caribbean community, little progress was made. A thorough check was made on attendance records at over 3,000 nurseries and primary schools, but seemingly no child of Adam’s age had gone missing. The police even requested that the former South African president, Nelson Mandela, make a public broadcast subsequent to which a press conference was held in Johannesburg. Mr. Mandela said:

It seems likely that the boy might have come from Africa […] I wish to direct my appeal specifically to people in Africa. If anywhere, even in the remotest village of our continent, there is a family missing a son of that age, who might have disappeared around that time, 21 September 2001, please contact the police in London, either directly or through your local police […] Such cruel wastage of the lives of our children and youth cannot be allowed to continue.6

Despite such an impassioned plea, however, still no one stepped forward with any substantial information.

Not that all hope was lost, for with advances in technology a thorough examination of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA, which is exclusively passed on from mothers to their children) of Adam’s remains did throw some light on his origins. Scientists compared Adam’s mtDNA to 6,000 sequences that had previously been garnered in other scientific studies, and found that Adam’s sequence matched neither those from southern Africa nor from eastern Africa, but only mtDNA from the north-western section of the country. Secondly, in order to narrow further the search for the boy’s origins, Ken Pye, a professor of soil geology at the University of London, was asked to join the operation and run a series of tests on Adam’s bone composition. The chemical strontium, which is present in soil and water, can work itself through the food chain from plants to animals and finally, when either of these are consumed, into human bones. Depending on where we originate, our bones also contain a strontium signature that should match our environment. Even if we move from one location to another, it takes approximately ten years for our strontium signature to change so that in the case of Adam, who was still only young, his bones would prove a vital clue to his place of birth. Professor Pye, having carried out the necessary tests, concluded that the young boy’s bones showed signs of matching a signature of Precambrian rock predominately found in Nigeria, almost certainly Adam’s country of birth. Scientists collated all the available data and concluded that the boy had almost certainly lived within a 100-mile ‘corridor’ located between Ibadan and Benin in south-west Nigeria (a country renowned for its practice of mutistyle medicine). Further tests also revealed that in addition to the cough linctus present in Adam’s stomach, the child had also been fed a mixture of bone, clay and gold – a typical muti potion. Pollen found in the boy’s stomach indicated that he had been alive when he was brought to Britain. Officers thought that his journey probably involved crossing Northern Europe via Germany, which would explain the purchase of the orange shorts, after which the boy had lived in Britain for a few weeks prior to his death.

But for every small step forward with the case, there were several steps back. There was initial hope that a strikingly similar murder in Holland, which had occurred three weeks prior to Adam’s death, might throw some light on the case. The naked torso of a white girl, aged between five and seven years, had been discovered in a lake at Nulde, while her head was found many miles away by fisherman in the Hook of Holland. It was the manner in which both of the youngsters’ bodies had been mutilated that suggested there might be similarities between the two cases, but, as the investigation dragged on, no substantial link could be made.

Hope also grew when, a few days after the discovery of Adam’s body, police found a number of half-burned candles wrapped in a white cloth with a Nigerian name written upon it. The bundle had washed up two miles upstream (in Chelsea) from where Adam’s body had been found. Detectives thought they had stumbled across further evidence in Adam’s murder; later however it transpired that both the sheet and candles had been used as part of an innocent ceremony held by a Nigerian family who were giving thanks that none of their relatives had been killed in the Twin Towers tragedy in New York on September 11, 2001.

Almost a year passed before police were given any further clues to the killing. An employee within the Social Services department in Glasgow contacted Scotland Yard in London to report that a client of hers, a thirty-one-year-old West African woman by the name of Joyce Osagiede, had been overheard by witnesses saying that she wanted to perform a ritual sacrifice of her two children. This was a lead that seemed to good to be true, but when detectives traveled to Scotland in order to question Joyce Osagiede and discovered, amongst her children’s clothes, a pair of orange shorts made by the exact same company that had manufactured Adam’s, they believed a breakthrough had occurred. The reality however was that although Mrs Osagiede had lived for a short time in Germany and had purchased the same type of clothing as Adam’s, these facts alone were not enough to charge her. Later that month she and her children returned to Nigeria.

But the police’s luck hadn’t run out completely for, by investigating Mrs. Osagiede, police tracked down her estranged husband, Sam Osagiede, who had recently appeared in court in Dublin due to extradition proceedings against him filed in Germany. In his absence, the German courts had sentenced Sam Osagiede to seven years imprisonment for offences relating to people trafficking. Osagiede was tested to see if his DNA matched that of Adam’s but, as with a test that had been run on Mrs. Osagiede, neither party was apparently related to the boy.

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Although many Sangomas, or witch doctors, offer cures for ailments using only herbal remedies, some believe that animal and human body parts have special powers to bring good fortune.

Undiscouraged, police continued to question Osagiede; questioning that resulted in the Metropolitan Police mounting a dawn raid on nine addresses in east and south-east London. They arrested twenty-one people (ten men and eleven women) whom they suspected of being involved in child trafficking.

Disturbingly, UNICEF (the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) had only recently published a report estimating that thousands of children from third-world countries were being smuggled into Britain for use as either prostitutes or as a form of slave labor. Where prostitution was concerned, myths such as the belief that having sex with a virgin would cure HIV and AIDS ran rife, especially in African countries. UNICEF also outlined the following facts and figures:

1,000 to 1,500 Guatemalan babies and children are trafficked each year for adoption by couples in North America and Europe.

Girls as young as 13 (mainly from Asia and Eastern Europe) are trafficked as ‘mail-order brides.’ In most cases these girls and women are powerless and isolated and at great risk of violence.

Large numbers of children are being trafficked in West and Central Africa, mainly for domestic work but also for sexual exploitation and to work in shops or on farms. Nearly 90 percent of these trafficked domestic workers are girls.

Children from Togo, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana are trafficked to Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Gabon. Children are trafficked both in and out of Benin in Nigeria. Some children are sent as far away as the Middle East and Europe.7

The majority of the twenty-one people arrested were also from Benin in Nigeria, the very place outlined in the UNICEF report and the very place detectives had previously indicated Adam was likely to have lived. When police raided the various houses and apartments, they came across damning evidence that some kind of muti medicine had been practiced in at least one location due to the presence of an animal skull with a nail driven through it. Detective Inspector William O’Reilly who was in charge of the raids said:

We are pretty confident we have a group of individuals who could have trafficked Adam into the country. In West Africa there are several reasons for human sacrifices – for power, money, or to protect a criminal enterprise. We believe the prime motive for the murder was to bring good fortune. We suspect Adam was killed to bring traffickers good luck.9

Despite O’Reilly’s confidence that he had arrested the people responsible for Adam’s kidnap and subsequent murder, none of the twenty-one detainees were charged with any crime involving the young boy. Indeed, it appears that no one is going to be brought to justice over this most horrific crime. That said, the idea of dismissing this case as an isolated incident is, for a variety of reasons, no longer possible. Dr. Yunes Teinz, a senior environmental health officer for the Borough of Hackney and health advisor to the London Central Mosque recently stated:

We know that much of the bush-meat trade is used in potions and ointments for black magic treatments and we know that other animals are sacrificed for voodoo purposes in the African community. But we have a very deep concern over human body parts. We think they could be coming in with the bush meat.10

As recently as May 2005, the London Metropolitan Police reported that over a two-month period as many as 300 black children aged between four and seven years old have vanished from school registers within the British capital. Many believe this to be a conservative estimate and some experts put the figure much higher with thousands of children disappearing from the school system each year. Most of these are not thought to come to any harm, but if just one child is abused or murdered, it is one child too many. Barbara Hutchinson, the deputy chief executive of the British Association of Adoption and Fostering has stated that she is horrified at the figures. ‘Many privately fostered kids,’ she said, ‘get passed on from household to household. They may be moved around to avoid immigration control; they may be exploited. We know some children are being trafficked to be used as domestic servants or for sexual exploitation.’11 Similarly, Chris Bedoe, the director of End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking for Sexual Purposes has stated that governments worldwide are failing to take the problem seriously enough. Indeed, she has gone on record as saying their failure could be responsible for the sexual exploitation of large groups of children and numerous deaths. ‘We heard recently,’ she said, ‘of a thirteen-year-old girl who told her teachers her parents had gone home and left her on her own in the UK, and some time later she too disappeared. The teachers don’t know what happened to her. We are hearing this type of thing all the time.’12

Bearing this and all of the other evidence in mind, it seems that, although Adam’s case was probably the first of its kind in London, it will almost certainly not be the last.

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