CHARRED remains of a 67-year-old Esigodini woman and her five-year-old granddaughter were pulled out from a burning hut on Tuesday night in a suspected case of murder and arson.
Shell-shocked villagers in the Nhlekiyane area said the door to the hut had been secured with a chain from outside. Family members said they suspected the victims were killed and the bodies placed in the hut which was then doused with petrol and set alight by unknown persons.
They said the heat from the fire was so intense that the head of the child, Moreblessing Nyoni, a Grade Zero pupil at Matshetsheni Primary School, exploded.
The body of Jennifer Ngwenya was found near the door cradling the child as if to protect her from the flames. The two were buried at their homestead in an emotionally charged ceremony yesterday.
Langton Moyo, 52, who is Ngwenya's first born, said he saw flames from his mother's homestead at around 7.30PM.
"She lived with her granddaughter who also died in the fire. My wife saw the flames first and alerted me. I raised the alarm and other villagers joined me as we rushed to investigate," he said.
Moyo said they arrived just as the roof of the hut caved in. He said the door, a piece of sheet iron, was glowing red hot and had been fastened with a chain from outside.
Moyo said villagers had to break down a wall to retrieve the bodies as they could not touch the door.
"We think the fire was started deliberately, but we can't think of anyone who could do such an evil thing. The police found a box of matches near the hut and a bag of mealie-meal and sugar were ripped open and strewn near the kitchen hut," he added.
The late Ngwenya's sister, Beauty Takawira, 57, said she suspected her sister and granddaughter were killed before their bodies were placed inside the hut.
"Both my sister's legs were broken. The child's head exploded. If they had been alive when the fire started, they would have screamed and attracted attention. Besides, my sister was a big strong woman and she would have been able to fight and break out of the hut," she said.
A sombre atmosphere engulfed the village as the bodies were laid to rest. Moreblessing's teachers from Matshetsheni Primary School contributed money and bought her coffin. They also put flowers on her grave.
Takawira wept as she threw soil into her sister's grave. She implored her sister and granddaughter's spirits to rise from the grave and punish the killer(s).
"If this is a natural death, may God ensure you rest in peace. If you were killed, I urge you to rise and fight for yourself. Whoever killed you must not know rest till your death has been avenged," Takawira said as a group of villagers also started sobbing.
Ashes from the burnt hut were also scattered into the graves as some of the victims' body parts were not found. As the coffins were lowered, women started crying and men avoided eye contact and stared at the ground.
George Ndebele, a policeman from the village, urged anyone who had information that could lead to the identification and arrest of the killers to approach the police.
"The problem is that we have discarded our tradition of informing village elders about visitors. There are too many strangers around. Anyone of them could be responsible," he said.
"Someone here may know who is responsible. Look into your conscience and help us. I think it is also high time that huts at abandoned homesteads are destroyed because they could be providing shelter for criminals."
Comment could not be obtained from Matabeleland South police spokesperson Inspector Philisani Ndebele.