A PROMINENT elderly couple from Mangwe District in Matabeleland South was gruesomely murdered by suspected robbers who raided their homestead on Tuesday night before burning their bodies in the house they were sleeping in, and making off with an undisclosed amount of cash.
An 83-year-old Mr Nicholas Nleya, who had partially lost his sight, and his wife Margaret (78), who after developing back problems was now walking with the aid of a stick, begged their assailants to take the money in a safe and spare their lives, but the suspected robbers went on to kill them before setting their bedroom alight with a suspected petrol bomb in a callous murder that has terrified Emzaza Village.
Two herdboys, aged 19 and 15, that lived with the couple fled the homestead when they heard the suspected robbers assaulting their employees with what seemed to be a metal object while demanding cash.
The couple, both retired teachers at nearby Catholic-run Empandeni Primary School, were staunch members of the Roman Catholic Church and were widely known in the community as farmers, with Mr Muleya having a passion for livestock and his wife, crop production.
When a Chronicle newscrew arrived at the scene yesterday afternoon, the bodies of the couple, who had ten children – six female and four male – had been taken to United Bulawayo Hospitals for postmortem.
Police details were guarding the room were the two were killed awaiting forensic teams from Harare to conduct further investigations.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi confirmed the incident and said investigations to the murder are underway.
“I can confirm that we received a report of a couple that was murdered and burnt inside their rural home in Matabeleland South Province. As police, we are currently investigating this sad development that has befallen the Nleya family,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
He said members of the public with information with regards to the murder should report to their nearest police station.
In a telephone interview on Wednesday afternoon, the couple’s daughter, Mrs Busi Tshuma, said: “As we speak the police are at the homestead where they are taking statements on the cruel death of my parents.
Apparently, these thieves came in at around 9pm yesterday and destroyed the windowpane to my parents’ bedroom, the only place they destroyed.
“It looks like they first killed them and then set a petrol bomb on their bodies; such an inhumane treatment.”
Mrs Tshuma said workers spotted one of the perpetrators leaving the scene and alerted neighbours.
“The neighbours came and tried to put out the fire. By the time it was put out, the roof was already damaged,” she said.
In an interview at the homestead, the couple’s driver, Mr Frank Francis Ndebele (27), who lives about 2 kilometres from his employers, said he received a call from the herdboys telling him about the incident.
He said as he ran towards the Nleya homestead, he saw a ball of fire exploding from their yard.
Upon arrival, Mr Ndebele said he called out for his employers and the herdboys but did not get a response.
He then phoned the boys who told him that they were hiding at a neighbour’s homestead where he found them narrating what they had seen.
Mr Ndebele said they called neighbours and rushed back to the Nleya homestead and put out the fire before breaking the house’s door where they were met with the horrific sight of the couple that was burnt beyond recognition.
Mr Ndebele said he drove to a nearby police post to make a report.
“I am pained because they were always there for me in all my moments of need. I’m deeply hurt,” he said.
A neighbour, Mr Mayimayi Ndebele, said they arrived at the scene, when fire had already consumed the elderly couple and could not render any assistance.
“We came around midnight and the damage had already been done. This is tragic and we are very saddened by this incident. This is the first time for such a thing to happen in the community,” said Mr Ndebele.
The couple’s children revealed that neighbours only told them that there had been a robbery and that their parents were missing, only to find their charred remains.
Said Mr Edmond Nleya, the couple’ son, who resides in Bulawayo’s Worringham suburb:
“It is puzzling because they were elders, they would have given them money if it’s what they wanted. Why would one commit such a gruesome murder, what kind of criminal is this.
“It’s shocking; we knew that at some point we would lose our parents. We have always known that, but not in this way. The kind of punishment they received,” said a grieving Mr Nleya.
“I don’t know what crime they committed, no one deserves to die like this especially at that age, an old woman after ten children and at that age she dies like that it’s shocking. They survived a lot of things from the time of the liberation war but now, a few guys come at night and take their lives just like that.”
The eldest child, Ms Margaret Nleya, said she was not sure if the motive of the assailants was to steal or murder the elderly couple.
“They took the money. The herdboys heard them plead that they should take the money and spare their lives. We do not know if they had prior knowledge that there was money but they took the money that was kept in the safe but I do not know the amount,” she said.
Ms Nleya said her parents were known for their generosity.
“Every time we used to come home for Christmas and New Year we would just buy a few groceries and we knew that ubaba would slaughter a beast or two from the farm, be it Easter or any other holiday.”
Mrs Sindisiwe Nleya-Maplanka said her parents belonged to the Catholic Guilds and her father would visit church members who could no longer afford to go to church to give them holy communion.
Mr Herman Nleya said he was devastated by the murder of his brother and his wife.
“He was my elder brother, this has really broken my heart. I’ve never seen such happening in the community. Empandeni community is in shock. He was our leader even in church and we would follow his guidance on many issues,” said Mr Nleya.
Father Victor Dube said from the way they were killed; it is clear that it was a premeditated murder.
“These were elderly people we didn’t expect such a thing to happen to them. It seems these people had clear intentions on what they wanted to do,” said Fr Dube, before adding, the elderly couple were devoted Christians.
Zanu-PF Mangwe legislator Cde Hlalani Mguni said the constituency had lost a pillar.