Family of the seven people found dead in a Vlakfontein house tell DRUM how they were charmed by a man claiming to be a long-lost relative.
The family welcomed the seemingly charming young man into their home like the long-lost relative he claimed to be.
Sibusiso Ernest Khoza (27) had grown up in an orphanage in Cape Town, he told them, and now he was a doctor with degrees from the University of Cape Town and the New York School of Medicine.
The Khoza family didn’t think they had any reason not to trust him: he seemed to know plenty about them, including that the man he claimed was his late father had been a ladies’ man with girlfriends and children all over the country.
He’d ended up in an orphanage when his mother was no longer able to care for him but not before he had found out a lot about his family. But he’d prove to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Thoko Khoza (70) says.
The man has now been charged with one of the most shocking mass murders in the country in recent times after the mutilated and decomposing bodies of seven members of Thoko’s family were found buried under sand in their home in Vlakfontein, Johannesburg.
Her daughters Mbali (51) and Dudu Khoza (46), her granddaughter Nomfundo (28) and great-grandchildren Karabo (11), Luyanda (7), Nkanyiso (2) and Sbongakonke (2) are all dead, and Thoko is grappling with feelings of grief and guilt. Sibusiso, whose real name is Ernest Mabaso, and Fita Khupe (61), the boyfriend of Mbali and owner of the house of death, have been charged with the rape and murders of the seven, who seemed to have vanished without trace before the grim discovery was made.
The family spent a week panicking about the whereabouts of their relatives, recalls Ningi Khoza (42), who found her cousins and their children buried inside their home. “At first I thought Nomfundo had been kidnapped because I received a message that she was driving to Cape Town to attend to a family crisis. “I knew there was no family crisis so I called Dudu but her phone was off. I sent a text message but there was no response. I then tried to phone Mbali but her phone was also off.”
Nomfundo’s friends had also been trying to contact her as her phone was off and she wasn’t at home. Ningi decided to go to the house to look for clues to their disappearance. Nothing could have prepared her for the horror that awaited her.
She climbed over the locked gate and opened one of the bedroom windows. “I was hit by the smell of rotten flesh and there were flies buzzing all over.” She ran to the neighbours to ask if anyone had seen Mbali or Dudu, and was told they had all gone to KwaZulu- Natal to visit their sick mother.
“This is what Sibusiso had told them, they said,” she tells us. Ningi phoned Mbali’s boyfriend, Dan (aka Fita Khupe), and asked him to come and open the house, which he did. It didn’t take long for the bodies to be found under the sand. “They had injuries all over,” Ningi says.
“And they were rotten beyond recognition.”
Thoko is shattered by her loss. “I regret the day I welcomed that man in my home. I lost my two daughters and all my grandchildren all at once,” she says, battling to hold back her tears.
The gogo, who lives in Pietermaritzburg, recalls how she was taken in by the “respectful, humble and sweettalker of note”.
“I met him in August and I immediately liked him – he had this charm about him and he was always ready to help with household chores. He’d wash the dishes, clean the house, fetch water from the tank and he even cooked for me. He was the perfect son I never had.”
He never gave her cause for alarm, she adds. “He knew everything about us, including deceased family members. That’s why we never questioned him.” Sibusiso found his way to Thoko’s door after contacting her daughters via Facebook and striking up an online relationship with them.
After a week at Thoko’s house Mbali invited him to stay with them in Johannesburg. “None of us thought of getting a DNA test to verify his claim that he was one of us. I guess we were too excited at finding a long-lost relative,” Thoko says.
“He told me his father was my late brother, Musa Khoza, and I believed him because my late brother had lots of girlfriends and many children.”
She was sad to see her nephew depart for Joburg “but also happy because something good was happening in his life”. Mbali was going to help him find work while he applied for posts as a doctor.
“We bought him a bus ticket to Johannesburg,” Thoko says, “and from time to time he’d phone me, asking how I was doing. “At one stage he called to say he’d found a job as a doctor. He promised to build me a big house.”
The RDP house in Vlakfontein where the seven bodies were discovered had recently been renovated and painted by the family. After the construction the builders left a pile of building sand behind the house – and it was this sand police believe was used to cover the bodies.
The Khozas’ neighbour says his dog had started barking incessantly when a man could be seen taking building sand into the house in a wheelbarrow. “It was only after the bodies were found that it dawned on me my dog was barking at the alleged killer,” says the man, who didn’t want to be named.
Two days before the gruesome discovery was made, his dog died. “I suspect my dog was poisoned to silence it because it was barking nonstop at the Khoza house.
“I told the police this,” the neighbour says mournfully. Phindi Louw-Mjonondwane, the National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson, says they are confident they have an air-tight case. “The Khoza family will get justice.”
In February EWN reported that Ernest Mabaso and Fita Khupe were denied bail ad remain in prison until their trial.