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Venda on the boil

On the 5th of August this year, students from the University of Venda marched to the government buildings. They were protesting against the death of one of their fellow students, Mukosi Mavhina, who was found hanged.

The students were angry. They believed that Mavhina was the latest victim in a long line of “muti murders”. They carried placards on their march. These posters said things like, “Away with ritual killings” and “We need protection and justice”.

But the students were not the only ones who were angry. A week after the march, the factories and the schools were empty. Government departments did not work. The shops were closed. There were no busses or taxis. Nearly everyone in Venda was on stayaway for about two weeks.

With the stayaway, the people of Venda were saying, “Enough! Away with the people who are killing us!”


One of the problems for the people of Venda is ‘mushonga’, or muti murders. The victims are strangled to death. Parts of their bodies are cut off while they are still alive. These parts are then made into a ‘muti’ by a Nyanga.

Some people believe some homeland leaders are behind the ‘muti’ killings. They say the homeland leaders are ignorant.They believe that to keep their power, they must have very powerful ‘muti’— and that this ‘muti’ must come from the human body.

“The ritual murders set off an explosion here,” said Reverend Mphapuli, who works for the South African Council of Churches (SACC) in Venda. “The stayaway was not organised in the open. It just exploded.”


The ‘mushonga’ is not the only problem — the homeland’s leaders kill the people in other ways too.

Says one student, “There is much dishonesty in the government. Unemployment is high, and those who do have work are paid peanuts. Workers are also not allowed to form trade unions.

“The homeland government is using chiefs and headmen to get what it wants. These chiefs and headmen are taxing people a lot of money. They are just using people to get money and people are tired of this.” People also have problems with the homeland’s “Tshitangu Tshapila- misevhe Party” (TTP) — which used to be called the Venda Youth League.

“The TTP is working for the government. It tries to stop students from forming democratic organisations,” said another student.


Florence Mavhina, sister of the murdered man, told Learn and Teach her sad story. “It was on a Sunday morning when my brother told us there were some people who wanted to kill him. He did not want to name these people. After this he went out, saying he wanted to visit his friends. And we never saw him alive again. The police told us that he had killed himself.”

Rev Mphapuli continues the story: “He was found hanging from a tree 20km from his home. There was a lot of blood near his body. But this blood could not be properly explained.”

One of the people told us he spoke to a young policeman. He wanted to know why the police were so lazy in bringing the murderers to book. The policeman said to him:”lt doesn’t help — when you try to find out who did it, you get called to order by your seniors. You are threatened with being stripped of your uniform.”


The stayaway frightened the homeland government. The Venda government is like the government in Pretoria. They like to sweep their problems under the bed, where nobody can see them. The Venda government decided to use the stayaway to destroy all who were against them.

Says Rev Mpaphuli, “The police were very violent after the stayaway. But they did not know who to blame. Many people were arrested including students, youth and parents. Most of them said they had been badly beaten by the police.

“About 200 people have been detained since the stayaway. And many people are scared for the lives of those detained because the police are so violent.”


What can people do? Mpaphuli and other priests can do a little. But they are the only ones who can still openly help the victims of Venda’s injustice.

The government does not allow anyone else to do anything.

The problems in Venda have not stopped. “There will be forced removals before long. Most of the people from the village of Miliwani will soon be removed. This area is just opposite the government ministers’ houses. So there will be a lot of future problems,” says Rev Mphapuli.

The struggles in Venda are led by the youth. They are strong. Some schools were still boycotting classes at the time Learn and Teach wrote this story.

The stayaway showed that the Venda people are sick and tired of the evil in their government. It showed they are ready to fight back against those who ‘kill’ them. As the Rev Mphapuli says, “Things will never be the same here again.”

NEW WORDS ignorant — uneducated ritual — when something is done in the name of religion or custom strangle — to kill by squeezing the throat


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