Bongani Fuzile and Zwanga Mukhuthu
MORE than 500 men from Tholeni village, near Butterworth, were rounded up by police in the early hours of yesterday morning as the search for the killers of 17 women and children continued.
The brutal murders, which began in 2007, rocked the village – dubbed the village of death – and caused widespread fear.
The same modus operandi of hacking the victims to death with what is suspected to be a panga was used.
Yesterday, all the men from the village were loaded in police vehicles and taken to a mobile centre, where DNA samples were taken. It is hoped these samples will assist police in the investigation, which has left officers baffled for years.
Called Operation Good Hope, the raid was a closely guarded secret and Butterworth police spokesman Captain Jackson Manatha said it formed part of ongoing investigations into the murders.
"Police were out in full force in the village yesterday. We were welcomed by the villagers and not a single man showed any resistance; they were very supportive,” Manatha said.
He said the operation was being driven by the police’s provincial office and about 160 officers from all units in the province took part, using helicopters, police dogs and horse and foot patrols.
"All the units were here and we believe this will yield some results,” Manatha said.
"DNA samples were taken from all men who stay in this village ... If [any] are linked to any of the murders, police will investigate further.”
Yesterday morning, police combed the village and called in at every household, rounding up the men. They were taken to a local church hall where they waited patiently in three different queues.
In the first queue the men were asked to provide their personal details, including names, addresses and identity numbers. In queue two, DNA samples were taken by health officials. Fingerprints were taken in the third queue.
Resident Mziyanda Centhane said: "For the past six years we have lived in fear, not knowing which family will be next and who is responsible for this terror.
"This [operation] gives us good hope because police might finally locate the people responsible for butchering our children.”
Still clutching his blankets, elderly resident Zamikhaya Matyumza said: "The last time police woke me up was during the struggle days.”
Manatha said that through the operation, police were showing the community was not neglected.
"We have a R250000 reward for any person who can assist in the arrest and conviction of a person who is involved in this, but that does not mean police will rely on that, hence the area was invaded and all men taken for DNA [samples]. The village will never be left neglected,” Manatha said.
He said normal policing operations in the village, like the 24-hour mobile police station and police patrols, would not be removed following the raid.
Investigators still needed information from the public regarding the murders. "This operation does not stop police from continuing with their work,” he said.