By Cletus Mushanawani
Two seven-year-old cousins killed last week on their way home from school in central Mutasa are suspected to have been murdered by their uncle who allegedly tried to throw search parties off the scent by giving false information as the community mobilised to find the missing children.
Dilan and Melissa Benza were killed at an abandoned homestead halfway on the direct 4km route between Mbaza Primary School and their home. Their bodies, with deep neck cuts and throats slit, were dumped in a disused toilet. Search parties followed a trail of blood found at the homestead when searching the day after the killings.
While initial reports suggested the bodies were intact, there are now suspicions that blood was extracted and that some body parts could have been taken.
Solomon Manyau (48) is a maternal uncle to Dilan, and a member of Mbaza Primary School’s School Development Committee. He emerged as the prime suspect because when the searches started on the afternoon of Tuesday last week he allegedly said he had last seen the children near the Kavhuru homestead about 4km from the school, and then later changed his story and said he had last seen them near the school looking for wild fruits, hubva or tsubvu.
Although Manyau was the first to be picked up, police then wanted to talk to Passmore Sambaza, thought to be the last person seen with the children. But he allegedly tried to flee the area and was reportedly picked near London Stores as he was leaving.
Manyau and Sambaza are expected to appear in court today (Wednesday) for initial remand.
Whoever killed the small children took advantage of the overgrown surroundings of the abandoned Sambaza homestead.
The tall grass gave the murderers enough cover to execute their mission without drawing any attention from passers-by.
Although post-mortem results are still to be given, Melissa’s father, Mr Douglas Benza, believes that the children were killed for rituals. He said some people who had close scrutiny of the two children’s bodies moments after being retrieved from the Blair toilet where they had been thrown, said some body parts were missing.
The agitated community did not mince its words when a visit was made to the area at the weekend, demanding justice to the perpetrators.
Dilan’s mother, Ms Lydia Manyau, who had emotions choking her regularly during the 18-minute narration of the events had no kind words to her relative, Solomon.
“It pains to lose your child in such a cruel manner. On that day, I woke up early and prepared breakfast and lunchbox for my son. Dilan and Melissa are cousins and were just inseparable even in death. They would walk to and from school together.
“There was an SDC meeting at the school, and I also attended the meeting, but left a bit early. I never harboured thoughts that I would never see my son again. I went back home to attend to other chores. Being Grade One children, I expected them to arrive home earlier than other upper grades, but on that day they were not home on time.
“Around 3pm, I started having a feeling that something was amiss because the children would usually arrive home around 1pm. I checked with Melissa’s parents, who stay nearby and they said their daughter was still to arrive,” she said.
Ms Manyau said they spread word around Sambaza and Mhanda villages of the missing children. The Benzas are originally from Mhanda Village, but are currently staying in Sambaza Village.
“As it was getting dark, a neighbour suggested that we communicate with Solomon Manyau as he was among the last people to leave the SDC meeting at Mbaza Primary School. When he was phoned, Solomon indicated that he had last seen the children near the Kavhuru homestead. We combed the area, but failed to locate the children.
“We even searched the nearby Nhindiwa River to no avail. We phoned Manyau again and he said he had last seen the children near the school grounds looking for wild fruits. His narrations were not tallying and this prompted us to go back to the school.
“Although it was late at night, I braved the darkness to go and inquire with Dilan’s teacher. We were told that the two had left school around mid-day and I was left weak-kneed,” said Ms Manyau as emotions got the better of her.
The search continued the following day on Wednesday and the search parties were boosted by the seconding of Form Four and Six boys from Mbaza High School, leading to the discovery of the children in the pit latrine.
Mr Benza said although he is still to come face-to-face with the suspects following their arrest, he will never forgive them.
“I cannot fathom my daughter being brutally killed. When her body was retrieved from the pit latrine, she had dust all over showing that she had tried to resist, but was overpowered.
“I think Solomon’s inconsistent answers when he was phoned was a decoy to keep the search parties away from the crime scene as they were busy concealing evidence. We are also being told that there was a speeding car that was spotted around Sadziwa area around 10pm as we were searching for the children,” said Mr Benza.
“We are being told that death sentence was outlawed, but these people do not have a place in our society. Once convicted, they should be relocated to another area because I cannot continue interacting with them. They should also undergo the same pain that our children went through before they met their fate,” he said.
Mr Benza added: “I cannot believe it that at this time and age there are people who still believe in ritual killings. Why did they target our two innocent children. My heart is also bleeding as I recently lost another child in unclear circumstances. The child just complained of stomach pain and died before being attended to at the clinic.” The Herald