Pastor arrested after teen’s death in alleged exorcism ritual
The family of Thozama Sonjica, 17, who died after she was allegedly tortured during a botched exorcism, sat in a darkened room in their modest home on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast on Monday, overcome by grief and anger.
They were comforted by KwaZulu-Natal social development MEC Nonhlanhla Khoza and a team of officials while they discussed the events leading up to the teen’s death and the alleged assault and torturing of four other children believed to have been “possessed by demons”.
A pastor residing in the KwaNzimakwe area in the Ray Nkonyeni municipality allegedly held the girls hostage for five days from May 25, accusing them of being controlled by demons.
It is alleged the children were assaulted, beaten and had water and salt poured over their bodies and noses before being released to their parents. However, Sonjica didn’t return home.
Her mother reported the incident to officials at her daughter’s school.
At the family home, a group of community members gathered to show support for the grieving family.
Mxolisi Jula, who spoke on behalf of the family, said had they not been a law-abiding family, things could have turned out differently if they sought revenge.
“Maybe some of us would either be in hospital or detained in prison,” said Jula, who is a councillor in the area.
He said the five teenage children had been close friends and Sonjica was soft-spoken.
Deputy principal of Bheki High School, Grace Mavundla, which the five children attended, said two parents, including Sonjica’s mother, had told teachers their children had gone on a religious retreat
“We did not read much into this, thinking maybe this was a family thing,” said Mavundla.
She said a week later a family representative told them the child had died.
Khoza said those who assaulted the children had clear intentions to inflict pain.
“It is unfortunate that people who are supposed to protect children, including the church, were involved in such abuse, leading to the death of a child. We want to see all those involved in the assaults, torturing and brutal killing of children arrested.”
She said the allegations were very serious, especially as the church was supposed to be a “sanctuary” for children.
The MEC said the concerned parents also had to answer as to why their children were allowed to be away.
”It cannot be normal that children are assaulted and murdered like this. Our social workers should visit the school to provide psychosocial support,” she said.
KwaNzimakwe Traditional Council leader Inkosi Bhekizizwe Nzimakwe said he was “pained by the horrible incident” involving a church and that no-one reported it.
KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Brig Jay Naicker said a 40-year old man had been arrested and appeared in court on Monday.
He said Port Edward police responded to information of a death in the Brema area on May 29. “Upon arrival at the scene, police were shown the body of a 17-year-old who had injuries to her body. Police were told the victim committed suicide because she was possessed with demons. An inquest docket was opened for investigation,” he said.
“On June 3 police received a report of a 16-year-old girl treated for injuries at a local clinic and taken to hospital for medical attention. It was established there were another three girls inside the house, and the girls aged between 15 and 18 were rescued.”
Naicker said postmortem results indicated the first victim died due to injuries sustained after a severe assault.
Charges of murder, attempted murder and assault with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm were opened.
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