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Muti medicine: Herbs and murder

Mandela called on Africans to come forward if they could help British police  

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- African traditional herbal medicine -- muti -- is normally used to cure minor ailment, but other and more darker methods are associated with the treatments.

In recent years, South Africa has seen a string of occult crimes where people have been the victims of a ritual muti killing.

Former South African leader Nelson Mandela on Friday appealed for anyone with information to come forward to help British detectives identify a victim -- named Adam by the police -- who is suspected to be the victim of a ritualistic murder.

The boy's torso was found floating in London's River Thames. His arms, legs and head have never been recovered and police believe his body parts may used for traditional medicines.

Mandela in 'torso murder' plea 

There are no statistics for the number of muti murders in South Africa and estimates vary from one a month to 300 a year, according to Gerard Labuschagne, commander of the South African Police Service's investigative psychology unit.

Such killings are usually distinguished by the dismembered bodies of the victims. It is believed that body parts -- including internal organs -- are sometimes removed from victims still living, in the belief that their screams enhance the medicine's power.

"The removal of genitals is very characteristic," Labuschagne says. "The parts have different significances -- a hand might be used by a businessman who wants to attract customers. Genitals are a source of good luck."

The dismembered body was found near London's Tower Bridge
The dismembered body was found near London's Tower Bridge  

In the London case, the killers removed the boy's "Atlas" bone -- the vertebra that connects the neck and spine.

"If it was a muti murder, then the bone is a symbolically important part of the body," Labuschagne said.

But there are also hundreds of muti medicines, which are widely used, containing nothing more sinister than plant extracts.

There are muti cures for headaches -- a type of light-brown snuff -- and an olive-green mixture is said to help kidney problems, or drops to ease high blood pressure.

There are herbal concoctions that can make you more sexually powerful -- different kinds for men and women.


• London murder 'human sacrifice'
January 29, 2002

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