The accused leave court on October 12, 2017
Johannesburg CNN  — 

When a South African traditional healer wandered into a police station last year and told officers he was “tired of eating human flesh,” the police struggled to believe his morbid claim.

That changed when Nino Mbatha, who was also carrying a bag containing a human leg and hand, took the officers to a house in the town of Estcourt, in KwaZulu-Natal province, where more body parts were found.

The case, which has horrified South Africans and been dubbed locally the “cannibal case,” came to a close on Wednesday when Mbatha, 33, and Lungisani Magubane, 32, were given life sentences for murder, AFP reports. A third man was acquitted. All three men denied the charges, according to local media.

Traditional medicine

Pietermaritzburg High Court judge Peter Olsen sentenced both men to life in prison for the killing of Zanele Hlatshwayo last year, saying they were guilty of “the most heinous crime,” according to local media.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Natasha Ramkissoon-Kara told CNN that Mbatha denied saying he ate human flesh shortly after his arrest and prosecutors opted to try the case as murder instead.

Mutilating a corpse and being in possession of human tissue are criminal offenses, but there is no direct law against cannibalism in South Africa.

According to the indictment seen by CNN, Magubane approached Mbatha for muti – a South African term for traditional medicine – to help him attain good fortune. Mbatha suggested they get a woman or child for this purpose as the “ancestors insisted that blood needed to be spilled.”

Stuff of nightmares

Prosecutors said Hlatshwayo, who was 25, was killed by Mbatha with the assistance of Magubane.

She was dismembered and some of her body parts were used to make traditional medicine, prosecutors said.

“What happened in this case is truly awful. It was the stuff of nightmares. How one would react in such circumstances is unpredictable. One may well want to unburden oneself of guilt, but later have second thoughts,” the judge said according to Witness news.