TERRIFIED mothers and children from an Eastern Cape village flee their homes every night for fear of being raped and murdered.

Since 2008, 20 people have been killed at Etholeni village – 19 of whom were hacked to death with a panga.

The murders occurred during the night and in most cases the killers did not steal anything.

And so when night falls, frightened residents of Etholeni village near Butterworth abandon their homes and seek refuge at a house owned by a local widow.

At 8am the next morning, they pack their belongings and head back to their homes to begin their daily routine.

About five houses in the village stand unoccupied after their owners relocated to other areas due to security concerns.

The Daily Dispatch visited the village and spent the night in the four-roomed house of widow Nomfundiso Mpontshane which has been turned into a safe haven for more than 20 women and children.

The village is dark at night and floodlights erected by the Amathole District Municipality (ADM) last year to combat the murders are not in working order.

By 7pm, only stray animals roam the streets and not a single villager is seen.

Two weeks ago, four members of one family were attacked. Two children – Liyema, aged one, was hacked to death while his sister Lukhanyo, 13, was raped and strangled to death.

Their grandmother Nomandla Mnxunyelwa and her 11-year-old son Inam are still fighting for their lives at an East London hospital.

Her husband Phumzile said police had not made any inroads in arresting the perpetrators. He had been in Johannesburg when his family was attacked.

“A mad serial killer is definitely on the loose in this village. Now, we are just waiting for the next family to be wiped out; that is how we live here,” said Mnxunyelwa.

He added: “I tell you, if the whites were still in charge of police the suspects would have been caught a long time ago.”

During the night spent there, villagers told our reporters they suspected the killers were members of the community.

The group said the attacks seemed to occur in homes headed by women where no men were present.

Pensioner Nobanda Tshevu said: “It is clear whoever is wiping this community out is someone who lives with us. He knows exactly which houses in the village are owned by women.”

She said a stranger from outside would not be able to tell which house in the village belongs to whom.

“We are on death row in this village. We just cannot do anything to protect ourselves; nobody cares,” said Tshevu.

Mpontshane said since her house was partly empty and at the centre of the village, social workers from ADM persuaded her to open her home to other female villagers who feared for their safety at night.

“I live with two young children and I also fear for my life at night. When these women and children spend the night here I also feel safe,” she said.

The municipality had provided her with mattresses.

Some government departments have intervened and a mobile police station was sent to the village.

“The police have neglected us. What they do is to visit the house where the incident happened, but otherwise they are not visible,” said villager Mthetho Tshevu.

Provincial police spokesperson Major Ernest Sigobe said the community’s cases had been prioritised. “The village is not neglected; police are busy investigating what is happening there, it is not neglected.

“One villager was taken in for questioning by the Hawks unit but has since been released. Police not only have that village to patrol; other villages have to be catered for too.”

Veliswa Mvenya, a DA member of the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature, said the village had been forsaken by the government.

“There was a lot of media attention back then when these murders started. A lot of government MECs went out there and promised a lot of things,” said Mvenya. — zwangam@dispatch.co.za / bonganif@dispatch.co.za