White River — About 300 Mpumalanga villagers marched to a tribal authority this week to demand that their elders hand over two alleged zombies so that they could burn them to death.
The villagers walked away disappointed, however, because the zombies turned out to be two mentally disabled and very dishevelled brothers, aged 10 and 13.
The villagers had heard that the "zombies" would be appearing in a trial at the tribal authority offices in Gutshwakop near White River.
The trial was against eight teenagers who tried to burn down a butchery because the owner had helped the "zombies."
Superstitious villagers believe that zombies are raised from the dead to work for witches. Zombies are traditionally short, which is why the children were easily victimised.
Butcher Oupa Shawe said the neglected children first arrived at his butchery in November last year and asked his assistants for food.
"The two kids have long teeth, nails and hair and smell bad because they are so dirty," he said.
"My assistants were so terrified when the boys approached them they locked themselves in a storeroom," he added.
Shawe offered the children food and called the police who took them to their aunt's house because their mother was also mentally disabled and unable to care for them. Their father is dead.
"A few days later the community started insulting my family and accused me of keeping zombies," Shawe said. "They also threatened to burn my business if I refused to hand over the two kids."
Masoyi police inspector Vusi Mhlongo said no criminal charges had been laid against the eight teenagers.
The shamefaced teenagers were instead found guilty by the tribal court and ordered to apologise in front of the packed courtroom.
They were also told to return to their community and apologise for spreading false information.