THE recent killings totalling five women now in Lusaka has evoked sad memories of 1980 when 29 young women were strangled after being raped on separate occasions between January and July.
This July has seen three young women being murdered within a space of three weeks while two women have already been murdered in August bringing the total number to five.
The brutal killing of 19-year-old student at the National Institute of Public Administration (NIPA), Ruth Mbandu who was found dumped in Emmasdale residential area marked the beginning of the bizarre happenings.
A week after Ruth's gruesome murder on July 13, another young woman, Sharon Tembo, aged 27 of Matero Township was on July 28 murdered near her home.
Yet again on August, 7, a 23-year-old woman, Mazuba Kapembwa's body was found in the morning under a row of bushes near a night club on Chilimbulu Road.
On August 9, another woman, Thandiwe Longwe, aged 30, was found lying unconscious around 21:00 hours on Wednesday in Ng'ombe Township injured in strange circumstances but later died at Levy Mwanawasa Hospital.
The following day on August 10, the body of 65-year-old Mailes Banda was found in Mandevu Township.
Investigations in all these cases of women found gruesomely killed are yet to be concluded.
Meanwhile, the public is waiting anxiously to hear the out- come of these probes. And Inspector General of Police Stella Libongani has sent a message of hope to the Matero residents urging them to work together with the officers during intensified patrols in providing vital information which could link them to the perpetrators of the serious criminal activities being recorded in the area.
But one thing for sure, these macabre killings have sent shock waves not only to Lusaka residents where the crimes have been recorded but also throughout the country.
Most people are wondering what has triggered such a scenario.
Not that there were no murder cases recorded previously but it is the pace and the pattern at which these cases are occurring which is worrying.
On Ruth's killing, residents in Emmasdale widely suspected the incident to be a ritualistic murder considering the way the body was found but that is just mere suspicion, there is still no empirical proof to that effect until investigations are exhausted.
Ruth's body was found in the early hours of the morning a few metres away from her mother's house with her facial skin skillfully peeled off and her eyes folked out.
Many residents in the area speculated that this could have been a ritual murder because there was no way an ordinary killing could involve the peeling of the facial skin later on poking of eyes, what was the motive?
But in Ruth's case some people including the deceased's uncle are being held pending investigations to establish their involvement in the alleged murder .They are yet to appear before a court depending on police findings.
According to Ruth's mother, Victoria Mbandu, her daughter left home on the fateful day to visit her uncle in Kabanana Township and that was the last time she ever saw her daughter alive.
"At 18:00 hours, I got a call from my daughter who said she was on a bus at Ody's Filling Station on her way home. That is the last time I heard from her," said Ms Mbandu.
On Sharon's death it is believed that she was killed around 22:00 hours near her home when she was coming from her salon and managed to enter the house and lay on the bed after which she requested her partner to take her to the clinic.
Police said the partner to the beautician whom she was cohabiting with had been charged with murder in regard to the unclear circumstances surrounding the killing.
"We have arrested the companion to the victim whose name we are withholding and charged him with murder," police spokesperson, Charity Chanda said.
Damson Tembo who is Sharon's father sounded perplexed about the news of his daughter's demise. He could not fathom the incident.
He said he received a phone call around 23:00 hours from UTH advising him that his daughter had been taken there with serious injuries and later around 23:30 hours while on his way he received another call informing him that she had actually died.
"When I reached the hospital, they showed me the body of my daughter which was at the Brought in Dead (BID) section and after checking, I saw that she had a wound on the forehead as if she was hit with a metal bar and she also had a deep cut in the neck," said Mr Tembo.
On Mazuba's killing, police say the woman is suspected to have been raped before being killed because the zip on her trousers was found open.
Mazuba's body was picked up on Tuesday morning (August around 11.00 hours under the hedge on Chilumbulu Road. She is believed to have gone out with an unidentified friend on Monday night.
Mazuba's mother, Josephine Mweetwa said a female friend of her late daughter went to their house around 16:00 hours on Monday and together with Mazuba's children went to a nearby shop.
She said Mazuba returned home around 19:00 hours and informed her that she had friends waiting outside and that they would be going out somewhere.
"My last words were that - don't go.
Nowadays people kill. She promised that she would be back later," but she never did," said the grief stricken Ms Mweetwa.
Like Ruth's mother, that was the last time she ever saw and heard of her daughter because the following day around 10:00 hours, she got a phone call from a fellow congregant at Woodlands Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) that someone had identified the body of her daughter in Chilenje.
What boggles the minds of many is that it was significant that all the victims of the killings were women in their youth except the latest victim, Mailes who was 65 years old.
Is there someone or a group of ritual killers on the loose targeting only this age group? Or perhaps a serial killer lurking somewhere on the streets of Lusaka looking for whom to devour? Who exactly is behind these gruesome killings, it is more than a coincidence that they could just be ordinary murders. Strange enough all have occurred within a short space of time. Perhaps this is where police needs to do more in terms of investigating the cases thoroughly to ensure that they get to the depth of these cases without leaving any stone unturned.
Otherwise what is happening now is mere speculation there is much more in terms of information to provide a link which the public needs to know concerning these killings.
In 1980, a killer was on the loose raping and strangling women from January to July without being nabbed.
Like in the recent killings, the victims were aged between 20 and 30 and they were all lone girls on whom the killer pounced at night of course after trailing them. Another thing significant about the 1980 killings was that all the victims were visitors and therefore total strangers to Lusaka, apparently looking for jobs or visiting relatives.
Evidence showed that the victims were raped, strangled and dumped in isolated places. Police advised parents and the young women to avoid moving alone at night.
As the killings persisted, a Lusaka psychiatrist, Professor Alan Haworth described the killer as a rare case.
Police arrested two men in connection with the killings but one of them named Mufungulwa Sipalo, a lance corporal in the Zambia National Defence Force jumped to his death from the roof of the Lusaka Central Police station as officers and firemen watched helplessly .
It was discovered that Sipalo was responsible for four of the murders out of the 29 young women in that wave of killings.
In the recent killings in Lusaka the province's police chief, Solomon Jere last week ruled out the possibility of ritual murders being at play.
Earlier, Dr Jere said the killings were 'crimes of passion', particularly the later ones.
"These are mainly crimes of passion involving lovers and they have nothing to do with ritual murders.
The cases are on the increase and we are re-invigorating our neighborhood watch and support units to provide assistance.
We have a strategy to curb this and also increase sensitisation," said Dr Jere.
But a day after the killing of Thandiwe, Dr Jere changed stance and said the country seemed to have been invaded by a weird spirit.
He pointed out that this kind of thing had not been experienced before and said police had intensified patrols in most areas to mitigate the escalating levels of crime.
He warned that police would also arrest anyone found loitering after 20:00 hours and would only release them in the morning after paying an admission of guilt fine.
"We have started intensified patrols to safe-guard the lives of people and instructions have been issued to all police stations to arrest anyone found loitering," said Dr Jere.
Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) men's network coordinator, Raymond Havwala said it was sad that young women were victims of this spate of killings. He urged women to be getting home early and move in groups to avoid being attacked.
Government spokesperson, Kennedy Sakeni said Government was doing everything possible to nab the perpetrators saying that it was sad that four women (before the 5th one was found) were murdered within one month.
Gender Activist, Dorothy Velemu added her voice to the sad development of murder cases involving women and said violence against women should be given utmost attention because they were not safe anymore.
Ms Velemu who is a gender focal person at Livingstone's Kwenua Women Association and gender based violence coordinator said it was a sad development that the killing of women in the country had reached an alarming rate and most women did not feel safe anymore.
She said it was time that Government put stringent measures in place to safeguard or protect young innocent women from being killed mercilessly.
"But this should not only be about Government, even the communities themselves should speak out when they witness cases of GBV," she said.
She advocated for death penalty for perpetrators saying that would serve as a warning to people who committed serious crimes.
"The death penalty is the best way to go because these people have no mercy when they are killing others.
They are not scared to kill because they know they will only be sentenced to life imprisonment which is nothing to most of them Death Penalty is the answer," said Ms Velemu.
But as the Lusaka killings escalate, many residents have complained that most young women were risking their lives because of their late movements and heavy beer drinking activities.
The residents also blamed the increase in killings on mushrooming of brothels and drinking places.
However, some women are just victims of circumstances and do not patronise drinking places like the latest 65-year-old victim, Mailes Banda who was raped before being killed in Mandevu Township.
A cross section of people not only in Lusaka but other parts of the country have urged citizens to be vigilant and assist the police in tackling the problem which has become a thorn in the flesh and also denting the good image of our peaceful society..
Matero Member of Parliament (MP) Miles Sampa also appealed to the high command in Lusaka to pay extra attention to the vast Matero Constituency which is over populated and protect the residents of that area.
Indeed, it is important for residents to be vigilant and help the police sniff around for possible suspects in the wave of crimes as criminal elements tend to live among innocent citizens.
When all is said and done, it remains to be seen that citizens, especially the young women who are potential victims of the ruthless murders heed the timely warnings for them to exercise caution in their movements while police are also doing their part that of providing security.
A stitch in time saves nine.