A 33-YEAR-old former rugby player who was once in South Africa’s Under-21 team, was accused in court yesterday of murdering three men with an axe, but police denied reports that the killings were triggered by the gang rape and subsequent HIV infection of his daughter.
Joseph Ntshongwana, a flanker who played for the Blue Bulls, one of the country’s top teams, was charged with three counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and one of assault with intention to admit grievous bodily harm.
He appeared before a magistrate in Durban and was remanded in custody until April 7.
Mr Ntshongwana, a committed Christian who allegedly carried a Bible in one hand and an axe in the other, was arrested in the eastern coastal city of Durban early on Tuesday.
One of his alleged victims was decapitated and two others hacked in the neck until they died.
A fourth man who narrowly escaped with his life, said that the killer accused him of being in the gang who raped and infected his daughter, triggering an outpouring of public support for the alleged murderer.
However, shortly after the court appearance, police in Durban said that no case of rape was being investigated in connection with the deaths.
It said that authorities had yet to confirm if Mr Ntshongwana even had a daughter.
Vincent Mdunge, a police spokesman, said that it was unlikely that revenge was the motive. “We have ruled out completely the element of rape. There has not been any element of rape that is attached to him. He therefore has been killing people out of evil nature,” he said.
Mr Ntshongwana did not speak or enter a plea during the short hearing. It is alleged that the incident took place between last Sunday and Wednesday in township areas around the city.
One of his alleged victims has been named as Paulos Hlongwa, 46. Police said the security guard’s head was found in a dustbin more than a mile away from his body. Police raided Mr Ntshongwana’s home in an upmarket area after a tip-off and allegedly found the murder weapon as well as bloodstained clothes from one of the victims.
Mr Mdunge said that Mr Ntshongwana could now be identified because he had appeared in court and had been formally charged with the killings.
Earlier reports said mistakenly that his identity had been withheld to protect his daughter.
The player, who comes from the Eastern Cape province – Nelson Mandela’s home and one of the few where blacks prefer rugby to soccer – has listed himself as single in a profile on Facebook. Several postings on the site are focused on his faith.
One last May stated: “The word of God is alive in me. My life is an unending flow of success, favour and grace. I walk in boldness and refuse to give up the success, favour, prosperity and divine health which is available to me in Christ.”
Another Bulls player, Bees Roux, is awaiting trial after allegedly beating a black policeman to death in a separate incident.
However, although the latest incident has no racist overtones, its brutality has shocked a nation which has one of the highest crime rates in the world.