On a Saturday morning in February a crowd looked on as more than 100 girls – including underage mothers clutching small babies – were ushered from the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministry just outside the small Eastern Cape town of Ngcobo.
Some seemed terrified, others appeared to resist police trying to free them. Behind them lay ten corrugated iron shacks in which they’d been living a mysterious, cloistered existence – allegedly as sex slaves, prohibited from going to school.
The crowd cheered as seven bodies were loaded into a mortuary van and driven from the property. The shootout and arrest of 10 individuals followed an attack on the local police station, which saw five police officers and an off-duty soldier murdered.
But while the violent events in Ngcobo came as a shock to the South African public, one organisation was less surprised. The “church” had been a subject of grave concern for the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities since 2016, when it rescued 18 children from the compound.
The ensuing investigation concluded it was a cult and the commission’s chair, Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, described the situation as a “ticking time bomb”. In October 2017 she warned Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs that the situation needed urgent attention.
Four months later, and almost two years to the day since the initial rescue, the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministry would come to a bloody end.
In order to better understand the events leading up to the attack on the Ngcobo police station, and the operations behind the gates of the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministry, News24 sent a team of journalists to Ngcobo in the wake of the tragedy.
The team spoke to the cult leaders, victims’ families, law enforcement and cult experts to piece together a story of brainwashing, vulnerability and violence.