'Witch' chickens cause flutter

Giyani, South Africa - A hen and rooster are safe in police custody after superstitious villagers accused the hapless chickens of being a witch's familiars.

The chickens are believed to have zeroed in on Emelda Mabunda's house in Ngove near Giyani, wearing traditional Xitsonga clothing and smeared with ochre, like that used by sangomas.

Mabunda said her eight-year-old son, Vongani, first discovered them when he went to use the outside toilet about 05:00 on Monday.

"My son immediately ran to wake me up. He said there were chickens with beards and wearing colourful traditional outfits," said a shaken Mabunda.

"It was such a frightening scene that I had to wake up my neighbours."

When her neighbours arrived, the two chickens remained motionless at the front door to her house.

Dead chicken would identify "witch'

"Some people tried to shout at them, but the chickens just stared at them," she said.

One resident, Josiah Rikhotso, suggests the chickens be killed to identify the witch.

"Every black person knows that if an animal used for witchcraft is killed, then the owner of that animal dies magically," he explained.

Captain Maano Sadike of Mopani police said they confiscated the chickens and were keeping them safe at Giyani police station.

"We're afraid these chickens may spark a witch hunt in an already volatile area," he said.

In February, a teenager was killed and more than 15 houses were torched by villagers who accused the owners of witchcraft.

Sadike said police were consulting with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals about the fate of the chickens.

He confirmed the chicken were wearing clothes and had ochre smeared on their heads.

"But our officers carried them without any fear and nothing happened to them," he said.