“I didn’t know he was using people’s bodies as fertilizer” – Masoyi Monster’s neighbour about his vegetables

She was often woken by the sound of the guy who lived next door watering his garden. Gogo Lizzy Masuku’s young neighbour loved tending to the vegetable patch in his yard but she wasn’t bothered by his early morning routine. In fact, she always admired her neigh- bour’s green fingers.

“His spinach and mealies always came out a lot bigger than ours but I thought it was because he has a tractor and bigger hose pipes,” Gogo Lizzy (73) says.

“I didn’t know he was using people’s bodies as fertiliser.”

Julius Mndawe, the so-called Masoyi Monster, hit headlines when he was arrested for the rape and murder of five young women, all aged between 15 and 24, in Mpumalanga. For more than a year a predator has been stalking women in Masoyi as well as in the neighbouring village of Numbi.

The 25-year-old man recently confessed to killing Banele Khoza, Nomthan- dazo Mdluli, Noxolo Mdluli, Felicia Ndlhovu and Tokkie Tlaka. He took police to his home in Masoyi where he pointed out the bodies buried in his house and back garden.

Gog’ Lizzy is stunned she’s been living next to an alleged serial killer. At one point Mndawe, a former security guard, minded her young grandchildren while she went to church. She can’t believe the man she treated like a son has been accused of such monstrous crimes.

“We both love growing vegetables. He really took good care of his vegetables. He’d even give me fertiliser.

“I didn’t know I was growing my plants next to dead bodies.

“I was so shocked I even had to go to the clinic because my blood pressure

shot up.”

Gog’ Lizzy saw Mndawe bloom from a boy to a young man.

“I know his mother. She said if he gives me problems, I should tell them, but I loved him. I preferred talking to him than telling his parents because he was a child to me.” He was “quiet”, she says, yet there was one time she decided to give him a talking to.

“At some point his loud music shattered our house windows,” she recalls.

“I pleaded with him several times to turn it down, especially at night, but he didn’t. He didn’t argue with me either. He just turned back and left me standing there. That boy had a thing for loud music.”

Now she believes he was trying to make sure they didn’t hear anything sinister.

Her home is separated from the graveyard of death by a chicken-wire fence. Mndawe’s three-roomed house has been torched, allegedly by angry community members outraged that the young women’s bodies were found in the back yard of one of their own. This has destroyed evidence and compromised the case.

Four bricks used to support his mattress are visible through the shattered windows. Gog’ Lizzy gazes at the pawpaw tree in Mndawe’s garden. He often shared the fruit and vegetables he grew in abundance with neighbours and friends.

 “I can’t believe I’ve been eating food from this soil,” she says.

She’d always regarded Mndawe a bit of a ladies’ man but she can’t believe the women’s bodies were buried practically under her nose.

“I watched as girls went in and out of his house. I would see them wash his clothes and clean his house. Sometimes it would be two girls at the same time,” she tells us.

The devout Christian occasionally asked Mndawe to look after her grandchildren, girls aged between nine and 14, so she could attend church on those Sundays when her son, a long-distance truck driver, had to work.

“I trusted him with them because I thought he was a good person,” she says.

“I didn’t know he was capable of something like this.”

Those who know him agree. His friend Bernard Mashaba describes Mndawe as a good guy with a weakness for women.

“I still ask myself what happened to this boy because he’d go to work, come back and go to his garden. He wasn’t troublesome.”

Mndawe reportedly confessed to committing multiple murders after he was arrested in June and charged with the murder of 24-year-old Tokkie, who is thought to have been his last victim.

Nomthandazo (18) and Felicia (19) – who were close friends – were found buried beneath the floor of an extra room Mndawe was building, while the bodies of Banele (15), Noxolo (19) and Tokkie were hidden in the garden.

One of the victims was buried with her cellphone, according to reports.

Bernard is still taken aback by the gruesome discovery: “We ate his vegetables not knowing there were bodies buried there. They were fresh and his soil was very rich, so we enjoyed free veggies. I don’t think anyone can lie and say they didn’t eat it.”

Another friend of his, Vusi Mnisi (30), says he thinks Mndawe couldn’t live with his secrets anymore. “He wasn’t sleeping at all. He worked as a security guard but he would come back from work in the afternoon and buy us alcohol every day.”

The three drinking buddies would sit and drink at Mndawe’s house.

“There was no smell,” Vusi says.

“I don’t know what he used to kill the smell but we drank there and we didn’t smell anything foul.”

Tokkie’s sister Gladness knew something was wrong when she hadn’t heard from her in a while.

Tokkie, whom she described as very private, had gone out on 10 May but Gladness started worrying when she hadn’t returned home to her four-year-old daughter after a few days.

She filed a missing person report with the Masoyi police, who tracked Tokkie’s cell-phone. It led them toMndawe’s house. Tokkie had arranged to meet him through Facebook, Times Live reports.

The pair had only known each other for three days. Her sister’s alleged killer is facing a lifetime behind bars but it’s little comfort to Gladness. “I miss her,” she says.

“We were only two girls and three brothers, all of whom are married.

“I want him to die. I think I’ll have peace when I know he is also dead. What he did is painful. I miss my sister every day; I miss her smile and I miss her teasing me. Now I have to look after her daughter because Tokkie is dead.”

August marks a year since Noxolo’s family last saw her. She was in matric at Mshadza Secondary School when she disappeared last year. Her mother, Thembisile Mdluli, says she wasn’t worried when Noxolo didn’t come home after a few days as she often spent weeks at her friends’ homes “but I used to call her almost every day and she did the same”, she says.

“Then she suddenly stopped calling me.”

The distraught mom says she received a text message from her daughter’s phone warning her to stop calling.

“I couldn’t sleep or eat, thinking about my child. I’ve lost weight because of this.”

She reported her daughter missing to police but claims no one did anything. Desperate, Thembisile wrote to SABC1’s Khumbul’ekhaya for help to find her only daughter. Now the mom knows what happened, yet she still has questions.

“I want to know why this boy killed my daughter.”