Eating human flesh is seen as gross, inhumane and tantamount to ‘witchcraft’ globally and even more so in Africa. This is why the recent revelations by an estimated hundreds of South Africans that they have devoured human meat are making headlines and causing shivers and panic.

A community meeting, following the arrest of four accused cannibals: Nino Mbatha, 32; Lindokuhle Masondo, 32; Sthembiso Sithole, 31, and 30-year-old Lungisani Magubane saw an estimated 300 people confessing to having devoured human flesh knowingly.

According to News 24 the four appeared in court on Monday in Estcourt to face charges of murder and conspiracy for allegedly raping, killing, mutilating and eating the body of a woman.

According to several reports it has been alleged that one of the suspects allegedly walked into a police station on Friday while holding human body parts, including a leg and a hand, and confessed to being “tired of eating human flesh.”

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Colonel Thembeka Mbhele, a police spokesman, said Mbatha; one of the accused cannibals who also acts as a traditional healer was arrested in Amangwe, where more body parts were found.

Even scarier are revelations that some residents have confessed to personally digging up graves at Mbatha’s direction before giving him the recovered remains.

This revelation has sparked controversy and questions around cannibalism with Prof. Gérard Labuschagne, clinical psychologist and former Head of the SAPS’ specialised Investigative Psychology Section (IPS) saying people who eat human flesh in his experience usually have mental health problems.

Quoted by News 24, the Professor said, ““In my experience, it usually has nothing to do with muti rituals, as is often believed,” he said.

Interestingly there is no criminal charge for eating human flesh, however, South Africa’s National Health Act stipulates that it is illegal to be in possession of any human tissue unless authorised by the relevant person or institution and the desecration or mutilation of a corpse is a criminal act.

In Uganda, in 2014,  Baboola, a self professed cannibal told Vocativ his story starting from the first time he tasted human flesh as a child.

Watch the video here.

In 2015, an African Union report exposed disturbing findings through testimonies by victims of forced cannibalism, gang rapes, and the discovery of mass graves amongst other graphic alleged atrocities. According to the report, there was, “extreme cruelty exercised through mutilation of bodies, burning of bodies, draining human blood from people who had just been killed and forcing others from one ethnic community to drink the blood or eat burnt human flesh”.

In March, Fact Check released reports of how fake news had been circulating on some restaurants in South Africa serving human flesh.  While cannibalism seems to be a reality globally, the most worrying thing is having to live in fear of being attacked for such purposes whether as a victim of rituals or of those suffering from mental illness.