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Anguish of woman left to live in terror

Tuesday April 21 2009

By JOHN NGIRACHU and JOHN NJAGI

Mama Esther Wangui Mathenge, who put her age at just over 65, had her life spared.

But the state of her compound conveyed the anguish that was tormenting her. There were dark spots, where the blood had flowed from her four workers before it soaked into the ground.

There were woollen caps and torn pieces of clothing strewn all over. Women, some weeping, but the majority too stunned to do anything, just sat in groups.

Children were too shocked to understand why the devil had paid them a visit in the night.

Ms Mathenge stood in shock, staring at the remains of the house that had hosted her workers.

Her husband is long dead, but she had been, until the previous night, fairly comfortable — a stone house with many rooms, a large tea plantation and a healthy herd of cattle had enabled her to employ four workers — three to tend and pick the tea and one to take care of the cows.

Three, she said, were from the neighbouring Kirinyaga District in Kenya's Central province, while one was a neighbour.

At midnight, Ms Mathenge was woken up by the sound of windows shattering. Names were called out several times as the gang asked for doors to be opened for visitors. First, they called out Mr Macharia Muriuki, who was from the neighbourhood, and killed him outside his house.

Muriuki’s wife and two children were herded into a house occupied by his fellow workers, Mr Joseph Muriithi and two others she could only identify as a Mr Mureithi and Mr Mbugua.

“They pushed Mr Mureithi’s wife into the house, told me not to come out, and hit me twice on the shoulder. I could not recognise any of them, but they spoke a mixture of Kikuyu and Kiswahili,” a shaken Ms Mathenge said.

Mr Mureithi’s wife, 22-year-old Jemimah Wanjira, a mother of two, said strangers started throwing stones at their timber house where she slept with her husband and children adjacent to her employer’s house.

“I asked my husband to go out and check what was happening and he was met by several people with pangas and they started hitting him with the weapons,” she said.

Early Tuesday, Ms Mathenge gave Mureithi’s wife fare to go home. She could not remember where their original home was. “I could not let her stay here,” she added.

A few seconds after the family was pushed into her house, she heard a commotion outside and could tell from the heat that the workers’ house was on fire. “I heard someone say, Woooi nindakua (I have died),” said Ms Mathenge.

The attackers, it seemed, had used the fire to lure the villagers, some of whom were unwittingly on the way to their deaths as they joined an unplanned village patrol. When Ms Mathenge dared to venture outside, what she saw was unbelievable.