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South African rugby player charged with axe murders

Joseph Ntshongwana, a retired top-flight rugby union player, appeared in a Durban courtroom yesterday charged with the brutal murders of three people, who he attacked with an axe.

Reports earlier in the week had suggested that Mr Ntshongwana carried out the attacks in revenge for the rape of his daughter, who, it was claimed, had been infected with the HIV virus.

However, South African police said yesterday that there was no evidence that any rape had taken place. Instead, a police spokesman said that "the motive is evil-orientated. Rape has been ruled out."

Lawyers for the 34-year-old former Blue Bulls player argued that he was mentally unfit to stand trial. The case was adjourned to allow for medical tests.

Mr Ntshongwana was arrested earlier this week when police found him at his home with an axe and bloodstained clothing.

Residents of the Yellowwood Park, Lamontville and Umbilo suburbs of Durban said three men had been murdered last week. At least two had been decapitated with the head of one of the victims being found a mile from his body.

Khangelani Mdluli, a resident of Lamontville, said he survived an attack: "He stopped the car, jumped out with a plastic bag... I thought it was a gun." Mr Mdluli said the attacker was shouting: "You think I'm stupid? You infected my daughter with HIV."

As South African law protects the identity of suspects until they appear in court, Mr Ntshongwana's name was not released until yesterday. The killings had threatened to ignite racial tensions, with many in the predominantly black township believing that the suspect was white. Mr Ntshongwana is, in fact, black.