Neighbours of prominent Chiredzi medical practitioner, Dr William Phiri, who allegedly killed his two children with a knife before trying to commit suicide on Sunday, have reacted with shock to the horrific incident.
Phiri (56), also seriously injured his two other children in the attack and they are battling for their lives at Chiredzi District Hospital where the father is also admitted.
It is believed a domestic dispute between Dr Phiri and his wife triggered the violent attack on the children and the spouse which ended with the death of his children — Princess (3) and Victor (7 months) — and serious injuries to Ropafadzo (6) and Themba (4).
Phiri, of UB 12 Admin Mkwasine Estates in the Lowveld, allegedly tried to commit suicide by burning down his house after locking himself and his four children inside.
A long time neighbour, Crispen Tongogara, who owns a farm next to Dr Phiri’s at Mkwasine Estates told The Herald that he was engaging normally with his neighbours prior to Sunday’s incident.
He described Dr Phiri as a quiet and sober family man and gave a harrowing account of events on Sunday evening.
Tongogara, a younger brother to the late Zanla commander and national hero Cde Josiah Magama Tongogara, said he was still in shock.
“He (Dr Phiri) was a teetotaller whom I never saw drinking any form of alcohol including even wine. He also did not smoke and was a very quiet guy. A typical family man,” said Tongogara.
“What he did was unbelievable because he was a professional man who offered help to patients at the nearby Mkwasine Clinic. He was also into cane farming.
“I knew Dr Phiri as a well-behaved man and I am still in shock.”
Something registered in Tongogara’s head that something was not right next door.
“I was a little bit surprised and became suspicious because of Mrs Phiri’s movements on Sunday. She seemed unsettled and restless and was making many movements at the home but we just thought it was just like any other day,” said Tongogara.
He said he last saw Dr Phiri driving his tractor around the estate and waved at him before he waved back.
“It was just like any normal day and that was the last time we spoke.”
After hearing noise from screaming people seeing smoke billowing from Dr Phiri’s house later on in the evening, Mr Tongogara and other neighbours rushed there to investigate.
“We discovered that Dr Phiri’s house was on fire but the doors were locked from inside so I actually led in forcing one of the doors open to rescue those trapped inside.”
Tongogara said he and other rescuers pulled out the dead bodies of the children which were lying in pools of blood.
Dr Phiri was also unconscious and naked.
“Two of the children were still alive and we rushed them to Mkwasine Clinic.
“While we were trying to pull out property with others trying to put out the fire, Dr Phiri regained conciousness and we discovered that he had a pistol as he ran back into the inferno screaming that he wanted to die because he was suffering.
“When he got out of the house, we tried to subdue him but we later stopped as we feared he would fire at us.
“He started walking towards a nearby cane field still naked and crying repeatedly that he must be allowed to die as he was suffering.”
Dr Phiri was eventually found by police and members of the public at around 10pm while wandering in the cane field still naked but with stab wounds on the chest and burns on both feet.
His pistol was found jammed and stuck in the mud suggesting he could have tried to shoot himself to no avail.
The unassuming medical practitioner runs a surgery in Chiredzi town, which according to unconfirmed reports, closed at some point before reopening recently. He also ran a sugarcane plot at Mkwasine.
Another neighbour, who declined to be named, said the doctor was visibly unwell recently and the way he conducted himself was questionable.
“He would sometimes come to the market and buy bananas for people, even those he did not know. He was visibly unwell and it seems he was depressed. However, this incident came as a surprise, if not a shock to us.
“For some years, he was our family and community doctor. He was helpful and generous and everyone relied on him. We are saddened by this development.”
Another neighbour, who also requested anonymity weighed in saying he had never heard of any fights in the Phiri family.
However, he said of late, the doctor had been confrontational towards some members of the community.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that the doctor had a slight behavioural change lately and had been engaging in confrontations with people. He was no longer himself.
As the attack unfolded, his wife is said to have fled and sought refuge at a family friend’s house before rushing to alert the police at Mkwasine Police Station.
It is believed the dispute was sparked by his alleged infidelity after he allegedly did not sleep at home on New Year’s eve.
When he finally came home and asked his wife to wash the dirty clothes he was wearing, the wife allegedly refused and told him to take them for washing at his girlfriend’s house.
Tempers reportedly flared in the house with Dr Phiri launching the attack which forced his wife to flee to a friend’s residence.
Dr Phiri then allegedly locked the door from inside and stabbed the four children with a knife before taking turns to crash them against the floor leaving some unconscious.
After that, he allegedly set the room he was in together with the children on fire with the intention of burning himself and his offspring.
A high school friend of Dr Phiri, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was disgusted by what his classmate had done.
“Firstly, I am disgusted and dismayed to hear what William Phiri, my friend of over three decades is said to have done. It’s completely out of character. He is just not the person to do that. Went to school with William at Highfield High school where he did his A-Level after having done O-Level at Mbare High School. While some of us occasionally went out to drink during weekends, William and his friend Edmore Kandiado stayed in libraries reading books. Sadly, his best friend Edmore committed suicide soon after A level. William is the sort of person who can get along with anyone really.”
The friend described Dr Phiri as a fairly competitive person who was hard working and unassuming.
“He was one of the top stop students in our stream and qualified for Medicine at the University of Zimbabwe in 1986. His hard work continued during the university days and literally stayed off girls and alcohol. After completing university he worked at Government hospitals before setting up a surgery in Chiredzi. Married and later divorced his first wife who was a nurse. He occasionally treated my daughter at his surgery. He is one person who listens to patients and gives his patients an ear no matter how long it tales. To hear that he allegedly turned his sword to young defenceless kids is shocking to say the least. He is not that kind of person. Over the years he seems to have hit a low patch financially and was now spending some of his time as an A2 sugar cane farmer.
“He had moved from the wealthy part of Chiredzi to live in squalid conditions in the not so glamorous part which is Mkwasine Estate.”
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi deplored the increasing cases of gruesome murders in homes countrywide.
“We are still investigating the full circumstances behind this unfortunate incident that happened at Mkwasine Estates in Chiredzi.
“We reiterate our call for peace and dialogue whenever people have marital problems.The suspect, together with his two children, are admitted at Chiredzi District Hospital where their condition is serious,” he said.
Ass Comm Nyathi said Dr Phiri’s pistol was recovered and taken to Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Forensics for examination.