Why is it so morally wrong to eat human body parts? This was the question posed to society by Dr Motsamai Molefe, a philosophy lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
"If I feel entitled to eat animal meat, what stops me from eating human meat? We must interrogate this -- because it's clear that some people are convinced that eating human parts is not such an unnatural thing," said the philosopher.
Molefe was speaking to HuffPost SA following the arrest of five men in Estcourt on charges related to cannibalism. One of the men, a 32-year-old traditional healer, turned himself in last weekend and allegedly confessed to police that he was "tired of eating human flesh".
"I am not at all condoning their actions [cannibals] but difficult questions must be asked."
Molefe cited international philosopher Peter Singer's case study that animals share an important quality with human beings – the capacity to suffer or to enjoy their lives.
Asked Molefe: "Why then is the pain of a human being more important than the pain of an animal?".
"One important implication here is that not eating animals protects us from not eating human beings."
Molefe said society was not asking the difficult questions as eating animal meat benefits them.
He dismissed the idea of naturally valuing humans over animals. "Why is this seen as natural and obvious?"
Molefe said even though the Bible states that God made human beings a little lower than angels -- and gave them "dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground" -- society had confused authority over authoritarianism.
Molefe believes meat-eating was not part of the package of God's design.
"Man, I would argue, was only meant to eat trees and live alongside animals in harmony. Animal-eating comes after man had sinned."
Traditional healers disagree
The African Natural Healers' Association (ANHA) disagrees with Molefe's view. The association's Kuke Mahlaba, who is a traditional healer told HuffPost SA that a human being's body is sacred.
"That's why there are so many animals and wild plants that traditional healers can use. This using of human body parts is just pure witchcraft," she said.
Mahlaba said it was common knowledge that some traditional leaders misuse their gifts. She cautioned communities seeking help from healers to alert the police if they are requested to get body parts.
"If they promise you, you will get rich over someone's body part, it's a lie. No ancestor will ask a person to prescribe human parts for muthi (traditional medicine)."
ANHA was disappointed by fake traditional healers masquerading as spiritual healers.