In a dramatic ending to a weeklong hunt, two policemen shot and wounded an ax-wielding former convict accused of killing a child and as many as 37 women.
President Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress congratulated police Thursday for the arrest, which followed mounting calls to catch the man identified a week earlier as the suspected serial killer.
The arrest of Moses Sithole, 31, late Wednesday ended the hunt for a suspect in the series of murders dating back more than a year in black townships near Pretoria and Johannesburg.
The women had been strangled or shot to death, and some were sexually assaulted. A child of one of the victims was also killed.
With elections for mayors and other local officials less than two weeks away, Mandela's government hoped that catching Sithole would help bolster its tarnished crime-fighting image.
An ANC statement Thursday said the white-led National Party and Democratic Party, which have highlighted the issue of crime in their campaigns, should "acknowledge the good work of the ANC-led government and the South African police service in their difficult fight against crime."
Sithole, an ex-convict who used several aliases, was caught in Benoni, an industrial area east of Johannesburg, Police Commissioner George Fivaz told a news conference.
Police had taken the unusual step of identifying Sithole as the prime suspect and releasing a photograph of him.
Sithole was in satisfactory condition Thursday in a Benoni hospital, but Fivaz said he might be moved to a more secure place because of fears that victims' relatives or others might try to kill him.