Society had had enough of criminals who raped and murdered the elderly. These were people who had reached a time in life when they deserved respect, an acting Durban High Court judge said in an angry and emotional judgment yesterday.
Acting Judge A Mfayela was convicting 26-year-old Sandile Vilakazi, who was charged with the vicious murder of a 78-year-old Tugela grandmother, Sukrajia Nirhoo, who was raped and throttled in her home in Newark in April 2009.
“Rape is an endemic crime. A scan of newspapers shows that attacks against elderly women are increasing and a message needs to be sent out that society abhors people who rape and murder the elderly,” the acting judge said.
“You [Vilakazi] referred to the deceased as an ancestor or blessing, but you had scant regard for her dignity when you committed these acts. This was an old, frail and defenceless woman who was raped and murdered in a very painful way in her own home. Your conduct is shocking,” he said.
Yesterday Femada Shamam of The Association for the Aged said the dramatic increase of vicious attacks on pensioners was “alarming”.
“Every incident should be a reminder to society that we have to protect our elderly, we cannot allow these acts to happen,” she said.
The organisation had been holding education and training sessions to advise old people how to keep safe, she added.
At least four elderly women have been raped in KwaZulu-Natal in the past month.
This week, a 74-year-old woman was raped and robbed at her home in Bisley, Pietermaritzburg. In the first week of August, a 94-year-old woman was raped in Swayimane, near Wartburg, allegedly by a man who had been let out during President Jacob Zuma’s special pardon, and an 82-year-old woman was raped in the same area a few weeks later. A 65-year-old woman was raped by a 17-year-old boy in Ixopo.
Yesterday Judge Mfayela dismissed Vilakazi’s claims that he attacked Nirhoo under threat. Vilakazi had pleaded not guilty, as he said he had been coerced at gunpoint by his friend, Babaloo Khumalo, to commit the crimes.
He left the grandmother, covered by a duvet, on a bed in her prayer room. Vilakazi, who was out on parole at the time, also took gold jewellery and cash before fleeing.
Khumalo was arrested for the crimes in 2009, but charges were withdrawn, as there was no evidence against him.
Judge Mfayela said that Vilakazi’s version of events was “highly improbable”.
“It is clear that he sat in the witness box and lied. What is significant is that the day after the crimes he was caught for housebreaking. If he had been coerced to commit such brutal acts, it would be unlikely that he would commit a housebreaking the next day.”
Defence attorney Thiagaraj Pillay said Vilakazi was remorseful, relatively young and could be rehabilitated.
State advocate Cheryl Naidu argued that Vilakazi did not belong in society.
“He has previous convictions for theft and housebreaking, and he was given suspended sentences. Then he was jailed for housebreaking and let out on parole. The court and the prison system gave him three chances to change his ways. Instead, he escalated his crimes to murder and rape.”
Judge Mfayela said Vilakazi was a dangerous person and ordered him to serve an effective life sentence for his crimes, and he was refused leave to appeal against the sentence.