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Durban - A simple sorry might have been all it took to keep three young men, one only 16, out of jail.
But their lack of remorse has landed them in jail for 10 years for the murder of a young woman who was a passenger in a car when she was hit by a concrete slab they threw from a bridge over the N3 near Spaghetti Junction on November 2, 2010.
Lucky Leon Khumalo, who is now 19, Brandon Philip, now 18, and their 16-year-old friend, who cannot be named, appeared shell-shocked when Durban Regional Court magistrate Thomas Nhleko pronounced sentence.
Friends and family of the three, who all hail from the Bonela area, wept. Later, outside the courtroom, they confronted each other angrily, passing blame just as the three had done during their trial.
Siphesihle Zuma was a 21-year-old BCom honours graduate who was working for FNB when she was killed by the slab, measuring 50cm by 30cm, which smashed through the windscreen of the car being driven by her work colleague Gertrude Mankaba.
According to reports before the court, Mankaba is still receiving counselling and still fears driving under bridges and at night.
Zuma’s father told social workers preparing pre-sentencing reports that his family was traumatised.
He said he did not want her murderers to go to jail because they were young and it would do no good.
But he wanted an apology. And he wanted the truth about why they did it, believing they were “hired by breakdown services to create an accident”.
“Their failure to take responsibility has made it worse for us. We would heal if we knew the truth,” he said.
All three accused - who were 17, 16, and 14 when they committed the crime - indicated in their interviews with social workers that they were not guilty.
Passing sentence, the magistrate said while the court sat as a “child justice court” and the act dictated that imprisonment “be a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time” in dealing with young offenders, this case was far too serious.
An aggravating factor was that they had initially thrown stones from the bridge and motorists below had hooted and braked.
A State witness had seen them and warned them to stop.
“But you did not pay heed. You swore at him and then you picked up the slab and threw it,” the magistrate said.
He agreed with submissions by prosecutor Krishen Shah that this was not an isolated crime and there had been similar incidents but the perpetrators had not been caught.
“Because of this, it is in the interests of society that the court sends out a clear message that these cases will be dealt with severely.”
He said while the victim’s father did not want them to go to jail, the court had a duty to look after the interests of society, and the fact that they had shown no remorse was indicative that there was no guarantee that they would not commit a similar crime if they were treated leniently.
Khumalo will go straight to Westville Prison to serve his 10 years. Because of their age, the other two will serve the first part of their sentences at Ekuseni Youth Centre in Newcastle, and the rest at a normal prison.