Pretoria - A terrified Cullinan woman – shoved into a cupboard by three robbers who had shot dead her husband, then ransacked and set her house alight – prayed she would survive.
Madeleine van den Berg, 63, cried bitterly in the North Gauteng High Court when she relived the events of that day in July 2009 when her life changed irrevocably.
She was not in court on Thursday when the three were sentenced because she could not face her tormentors.
Mdudubi Hlengethwa, 27, and Given Kanyane, 25, were sentenced to a life term each. The third robber, Wonder Makwakwa, who was 18 at the time of the attack, received a 20-year jail sentence.
Piet van den Berg was shot dead on July 11, 2009, two days before his 64th birthday. The house the elderly couple had lived in for the past 40 years was burnt down, destroying all Van den Berg’s memories of their time together, including photographs and sentimental trinkets.
Earlier, she told of the trauma of watching the gang step over her husband’s body as they ransacked the home. One of the robbers had a bag around his neck to stuff items into.
In passing sentence on Thursday, Judge Vivian Tlhapi said the three men – who made off with two firearms, some money and a few items of clothing and jewellery – had destroyed the victim’s life for nothing but a few items.
The three looked emotionless as the judge branded them callous killers who left the woman without a partner or anything that was dear to her.
The couple were attacked on their smallholding just days before they were to move to an old-age home. The three robbers had staked out the property for three days before they attacked.
Van den Berg told the court earlier that she was busy in the house early that morning while her husband was outside. She heard a noise. When she looked up the men were standing in the doorway with a knife against her husband’s throat.
The couple were made to lie on their bed and her husband offered the robbers what they wanted. He offered his watch, and she went to the lounge to fetch it.
She said she heard a shot and saw her husband lying in the passage. He opened his eyes once and closed them. She knew he was dead.
She was forced into a cupboard and one of the men asked her what her last wish was before she went up in flames. Van den Berg later freed herself and saw her house was on fire. She tried to drag her husband out, but could not move him. Neighbours came to her aid and carried out her husband, who was already dead.
Hlengethwa and Kanyane were adamant that they knew nothing about the incident.
Makwaka also pleaded not guilty, but after his conviction he told a social worker that he did take part in the events that day. He said that after his arrest and while awaiting trial in jail the other inmates advised him to deny everything.
The court heard that soon after the murder and robbery, and after they had shared the spoils, Makwaka joined a church and became a devoted Christian.
He said he took part in the robbery as he wanted to assist his family in buying a home.
Judge Tlhapi said this proved how naive he was as the loot was barely worth anything.