Durban - A serial rapist, who approached women at a Zululand taxi rank and lured them to their deaths, has been handed five life sentences for murder plus 45 years for rape and robbery.
The KwaZulu-Natal High Court, sitting in Mtunzini, late last week found Ntokozo Skhumbuzo Mthimkhulu, 36, guilty of five counts of murder, three counts of rape and five counts of robbery with aggravating circumstances.
The court had heard that Mthimkhulu approached the victims at the bus and taxi rank in Empangeni and lured them to nearby bushy areas or sugar cane plantations to rob, rape and kill them.
Police believe he lured them away with the offer of transport.
Cellphone evidence that placed him at the scene of his crimes - plus a semen sample found on a victim’s underwear - proved damning .
He received life sentences for each of the murders, 15 years for all five robberies, which were taken together for the purposes of sentencing, and 30 years for rape.
The crimes were committed between May and August 2010. Mthimkhulu, who was arrested in September that year, has been in custody since then.
Between June 21 and September 10, 2010, the bodies of six women were discovered in Empangeni.
Three bodies, some of them badly decomposed, were found in sugar cane fields near the Empangeni taxi rank.
The victims were Nozipho Nobuhle Mchunu, who died some time between May and June 2010, Zanele Ndlovu, who died on or around August 13 that year, and Millagrossa Zitha, originally of Mozambique.
Another victim, Nokuthula Jele, died on or around July 7, 2010. Her body was found near the Empangeni CBD.
Jabu Langa was also killed on or around August 13, a Friday, near the bus and taxi rank.
Her body was found the next Tuesday, in open field behind the taxi rank. Strangulation was the cause of death.
Mthimkhulu, described as an “odd-job man”, had originally been charged with six counts each of murder and rape, and five of robbery with aggravating circumstances.
However, one victim has never been identified.
During a trial that lasted nearly four years, Judge Nompumelelo Radebe, assisted by Siphephelo Nkabinde and JM Buthelezi, heard evidence from more than 50 witnesses, including police, mortuary staff, forensic photographers and pathologists.
Cellphone experts also presented evidence, and relatives were called on to tell of their late loved ones’ last journeys.
Mthimkhulu had stolen cellphones, cash and personal items from his victims. The court was told he had used his victims’ phones to call acquaintances.
A cellphone expert had testified that Mthimkhulu had also taken his SIM card and inserted it into a victim’s phone.
The court learnt that he had sold one of the stolen cellphones, and investigating officer Captain Bonginkosi Ncube, of the Richards Bay organised crime unit, had traced it. He had arranged a meeting with the new owner, who led him to Mthimkhulu.
After being convicted, Mthimkhulu pleaded for the court’s leniency, saying he knew he had an “anger problem” and needed help.
He was angry with his mother for abandoning him as a child; also, two of his girlfriends had aborted his children. He had never known his father, he said.
Arguing for the maximum sentence on each charge, senior state advocate Melanie Naicker pointed out to the court that Mthimkhulu had not made a full disclosure of his crimes, and “does not appear to see the causal relationship between his anger and his crimes”.
She wondered if he was trying to manipulate the court.
Judge Radebe found that the murders were premeditated.
“Your victims were innocent women,” she said, “and they were systematically targeted, raped and killed. There was no reason to take out your grudges on those women.”
Victim impact reports had shown the families were still struggling to come to terms with their loss.
Apart from the grief of losing a loved one, the victims had in many cases been the families’ main breadwinners.
All the sentences will run concurrently, which means Mthimkhulu can apply for parole after serving 25 years.