Pretoria - Tales of greed and cruelty played out in the Pretoria High Court this year as judges once again presided over a series of trials concerning house robberies which ended tragically and men who turned on women they had once loved.
Those found guilty of cold-blooded killings received tongue lashings from judges who, after serving a term in the criminal courts, clearly have had enough of the level of brutality in crimes sometimes executed by people in positions of trust and sparked by greed and bloodlust.
“You are a greedy, heartless and cruel woman,” Judge Bert Bam told Don Mashadi Maloka, a domestic worker who killed her employer Susan Vermaak.
Maloka, no stranger to murder, cried out in the dock as she was sentenced to life imprisonment. But the judge had no sympathy; Maloka should have learned her lesson, he said, as she had previously been sentenced to 14 years for another murder.
When the Vermaaks employed Maloka they trusted her, and were totally unaware they had welcomed a convicted killer into their home.
Maloka and a group of youths – who are still to be arrested – stabbed and then strangled Vermaak in 2006 in a robbery. Maloka’s son Samuel, who conspired with his mother to rob the family, received an effective five years.
A few weeks ahead of the sentencing in this case, Judge Bam had also spoken his mind in the sentencing of the killers of 70-year-old Equestria resident Maria Wiing.
“It was a brutal, vicious and savage attack on a frail old woman,” the judge told killers Amos Mokgabudi – who worked in Wiing’s complex as a security guard – and Frans Madiba.
They broke into her home and tied her up in such a manner that she suffocated. Her body was discovered by her daughter, Patricia Heinze.
In sentencing the pair, the judge warned that the courts would have no mercy on house robbers and especially those who kill.
Judge Bam, in another case in which the vice-president of the Mac’s Motorbike Club, Jan Engelbrecht was killed in his Booysens home, told the murderers: “You are both cold-blooded killers and dangerous people who have to be removed from society for ever.”
While Pleasure Mokoena and Lerato Mancidi never explained why they had killed Engelbrecht in front of his family, the judge questioned whether “barbaric bloodlust” was not perhaps the motive.
What was the motive for another killing, that of Clubview businessman Dave Bye? The 57-year-old was shot several times in his driveway and died in the arms of his son. Hardly anything was taken from him before his killers, Simon Mabena and Lesiba Mabisela fled on foot.
Both received a life sentence from Judge Bam who said, in no uncertain terms, that they had no respect for life.
In many of the tragic house robbery cases before the court this year, it transpired that the body of the victim had been found by a family member. In the case of Gerhardus Groenewald of Magalieskruin, it was his 12-year-old daughter who had the traumatic experience of coming across his body when she came home from school. Her father had been stabbed 51 times with a sharp object.
Groenewald was described as kindhearted and his killer, Oupa Sebeko, remained mum about why he had killed him.
Rape cases in the court were a reminder of this scourge in our society and here too judges were harsh in their condemnation – and their sentences.
In one a teenager being kept in a place of safety raped three girls. He was earlier sentenced to three life terms – one for each rape. But, on appeal Judge Louis Visser found the sentence too harsh, considering the perpetrator’s age, and substituted it with 18 years, of which six years are suspended.
At the other end of the age spectrum, a pensioner’s age (62) led to a reduced sentence on appeal for the rape of a seven-year-old girl.
Then there were those who got a loud “send-off” by their victims, as in the case of serial rapist Ishmael Simelane.
As he walked down to the holding cells to start serving his two life terms as well as a further 112 years, several of his victims waved at him, shouting “Bye, bye. You got what you deserved.”
Simelane’s seven victims hugged each other as it became evident that he will never be released from jail again.
They earlier all had similar tales to tell – of a very charming man winning their confidence by offering work and then luring them to a remote spot, where he raped them.
DNA evidence and fingerprints played a part in solving crimes.
While many usually blame the police for “planting” their prints, ATM bomber Sibusiso Moloi was at a loss for words as a fingerprint expert testified that the thumbprint found on a packet of cigarettes was undoubtedly his.
Moloi was convicted of the daring ATM blasts in June 2008 at the Engen garage in Kilner Park, during which police Inspector Jaco Botha was also shot dead by a group of AK-47-wielding robbers. He had denied being on the scene, saying he was home sick.
But the print on a packet of 10 Camel Lights found on the floor of the Quick Shop at the garage which had been held up before the blast pointed the blame on him. He is expected to be sentenced on February 8.
The Pretoria High Court this year was also the focus of much media attention as two high profile criminal cases served before it at the end of last month.
The one was the trial of Johan Kotze, the so-called Modimolle monster – who tortured and allegedly got three men to rape his former wife Ina Bonnette.
Kotze, who claimed that he could not be held accountable for his actions due to his mental state at the time of the incident, admitted to maiming his then estranged wife’s breasts.
Kotze claimed he was terribly upset and unhappy as he saw Bonnette with another man. The trial will proceed in February, when Kotze is expected to take the stand.