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Durban - A spurned lover who taunted his ex-girlfriend with SMSes, then hanged her 5-year-old son with shoelaces from a tree in a forest, was cold, psychotic and calculating, a magistrate said on Tuesday.
Ayanda Mbatha, 23, was sentenced to life in prison by the Durban Regional Court on Tuesday after pleading guilty.
Testifying in aggravation of sentence, Ntombifuthi Gcabashe, 26, told the court that her former boyfriend, who was arrested on Friday, had sent her messages saying he would kill her son, Siyanda.
He had also sent the boy’s grandmother a chilling message telling her he would kill the child and himself, so she could feel the pain Gcabashe had made him feel by playing him for a fool, she said.
The court heard that Gcabashe had broken up with Mbatha on the day her son had been taken from his grandmother, January 28, but that she was not seeing anyone else.
Gcabashe, who appeared stoic early on in the proceedings, started crying as the admissions by Mbatha were read into the court record.
She dabbed her cheeks with a tissue, supported by her mother who was in the public gallery with police officers involved in the investigation.
Mbatha, of Mariannhill, had been dating Gcabashe for almost a year, the court heard. He had taken the child from his grandmother’s home three days before the body was found by a hunter in dense forest in Kipi Town, in Nagina, west of Durban.
Reading his statement, defence attorney Thobile Sigcau, said it was Mbatha’s friend, Sibonelo Shongwe, who suggested he take the child after Gcabashe had refused to see him. Mbatha phoned Gcabashe to make arrangements to meet but a man answered her phone. When he called back, he claimed that Gcabashe had answered and swore at him.
The next day he phoned her again, when he already had Siyanda, telling her to collect her son, but Gcabashe did not have money to travel from Molweni, where she was visiting.
Mbatha had not taken the child alone before, but his mother had not thought he would kill Siyanda because he loved the child and the boy loved him, the court heard.
The court heard that Gcabashe had spoken to her son during a call to Mbatha the day after he had taken the child.
In his plea statement Mbatha told of how he carried out the murder.
Mbatha, Shongwe and Siyanda were walking through the forest to go and buy food, when Mbatha sat under a tree to cool off.
He said Shongwe had asked him why he still loved Gcabashe after she had cursed at him and let another man answer her phone.
Mbatha said Shongwe had then told him to do as his girlfriend had said on the phone the previous day. He claimed that when he had called her, she asked if he wanted to kill Siyanda, and that she did not care.
The court heard that Shongwe had instructed Mbatha to make the noose on a tree branch using his shoelaces.
“Sibonelo picked up the child and held him in a comforting manner and told the accused (Mbatha) to tie the shoelace on one side of the tree,” the statement read, explaining that because Mbatha was short, he could not get the laces high enough so that the child would not touch the ground.
Shongwe then laid Siyanda on the ground and tied the shoelaces higher up the tree, the court heard. He allegedly again picked up the boy and told Mbatha to tie the noose around his neck. Mbatha then ran away crying, he said in the statement.
The two friends met again two days later when Mbatha told Shongwe that he was not feeling good inside about what happened and wanted to tell the police.
Mbatha said after his arrest, he had confessed to police.
“The accused is pleading guilty because he does not want to have a double sin of killing a child and of lying before the court,” read the statement.
Throughout the proceedings, Mbatha’s eyes were fixed on the floor of the dock.
He did not look up at Gcabashe when she passed him as she made her way to the witness stand. She gave him a brief, cold stare.
When she sobbed while on the stand, Mbatha dabbed his eyes, his head hanging further down.
The court heard that he had phoned her several times after the murder, apologising and saying he wished he could “reimburse” her, but she did not accept his apology.
The investigating officer, Detective Warrant Officer Rajen Govender, said police had originally opened an inquest docket – as they apparently did not suspect foul play – until more experienced officers later realised a child this young could not have committed suicide.
After tracking his cellphone, police located Mbatha at his aunt’s house in Pietermaritzburg on Friday. He had fled Dassenhoek in Mariannhill where he lived.
Govender said Mbatha had resisted arrest and had to be subdued. He had also allegedly attempted to escape from the Isipingo police cells, after assaulting officers.
Sentencing Mbatha to life imprisonment for murder and 15 years for kidnapping, magistrate Anand Maharaj said Mbatha had committed a most inhumane act by killing the child.
This, and Gcabashe’s testimony that Mbatha had beaten her, showed that he had let his jealousy and violent nature get the better of him, he said.
Maharaj said he did not believe Mbatha was remorseful as he had the presence of mind to flee and had not voluntarily handed himself to authorities.
He also said he could not believe Mbatha had been coerced by Shongwe to teach his girlfriend a lesson by killing her child.
This he said, was psychotic, cold and calculated.
“The only good you have done is take responsibility.”
Maharaj said if Mbatha was repentant, he would assist the State in the case against Shongwe, who is being tried separately.
Shongwe has pleaded not guilty.