Initiation school boss found guilty after girl’s death

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The owner of an initiation school in Hartswater was found guilty on a charge of culpable homicide for unlawfully and negligently failing to prevent the death of an initiate, Gabaediwe Agnes Motsage.

Ellen “Sassa” Mogwera, 30, appeared in the Northern Cape High Court on Thursday where she was also found guilty of defeating the ends of justice and on two counts of assault, She was acquitted on charges of kidnapping.

Two of her three co-accused, John van Vis, 19, and one of two minors, were found guilty of assault with intent to do grievously bodily harm (GBH), but they were acquitted on charges of murder and kidnapping.

The last accused, a 17-year-old minor, was acquitted of all charges.

After handing down judgement, Judge Hennie Lacock, postponed the trial for sentencing until March to obtain a report from social workers regarding the minor.

Van Vis and the minor were warned to return to court for the sentencing while Mogwera will remain in custody.

Motsage died after she, and another woman, were assaulted in December 2012 at a initiation school situated in the veld behind the Conny Voster Hospital in Hartswater.

The school was run by Mogwera, commonly known to the initiates as Sassa.

“All the accused pleaded not guilty but no explanations were given to the court on the reasons behind their pleas,” Lacock said during his summary.

“The State prosecutors in this matter, Mpho Makhaga and Jacques Rosenberg, looked at the events that took place at this initiation school leading up to this incident.”

Lacock said another initiate, Lena Sykes, was assaulted with a sjambok for not following Mogwera’s rule that they had to sniff snuff through their nostrils and not put it in their mouths.

Mogwera told her co-accused, the two minors, to tie Sykes with chains to a tree and instructed them to open her mouth to put burning coals into it. A hole was dug in which Sykes was placed and she was covered with soil.

He said at the end of the trial the accused admitted the photographs submitted to the court, showed injuries on Sykes’s body as well as that of another initiate, who also claimed to have been assaulted.

Motsage died as a result of injuries to her head.

Mogwera admitted that she had assaulted the girls and said that she used a stick to beat them a few times. She said she knew her actions were unlawful and were punishable in a court of law.

Referring to the kidnapping charge, Lacock said that it was common for initiates to abscond from the school.

“The State relied on the mother of the deceased, Mosadiwapula Martha Motsage, to prove its case that the deceased was removed forcefully from her home.

“She submitted that three boys came to fetch her daughter and that she cried because the boys were carrying sticks.

“It is my opinion that it was not kidnapping. Motsage never said no to returning to the school. She willingly walked with the boys to the car and got into the car voluntarily.”

Lacock further said he agreed with the State’s submission that the deceased was crying, however, this could have been because she was scared that she would be beaten when she returned to the school.

“In my mind it is a reasonable possibility that she cried because she was separated from her mother.”

Lacock pointed out that on the charge of murder, Mogwera, after hitting the deceased with a sjambok, then hit her on her head with a knobkierie.

“Although the three State witnesses, to some extent, contradicted one another regarding the assault, they were all adamant that Mogwera used the knobkierie.

“It is to be expected that all the State witnesses’ testimony could differ as two of them are young girls who witnessed this traumatic and horrific incident.

“Mogwera’s defence did not provide any reason why they would lie about the use of the knobkierie.”

Lacock said he was satisfied with their testimony and said even their behaviour during the trial showed that they were telling the truth.

He added that Mogwera contradicted herself in her testimony by saying that she ordered the boys to fetch the deceased, but later withdrew this statement.

“She testified that the witnesses lied and that the investigating officer must have misled the witnesses so that she would be sent to jail. However, her version of the events was never presented by her defence.

“She also said she reprimanded the initiates and told them not to hit the deceased on the head but this version was also never put to the witnesses.”

Lacock said it was not in dispute that the deceased sustained two blows to her head and that she died as a result of these injuries.

“Whether it was Mogwera who hit the first blow or another person is irrelevant as the blows were fatal.”

Lacock said it was the court’s conclusion that the knobkierie used by Mogwera caused Motsage’s death.

“Mogwera will be convicted for culpable homicide and not murder, as she used the knopkierie but did not intentionally kill the deceased.”

He added that there was no doubt that Mogwera had negligently caused the death of the deceased.

“For a reasonable person, Mogwera could have foreseen that using a knobkierie could have killed Motsage so she should have avoided committing such an act.

“Mogwera failed to take steps to prevent the murder and on her own admission she assaulted the two initiates.”

However Lacock agreed that the State failed to prove the accused’s intention to commit assault with grievously bodily harm.

Sentencing will take place on March 13 and 14.

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