Mpho Rakgwale consults his lawyer at the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court near Thokoza, Ekurhuleni. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko
Johannesburg - Mpho Rakgwale, dubbed South Africa’s youngest serial rapist, clearly enjoys his time in the dock. He sat through his lengthy criminal trial, listening to the State’s analysis of his more than 17 victims’ horrific rape and kidnapping experiences between 2007 and 2012, a criminal spree that began when Rakgwale was just 17.

He listened to Judge George Maluleke’s damning ruling at the end of 2014 that saw him receive six life sentences and an additional 232 years for the lengthy list of charges on which he was convicted. Yet another prolonged trial at the high court sitting in Randburg revealed he was guilty of a further three rapes, netting him a further trio of life sentences from Judge Solly Sithole at the end of 2015.

With nine life sentences against him and little chance of parole, one would think Rakgwale, at the very least, would havebecome tired of being brought back and forth from prison to court.

But this week, Rakgwale returned to the high court in Joburg, opposing the testimony of just one of his numerous victims and applying for leave to appeal against the charges linked to her. It’s a plan that, if successful, wouldn’t be an effective reduction in his sentence. But according to one source close to the investigation, Rakgwale is insisting on the appeal application on principle.

Mpho Rakgwale, 22, faced multiple charges of rape, 16 of kidnapping, five of robbery with aggravating circumstances and one charge of attempted murder. He appeared at the Johannesburg High Court, sitting at the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court.Picture: Itumeleng English

THE MODUS OPERANDI

Rakgwale’s first attack took place in 2007, but over the next five years, he stuck to a similar pattern. During his rape spree, he would kidnap young women at knifepoint or gunpoint. His targets were between the ages of 13 and 20.

Many of his attacks took place in Dobsonville, where in some instances he forced them into a secluded graveyard, making them lie on tombstones during the rapes. In other incidents, he threatened to kill his victims unless they performed stripteases or re-enacted the noises he had heard in pornographic films. When he was done with his victims, he would relieve them of their personal belongings and flee. In one particularly heinous incident, he and two friends - who were never arrested - gang-raped a 13-year-old girl.

Among the list of his worst crimes was in May 2012 when Rakgwale raped two teenage girls in the Dobsonville cemetery, luring them inside before pulling out a knife and threatening to kill them if they did not comply. Forcing the pair into a deserted area covered in human faeces, he forced them to strip for him before he committed the rape.

That same month, he raped a childhood friend at his home, threatening to kill her if she didn’t undress for him. When she begged to go home, he said it wasn’t safe for her to leave, locking her in the toilet. He later brought her a blanket and slept with her inside the toilet before raping her again.

In August 2012, shortly before his arrest, Rakgwale kidnapped a 17-year-old girl and raped her four times.

JUDGMENT IN BOTH TRIALS

In 2014, shortly after advocate Shubnum Singh revealed the State had DNA evidence linking Rakgwale to 17 of his victims, he pleaded guilty to 61 charges of rape, kidnapping, robbery and possession of illegal firearms and ammunition. After his first trial for the first group of complainants, Judge Maluleke found Rakgwale guilty on all charges.

In his judgment, Judge Maluleke focused on the effect Rakgwale’s deeds had on each of his victims, none of whom had been provided with counselling. “What is clear is they all suffered and continue to suffer serious and psychological effects,” said Judge Maluleke.

Mpho Rakgwale, from Dobsonville, Soweto, believed to be South Africa’s youngest serial rapist, was sentenced to life for kidnapping and raping 17 girls between 2007 and 2012.

The judge referred to a report from Rakgwale’s probation officer, Annette Vergeer, who believed that rehabilitation for Rakgwale - now in his mid-20s - would be difficult.

Vergeer had also discovered that Rakgwale watched his mother and brother being murdered by his stepfather when he was 11 years old, a factor Judge Maluleke took into account during his sentencing. While Rakgwale could have been given life sentences for each of his rapes, the judge only issued such a sentence in the most heinous cases. However, he still insisted upon 15-year sentences for the other rape charges.

“Even in the heart of darkness there is some kindness. The need for mercy remains forever there,” he said.

After his second trial, where more cases had been linked to Rakgwale, he was convicted on another nine charges of rape, and three of kidnapping. Judge Solly Sithole believed the State had provided enough similar evidence - namely the way in which Rakgwale had committed the crimes - to prove his guilt on all charges.

But before Judge Sithole could begin sentencing proceedings in January 2016, it was revealed to the court that Rakgwale was so angry that he swore at the judge, saying he would refuse to attend court proceedings. He then stomped down the court stairs to the cells below. He had yet another tantrum later that month at his next appearance, sending a letter with his lawyer, Mlungisi Buthelezi, saying he did not wish to attend in his “current emotional state”. Unimpressed, Judge Sithole sentenced Rakgwale in his absence, saying a harsh sentence was necessary to act as a deterrent to other serial rapists. Beyond three life sentences, he received an additional 45 years for the other charges.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR RAKGWALE?

In 2016, Rakgwale insisted he was not guilty of the rapes of five of the complainants. However, after this failed, he approached Judge Sithole again, this time claiming that one of his victims, who was under-age at the time of her kidnapping and multiple rapes, gave poor testimony. Because of this Rakgwale is hoping the high court will overturn some rape charges against him. The leave to appeal application is set down for argument on Friday.

Saturday Star