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Unrepentant rapist of Baby Tshepang gets life

South Africa

By Vuyisile Ngesi

"Even animals don't do to their young what you did to Baby Tshepang and you don't even show any sort of remorse," a hushed court heard as Judge Hennie Lacock sentenced Dawid Potse to life in jail in Upington on Friday.

"It is a pity there is no longer a death penalty because I would not hesitate, not even for a moment, to let you hang," he added. He described the crime as the most gruesome human rights violation he had encountered in his 32-year career.

The Baby Tshepang rape trial finally came to an end at the Upington High Court when Lacock read from his verdict: "I therefore find you, the accused, Dawid Potse, guilty on the first charge of raping a minor and secondly for sodomising her."

Potse, 23, was handed an additional sentence of 18 years behind bars for indecent assault. The judge also refused an application for appeal by the defence following the judgment on Friday afternoon.

Potse remained calm, as he had done from Monday when the trial began, and maintained a straight face when the judgment was passed. Even when he was escorted from the courtroom to the holding cells, he showed no signs of anguish or dejection.

Baby Tshepang's mother, who cannot be named in accordance with the Child Protection Act, ran over to the investigating officer, Inspector Marina van der Merwe of the Upington Child Protection Unit, and the two hugged while she wiped tears of joy from her eyes.

Outside, a small group of about 50 placard-carrying youths told journalists they were very happy the matter had been laid to rest.

The people who had been coming to the relatively small courtroom religiously from Monday kept very quiet when Judge Lacock passed his judgment. On Friday they started filling the room from 8am. The police presence at the court was increased before the judgment, but everybody dispersed without incident.

The case gained notoriety as the worst in a spate of child rapes across the country.

Six men from Louisvale, the township outside Upington where the rape had taken place, had to be taken into protective custody to avoid harm from mob justice after they had been wrongly accused of the rape.

Only extensive DNA testing eventually proved their innocence.

About 32 witnesses were expected to testify in the week-long trial, which had attracted a lot of attention, both locally and internationally, but only half were called to the witness stand.

Judge Lacock described in his verdict in clinical detail the horrors the baby had suffered as a result of the rape.

He said on October 27 last year, baby Tshepang's grandmother, Elizabeth Lincoln, found her in the bedroom, along with a sleeping four-year-old girl, lying on the bed wearing only a dress and no nappy "with her legs suspended in the air".

She then decided to carry the baby on her back to go and look for Tshepang's mother, whom she found at a friend's house close to a tavern where the mother had been drinking.

"The two of them put the baby down on a bench inside the house and that's when they saw blood on the baby's thighs, buttocks and private parts," Lacock continued.

"They then concluded that the baby had been raped and called the police and ambulance."

The baby was taken to Gordonia Hospital in Upington, before being referred to the Kimberley Hospital.

The court was told that the baby could not breathe properly as a result of the trauma, Lacock said: "The baby's stomach was swollen and (the doctors) decided to sedate the baby since she was going through terrible pain."

Lacock added that the operations were successful and doctors were quite sure that Baby Tshepang would one day lead a normal sexual life and be able to bear children.

On Tuesday the court had heard for the first time that Potse's blood test results matched the DNA profile found in semen and blood samples taken from baby Tshephang.

The final breakthrough had come when Potse's girlfriend Lya Booysen came forward to testify that she had seen him having sex with the baby.

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