The High Court in Polokwane has convicted and sentenced businessmen Joshua Phuthi Hlako, 67, and Marcus Maropeng Makgatho, 65, together with co-accused Amanda Makgato, 51, and Khumbelo Mabirimisa, 44, for the 2006 murder of Ronny Makgatho.
Spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in Limpopo, Mashudu Malabi Dzhangi said the brutal murder took place in 2006, at Seshego, in Limpopo and was committed on the orders of the two businessmen, Hlako and Makgatho with their co-accused Mabirimisa.
“Makgatho was kidnapped in Soshanguve and taken to Seshego, in Limpopo. Hlako is in the business of transport, farming and sale of liquor, while Marcus Maropeng Makgatho is in hospitality,” Malabi Dzhangi narrated.
The deceased, Rony Makgatho was a cousin to two of the murder accused people - Amanda Makgatho and Marcus Maropeng Makgatho.
“During the trial, the court heard that the first state witness (Gabriel Mmatli) reported this offence 16 years after its commission. He testified that he worked for businessman Hlako since 2001,” said Malabi Dzhangi.
“He testified that the reason (he did not report the murder sooner) is that his employer Hlako is connected to the police in Seshego, and he was scared that what happened to the deceased could happen to him, an assertion that was never challenged by Hlako.”
The NPA said Mmatli’s fears came true, because when he finally reported the matter to police, he was then detained without any charges levelled against him.
“He was then released and could not make further attempts to report as he feared the police. He was adamant that he was part of the team (which committed the murder), and he did it under the instructions of his boss Hlako,” said Malabi Dzhangi.
The witness told the court that he opted to spill the beans because he suffered from nightmares “and would also hear voices”.
The second witness Matome Sebone also worked for Hlako around 2005. He met Mmatli who was working as a driver. Both Sebone and Mmatli turned state witnesses.
“Both witnesses testified that on the day of the incident, they were with Hlako, Marcus Makgatho, Mabirimisa and an unknown lady. Knives were brought into the shack, and Hlako was giving instructions.
“Sebone had to write the name of Ronny Makgatho from Soshanguve in a notebook where they kept the records of the deceased persons, before they killed him in the shack at Hlako's homestead,” said Malabi Dzhangi.
“The body of the deceased (Ronny Makgatho) was dismembered, packed, and taken to various businesses in the belief of promoting the prosperity of the businesses,” she said.
The accused people pleaded not guilty in court. However, the court found them guilty on charges of kidnapping, murder and defeating the ends of justice. Amanda Makgatho was only found guilty on the charge of kidnapping.
In aggravation of sentence, the prosecution led by advocate Kobus Jacobs argued that the accused businessmen’s relatively advanced age should not be seen as a mitigation factor in the context of the prescribed sentence of life imprisonment.
He also highlighted that Amanda Makgatho was fully aware that Ronny Makgatho had been brutally murdered, but she never helped the family when they were searching for him.
Judge Geriet Muller sentenced Joshua Hlako, Marcus Makgatho and Khumbelo Mabirimisa to 22 years imprisonment each for murder, seven years each on the count of kidnapping and four years each for defeating ends of justice.
The court further ordered that the sentence should run concurrently with the sentence of murder.
Amanda Makgatho was sentenced to seven years direct imprisonment for the kidnapping.
The NPA has welcomed the sentence.
Provincial Director of Public Prosecutions in Limpopo, advocate Ivy Thenga said the imposed sentence would send a strong message to ritual killers “that the justice system will not tolerate any kind of violence against humankind”.