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Pretoria - Locked in a cupboard while her house was burning down, an elderly Cullinan woman told her attacker her last wish was to go to heaven, the High Court in Pretoria heard on Monday.

The evidence was given in a statement by one of the men accused of murdering 64-year-old Piet van den Berg and attempting to murder his wife Madelein on their smallholding near Cullinan in July 2009.

Judge Vivian Tlhapi earlier ruled that the accused Mphanyana Given Kanyane’s statement to a magistrate was admissible as evidence, even though he claimed it had not been made voluntarily.

Kanyane, Mduduzi Sbusiso Hlengethwa and Wonder Mbongezini Makwakwa have pleaded not guilty to charges including robbing the couple of a cellphone and other goods, and maliciously damaging their property.

Van den Berg was shot dead when robbers invaded his home. His wife was tied up and locked in a cupboard and left for dead when the robbers set the house alight.

Kanyane said in his statement he and Makwakwa had decided to rob the Van den Bergs because they wanted money to go to Johannesburg. After abandoning their initial attempt, they met Hlengethwa who told them he had a fishing knife and was a “professional robber”.

They returned to house, where they waited for the elderly man to come out, then pounced on him, demanding money and firearms. He gave them a firearm and pointed out the safe.

According to Kanyane, Hlengethwa was holding the firearm while he was looking at the safe. He heard a sound as if Van den Berg was trying to escape, followed by a shot.

He took the firearm from Hlengethwa, who told him Van den Berg had untied himself. Kanyane then demanded the safe keys from his wife. Inside, they found old currency, papers, another firearm, ammunition, and jewellery which they loaded into a bag.

Hlengethwa put Madelein Van den Berg into a wardrobe. He dressed in her husband’s clothes, took a cigarette and started lighting papers in the house.

“I went to the wardrobe where the lady was and told her, her house was on fire. I asked her what her last words were. She told me she wants to go to heaven. I took the bag and firearms and ran out,” he said.

Van den Berg pointed out the three accused as the men who had attacked her and her husband of 40 years that day.

She had tried to drag her husband’s body out of the house after freeing herself, but he was too heavy for her.

A neighbour managed to get his body from the house before it burnt to the ground. The trial continues. - Sapa