FOUND GUILTY: Makananisa Norman Khanedzeni.

Johannesburg - There was celebration all around him, women clapping and ululating in jubilation while men whistled and punched the air to give Judge Jacob Francis’s ruling the thumbs-up.

As they jeered at him with tears rolling down their cheeks, Makananisa Norman Khanedzeni, 34, stood impassively in the dock, keeping his head bowed and avoiding eye contact with a group of residents who were once his neighbours in Phumula Extension 21 near Spruitview, Ekurhuleni.

Khanedzeni, who was found guilty of kidnapping, raping, disembowelling and bludgeoning Grade 3 pupil Banele Khumalo, 9, before burning her body and burying it in a shallow grave in 2010, had just been sentenced in the Johannesburg High Court sitting in the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court.

“I believe the sentence of life imprisonment is appropriate. His name should be placed on a register of sexual offenders,” Judge Francis said, slapping Khanedzeni with double life terms – one for rape and another for murdering the nine-year-old girl. Three more years were for the girl’s kidnapping, but all sentences will run concurrently with one of the two life terms.

This effectively means Khanedzeni will spend the rest of his life in jail. He must serve a minimum of 20 years, but correctional services would have to obtain permission from Banele’s family if they want to release him on parole.

The Grade 3 Leondale Primary school pupil went missing in August 2010 after leaving her home to buy sweets at a tuckshop in a yard belonging to Khanedzeni’s father. She had not gone to school that day due to a teachers’ strike. Following a frantic search, her body was discovered a day later buried in a shallow grave at a dumping site. She had been raped, bashed on the head with the blunt side of an axe, disembowelled and partially burnt. A pathologist who examined her found that she did not die instantly.

Some of the braids that fell off her head during the attack were found outside Khanedzeni’s room, and blood spatters found in his room matched her blood.

Banele had also put up a fight, with traces of skin found underneath her fingernails indicating she had scratched her attacker’s face. Judge Francis accepted evidence by witnesses who said they saw fresh scratch marks on Khanedzeni’s face on the day Banele’s body was discovered.

“I don’t know what could have been more brutal than what she was subjected to. This is one of the most cunning crimes I’ve ever come across. You were friends with the girl’s brother and you both supported [Mamelodi] Sundowns [football club]. You knew that had she lived, she would have told her family. Had she been a stranger, she would have only been raped,” said the judge.

He said Khanedzeni also failed to show remorse, denying involvement to the end.

The packed court erupted in excitement as soon as Judge Francis stood to exit the courtroom.

“It [the life term] is okay, but it won’t bring back my child,” the emotional mother said outside court.

Her husband Bongani agreed, saying: “This man destroyed my life. [He] took everything.”

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The Star