Johannesburg - Six children suspected of stoning to death three young Limpopo cousins were referred for mental assessment to determine if they are fit to stand trial for multiple counts of murder.

The children, aged between 10 and 16, appeared briefly before the Mookgophong Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday. Two of them are 10 years old, one is 11 and the fourth 14. The other two are aged 15 and 16.

The children face rape and murder charges following the killing of siblings Johanna, 12, and Hosea Kekana, 10, and their nine-year-old cousin Bafana in August.

The children were arrested last Thursday after police had offered a R100 000 reward.

Police said Johanna had been raped before she was killed.

The public and the media were barred from the court on Thursday to protect the identity of the minors.

Fewer than 10 residents gathered outside court. Parents of the dead children were apparently not in court.

Magistrate Yusuf Tayob later told The Star that the case had been postponed to December 6 for the children to go for an assessment.

He said Wednesday’s appearance was a preliminary inquiry in terms of the Child Justice Act.

However, Tayob declined to comment on details regarding the court proceedings.

“I can’t give details, except to say it’s an assessment,” he said.

The act’s section 7(2) states that a child who is 10 years or older, but under the age of 14, is presumed to lack criminal capacity if he or she commits an offence.

It further indicates that the responsibility to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the child had the ability to differentiate between right and wrong at the time of the offence lies with the State.

It could not be established if all the children, despite their age differences, would be tried according to the Child Justice Act.

But Limpopo police spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said they would all undergo a mental assessment.

“The magistrate has made it clear that all of them must go,” he said.

Some suspects are said to be streetchildren, and only the 16-year-old was at school. But Mulaudzi would not confirm this.

Meanwhile, Bafana’s father was due to appear before the same court on Thursday on charges of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.

He was arrested in September for allegedly assaulting a woman in Phomolong township.

Police insisted that his arrest was not linked to the killing of the three children. But his wife Mpho said the police had told her before the arrest of the six that they suspected him of involvement in the killings. Mulaudzi, however, dismissed this as a rumour.

But he said the police had questioned all family members regarding the killings.

Bafana’s father has been in custody since September. Mpho alleged that the police told her to stop visiting him in jail.

“They say we are confusing him and that we disturb their investigations,” she said.

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The Star