Cape Town - Convicted killer Thandi Maqubela’s movements seemed mechanical as she replaced her spectacles with dark sunglasses, hiding her eyes as the court adjourned shortly after she had been sentenced to 18 years in prison.
On Tuesday, the 60-year-old widow was sentenced to 15 years for murder, three for forgery and three for fraud, for the murder of her husband, Acting Judge Patrick Maqubela.
The fraud and forgery sentences will run concurrently.
“She is sentenced to an effective term of 18 years,” said Judge John Murphy as he handed down sentence in the Western Cape High Court.
In a black suit and a pink turban with gold jewellery, Maqubela gathered her files and ignored flashing cameras as she was escorted to the holding cells.
Maqubela has delayed court proceedings for the past 16 months, after she changed her legal representatives on several occasions, collapsed in court and feigned having a mental breakdown which ultimately saw her referred to Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital for observation.
She spent two months being evaluated by a panel of psychiatrists who unanimously concluded she was capable of understanding proceedings.
She was convicted in November 2013, after her husband’s body was found decomposing in his bed in his Bantry Bay flat in June 2009. He had been dead for two days when he was found shrouded in a sheet, in room with heaters and drawn curtains.
Her then co-accused, Vela Mabena, a former business associate, was acquitted on all charges.
Maqubela was found guilty of fraud and forgery in relation to the late acting judge’s will. His own children were left out of the will, while his wife’s daughter from another marriage were set to inherit money.
After court proceedings on Tuesday, Patrick Maqubela’s biological son, Duma Maqubela, said that whether his stepmother “had been sentenced to 15 years or 20 years” it would not bring back his father. He could not say he was “happy” with the sentence but agreed with the court’s reasoning.
Judge Murphy found the State had failed to prove that Maqubela had conspired to commit the murder, and that the evidence was “insufficient to reach a conclusion beyond reasonable doubt”.
While the crime of murder was “undoubtedly serious”, it was made more so because the acting judge was her husband, and an upstanding member of society who was “killed in the context of marital strife”.
Maqubela had set out to ruin her husband’s reputation by “vindictively exposing his infidelities”. He had had several affairs which Maqubela revealed to his friends and colleagues.
“After the murder the accused used her experience as a nurse to accelerate the decomposition of the deceased.”
Judge Murphy also acknowledged the acting judge’s commitment to the judiciary and contribution to the struggle for democracy.
The court noted the argument by Maqubela’s lawyer that the murder had been committed during an “explosive crisis” in the marriage, and that she had suffered “humiliation and shame” as a result of her husband’s exploits which may have “clouded her judgement and moral compass”.
Regarding the fraud and forgery charges, the judge said Maqubela was unconcerned about the psychological and emotional effects the forgery would have on her husband’s children. “Not only did the accused deprive them of their father, she had set out to deprive them of their inheritance.”
A social worker’s report noted that Maqubela had been a successful businesswoman and a kindly employer.
Judge Murphy said: “She claimed to be a Jehovah’s Witness, yet as a young woman she took part in adulteress behaviour and more recently in the murder and forgery.”
He accepted the social worker’s report that it was unlikely Maqubela would in the future be a threat to society.