Pretoria - A Mamelodi father was convicted on Monday of killing his wife and two young daughters, despite claiming that his wife had been a witch-turned-snake who attacked them.
Judge George Webster rejected Evans Mpanyane's plea that he strangled his pregnant wife Cornelia in self-defence.
He claimed she poisoned and strangled their daughters Joy, six, and Priscilla, seven, then turned into a snake-like creature and tried to kill him.
“This evidence of a metamorphosis of his wife into a beast or snake is reminiscent of the fables which used to be narrated to young children.
“The evidence against the accused is overwhelming,” Webster said.
The half-naked body of Cornelia Mpanyane, 30, was discovered by passers-by under a tree in the veld in Kameelfontein, north of Pretoria.
Police found her daughters' bodies in their father's car, which was parked nearby with him still in the driver's seat.
Webster said photographs of the girls' bodies, dressed in identical pink and white polka dot dresses, left a lasting impression.
At first glance, the girls appeared to be sleeping, but close-ups showed the marks around their necks where they had been strangled with a rope.
The rope, that was according to medical evidence probably also used to strangle their mother, was found in Mpanyane's car.
The court accepted the evidence of a handwriting expert that the “suicide notes” stuck in the back of Mrs Mpanyane's bra were written not by her, but by her husband.
In the notes, Mrs Mpanyane allegedly admitted that her husband was not the father of the children, and that she had practised witchcraft.
Webster also accepted the evidence of two passers-by, who testified that they saw Mpanyane's car slowly passing by with the girls playing on the back seat.
When they returned, they found Mrs Mpanyane's body lying in the veld under a tree.
Although defence counsel argued that the girls might have been poisoned with an unknown traditional African toxin, Webster said it was clear from the medical evidence that all three victims had been strangled with a ligature.
Mpanyane claimed his wife strangled the children because she did not want to share his benefit pay-out with them, but Webster said on his version she did not even know that he had lost his job at that point.
Mpanyane was also the one who had invited his wife and children to meet him that day.
Other bizarre features of his evidence included that the “beast” turned back into human form after being strangled, and that the children, who were supposedly already dead, were seen playing in the car.
“The accused was there when his wife and children lost their lives,” Webster found.
“The cause of death of the children had nothing to do with witchcraft.
“It is difficult for the court to believe that the accused would have stood idly by while his children were being strangled.
“The court is no expert on human conduct, but it has difficulty in understanding how a mother-to-be would strangle these two innocent young children in front of their father,” Webster said.
He postponed the trial to January 27 for a pre-sentencing report.