File picture: Independent Media

Pretoria - A teenager aged 13 was burnt alive by her foster mother, who had poured paraffin over before setting her alight, in an effort to “teach her a lesson for stealing money.” 

Nelly Masangu died a few days later in hospital and her aunt, Anna Mahlangu, was subsequently convicted of murder this week in the high court in Pretoria.

The 62-year-old Mahlangu, cried bitterly as she told Judge Bert Bam that she loved and that she only wanted to teach the child a lesson by pouring paraffin over her and setting her alight.

She claimed the teenager had stolen money from her and she simply wanted to scare her. She thought she had all in hand and would douse the flames before it engulfed her. Masangu, however, died a few days later in hospital of third-degree burn wounds. 

Mahlangu pleaded not guilty to murder as she said she did not have the intention to kill her.

She took care of the teenager since she was 5-years-old and her mother, Mahlangu’s youngest sister, had died. Mahlangu also took care of one of her other siblings’ daughters, only identified as Nomsa, after her mother had died.

Nomsa, with the financial aid of Mahlangu, was studying towards her degree at Unisa. Mahlangu told the court that she had the same high hopes for Masangu and she had set up a university fund for her.

“The money is still in the bank as she had died,” an emotional Mahlangu said.

She explained that she suspected that Masangu had stolen R500 which Mahlangu had left in the house. She had confronted the teenager about it, who denied that she took the money.

On October 1, 2015, she took Masangu to the police station, in the hope that she confessed taking the money. The teenager persisted that she was not the thief and the police referred the two to a social worker.

Mahlangu said she left the teenager with the social worker in her office, in the hope that she eventually confessed taking the money.

They eventually left the office of the social worker while Masangu still denied that she took the money. The social worker instructed them to return on October 5 for a further session, but this never happened due to the incident.

On October 4, Nomsa was home for the school holidays and the three of them were at Mahlangu’s home. There were also some tenants present who lived on the property.

Mahlangu said because this was not the first time that the teenager took money from her, she decided to scare her.

“I decided to pour paraffin over her and to pretend that I was going to burn her. I believed that she would never burn because I was going to put out the fire myself.” 

Mahlangu said when the teenager caught fire, she tried to douse the flames by removing her clothes. “Unfortunately she slipped out of my hands and ran away.” 

“As she ran further away, the flames became even more. I and other tenants poured water at her in an effort to put out the fire. The fire was eventually put out but unfortunately she had suffered burns.”  

Masangu died a few days later in hospital, where Mahlangu was also treated for a week as she too, caught fire when she tried to help Masangu.
“I never intended to burn her, as I loved her. I had high hopes for her to one day make something of herself.” 

Mahlangu said she did not have peace since the incident as she could not forgive herself for what she had done. 

Her employer took the stand to testify in mitigation of sentence and said she worked for his family for 27 years and her conduct on the day of the incident was totally unlike her. 

He said his family loved her dearly and he suspected that she simply snapped as she was unable to cope with the teenager, who was not an easy person.

Judge Bam said this was a tragic incident which called for a probation officer’s report to assist the court in sentencing Mahlangu.
The case was postponed to December 8.

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