THE family of former Blue Bulls player Phindile Joseph Ntshongwana, dubbed the “axe man”, said that, while they had accepted the judge’s decision, they were finding it hard to accept the five terms of life imprisonment handed down by the Durban High Court on Friday.
Acting judge Irfaan Khalil sentenced him for four murders and a rape. He was also sentenced to four years for each of two attempted murders, two years for assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and four for kidnapping.
Ntshongwana killed Thembelenkosini Cebekhulu in Montclair, Durban, on March 20, 2011; Paulos Hlongwa in Lamontville two days later; Simon Ngidi in Umbilo the following day; and an unidentified man in Yellowwood Park some time that week.
All were hacked to death with an axe. Two of the victims were beheaded. He also raped and kidnapped a woman.
He attacked and tried to kill two men, one in Umlazi on March 21, 2011, and the other in Lamontville two days later.
On Friday, his sister, Luleka Ntshongwana, told the Sunday Tribune outside the court that the family was still in a lot of pain, and that she loved her brother dearly. She described him as the “kindest” person she had come across in her life.
“I do not have tears any more. I have peace in my heart. If my brother must spend the rest of his life in jail, so be it.
“We do feel the pain of the people who lost fathers, brothers and also breadwinners, but we cannot live it because we are not there,” Luleka said.
She said they respected Judge Khalil’s ruling, but could not agree with it because her brother’s mental state had not been taken into consideration.
“He has suffered numerous (psychotic) relapses, and we were there when they happened. What is going to happen when he has another relapse? Who is going to look after him?”
His distraught mother, Nomafa Letlaka, criticised a public hospital for not admitting her son after acknowledging his mental illness.
She said it was on record that her son suffered from mental illness since it had been confirmed by the state psychologist responsible for his assessment.
As Judge Khalil handed down judgment, the public gallery, packed with families of the victims and a small group of ANC supporters, cheered.
Judge Khalil said the court was obliged to impose a life sentence for murder and rape, unless extraordinary circumstances existed.
The onus was on the accused to present “substantial and compelling circumstances” that would justify deviating from the prescribed sentence. He could not find any reasons in this case to do so.
Judge Khalil said the fact that Ntshongwana failed to testify in his defence meant the court had no way of knowing if he was remorseful or not.
“On the facts of this case, I do not accept that the accused is genuinely remorseful. At most, he regrets being caught out,” said the judge.
He rejected the defence’s claim that Ntshongwana’s mental illness had a role in the crimes.
Ntshongwana had “presence of mind” when committing the murders, and the steps taken to avoid detection were an aggravating circumstance.
Outside court after the sentencing, a small group sang and danced in jubilation, shouting: “No more stories – justice has been served.”