A broken man after being sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Bergvliet resident Jane van Zyl, city flower seller Gershwin Hartzenberg’s fate was sealed yesterday as he was led past the Van Zyl family to the holding cells in the Western Cape High Court.
While tears streamed down Hartzenberg’s cheeks as his family and supporters bade him farewell, Smiley van Zyl, Jane’s widower, fought back tears of joy and promised to follow through with his vow to his deceased wife that she would never be just “another statistic”.
In the tense Court 8 courtroom yesterday where the Van Zyl supporters and Hartzenberg supporters were forced to squeeze in next to each other, Hartzenberg stood with his hands behind his back in the dock, eyeing only family and friends as Judge Siraj Desai delivered his sentence.
Hartzenberg, who was earlier found guilty on all five charges against him, was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder and theft.
He was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for the robbery of Newlands resident Linda Heeger, as well as five years for being in possession of a weapon and ammunition.
Desai said Hartzenberg’s actions were so “brutal” that only the maximum punishment would fit the crime. “The impact of your actions on the families of the victims – and even that of their neighbours – was evident in their testimony,” said Desai, despite noting Hartzenberg’s youth and his lack of schooling as mitigating factors.
“The impact of your cruelty on Mr Van Zyl was terrible… he had to lose his life partner.”
Desai said he could not ignore the effect Hartzenberg’s actions had had on “so many good and law-abiding citizens”.
“None of these people did you any harm,” said Desai, before adding that he had to keep in mind what society expected of him.
“If the sentence is too light, the justice system will fall into disrepute and society will lose their trust in the courts.
“To ignore the seriousness of the crime will lessen the human dignity of our society.”
Meanwhile, Hartzenberg’s older sister, Bonita Appolis, who had testified on his behalf in terms of mitigating circumstances on Monday, approached Van Zyl to offer her condolences while other Hartzenberg supporters – some of whom were inconsolable – proclaimed his innocence loudly in the courtroom.
Speaking after the sentencing, Van Zyl said he felt sympathy for the Hartzenberg family.
“I understand why they feel the way they do, and at the end of the day they did nothing wrong and I don’t hold any grudges against his family.
“Two and a half years was a long road to walk, but I got everything I hoped for.
“Nothing will bring Jane back, but the law took its course,” Van Zyl said.
Van Zyl said he would now focus his energy on taking on the State.
He has lodged a complaint to ensure that criminals with a long history of crime are not let out on bail.