Cape Town - Internationally acclaimed artist Zwelethu Mthethwa has been sentenced to 18 years behind bars for the 2013 murder of 23-year-old sex worker Nokhupila Kumalo.
Sex workers cheered in the public gallery as Western Cape High Court Judge Patricia Goliath imposed more than the minimum sentence of 15 years in a bid to send a message that "violence against women will not be tolerated".
Describing the murder as "horrific", she said Mthethwa had assaulted a defenceless woman, "that the attack was unprovoked" and the fact that she was a sex worker "had multiplied her vulnerability".
Goliath said Mthethwa could be seen on CCTV footage that captured the attack in Ravenscraig Road in Woodstock on April 14, 2013, kicking his victim "more than 60 times".
"Her liver was virtually torn in half."
As a first time offender, Mthethwa faced a minimum sentence of 15 years, but Goliath said in this case the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors, and substantial and compelling circumstances could not be found to deviate from the minimum sentence and impose less than that.
In fact, a more severe sentence was "manifestly just and fair".
"With regard to the interests of society, we are experiencing high levels of violent crime against women and children. Where crime is prevalent in society, a severe sentence may be justified in order for it to act as a deterrent to others. The interests of society demand that offenders of serious crime be deterrently sentenced. If offenders are punished too lightly, the respect society has for law and order would be undermined."
Goliath referred to the testimony of two experts, Anne Cawood and Martin Yudaiken, who had both told the court that Mthethwa did not have a predisposition towards violence, but had a great deal of love and respect for women, displayed in his artwork.
Both expressed their belief that criminality did not form the fabric of his character and believed he would be unlikely to offend again.
But Goliath said the fact that he had kicked a defenceless sex worker more than 60 times, had paused during the attack, and then elected to continue was "indicative of his lack of respect for her bodily dignity".
Video: Catherine Rice/ANA
"The accused elected not to reveal the reasons for his rage. The experts did not investigate all layers of the accused and merely stated that he acted out of character. The question that has not been answered to date is what went wrong?"
Goliath dismissed Mthethwa's suggestions that alcohol had been the reason for his lack of recall about the incident. "The footage clearly shows that the perpetrator was not under the influence.
The introduction of the involvement of alcohol was aimed at deceiving the court. The accused lacks an appreciation of the seriousness of the offence."
She said he had shown a "flagrant disregard for the sanctity of life".
"The accused's standing as an acclaimed artist does not earn him a special sentence. This is the type of case where emphasis should fall on deterrence. The court needs to send a clear message to the community and all would-be criminals that gender-based violence will not be tolerated."
Outside court, sex workers sang and danced in celebration after Zwelethu Mthethwa was sentenced to 18 years behind bars for the 2013 murder of 23-year-old sex worker Nokhupila Kumalo. Picture: Catherine Rice/ANA
Outside court, sex workers sang and danced in celebration. Spokesperson for the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce, Nosipho Vidima, said it sent a message to would-be perpetrators that the justice system would not tolerate violence towards sex workers.
"We hope this judgment becomes a precedent for all the other cases where sex workers have been murdered."
Mthethwa's defence lawyer William Booth said they planned to appeal both the conviction and sentence.
- African News Agency (ANA)