Former soldier convicted of attempted murder and rape after infecting partner with HIV

Former SANDF member Leon Santos Conga has been convicted of attempted murder and rape. Supplied

Former SANDF member Leon Santos Conga has been convicted of attempted murder and rape. Supplied

Published Jun 13, 2024


Former South African National Defence Force (SANDF) member Leon Santos Conga has been convicted of attempted murder and rape, for failing to disclose his HIV status to his former partner, and infecting her with the virus.

The complainant, Antoinette Ndishishi, is represented by AfriForum's Private Prosecution Unit, which has been supporting her fight for justice since she approached the unit in 2018. The evidence that the unit helped secure was critical to the conviction.

The unit forced the SANDF to release Conga’s medical records, which revealed that he was aware of his HIV status since 2007. Their refusal to provide these records forced the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to withdraw the case twice. Without these records, the docket lacked sufficient evidence to charge the accused. Conga pleaded not guilty to the charges in March 2022.

On Tuesday, Pretoria Magistrate Fikiswa Ntlati convicted Conga of rape because Ndishishi only consented to having sex with him on the understanding that he was HIV-negative. The court accepted Ndishishi’s testimony that if Conga had disclosed his status, she would not have agreed to have sex. The couple had discussed the issue, but he withheld this information from her.

Ntlati convicted Conga of attempted murder because he infected Ndishishi with the virus despite knowing he was HIV positive and failed to inform her. The court accepted expert testimony that HIV infection is an “incurable and fatal disease”.

Ntlati found Ndishishi to be a credible witness. “She made a good impression on this court in her demeanour and the way in which she answered clearly and directly to all the questions that were posed to her.

Despite her testifying after at least four years since the incident took place, she gave a clear and a detailed account of what transpired. She didn’t contradict herself on any aspect. She remained consistent and unshaken and did not deviate from her version even during cross-examination. She was credible, and in the opinion of this court, no criticism can be levelled against her.”

Advocate Gerrie Nel, head of the Private Prosecution Unit, says it is moments like these that inspired him to become a prosecutor. “It has demonstrated that the establishment of the Private Prosecution Unit is critical to ensuring justice for victims of crime.

“The judgment is a significant development of the law because it has provided a better understanding of the meaning of consent. Antoinette consented to unprotected sex, but she only did so because the accused told her he was HIV negative.

“We share Antoinette’s relief over the verdict, but we also believe she has been vindicated. When she approached our office, she was receiving no assistance, not even from the SANDF. The Private Prosecution Unit will continue to support women who fight their way through the justice system in order for their voices to be heard. We also want to thank Advocate Emile van der Merwe, the prosecutor, for his commitment to ensuring justice is served,” says Nel.

Ndishishi says she is grateful for the support from the Private Prosecution Unit. “Before that, I only had the support of my mother. I feel like I got justice because he was found guilty on both counts, attempted murder and rape. Honestly, hearing the words of the magistrate convict him and find him guilty, I actually cried. I cried because I’d been fighting for seven years, so I was very happy.

“It would be nice for other women to come out and report such matters because in South Africa, we’ve got a high rate of HIV infections. They shouldn’t be afraid. I know most of the ladies would say they are afraid to come out because of the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV and also because of the lengthy court process. But if you’re patient and firm in your decision, then obviously you’re going to make it. They shouldn’t be afraid. I believe such people need to be locked up,” she said.

The matter has been postponed to August 7, 2024 for sentence argument.

Pretoria News