From murders-by-appointment to the gruesome killing of seven family members and a tragic rape and murder in a post office, these are the 10 court cases that shocked South Africans in 2019.
1. The Krugersdorp killings
In August, the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg handed three of the so-called Krugersdorp killers multiple life sentences in connection with a series of murders and related crimes.
In June, Cecilia Steyn, 38, Marcel Steyn, 21, and Zak Valentine, 34, were found guilty of several crimes linked to a murder spree which took place in and around Krugersdorp between 2012 and 2016.
The three were part of a group called Electus per Deus (Chosen by God). They murdered 11 people, including Valentine’s wife Mikeila.
Marcel’s mother, former schoolteacher Marinda Steyn, is serving 11 life terms and 115 years in jail after pleading guilty.
Marcel’s elder brother Le Roux Steyn was also a part of the group, but entered into a plea bargain with the State in May last year. He was found guilty of seven murders and sentenced to 35 years for each of them. Ten years of his sentence were suspended on condition that he testified at the trial.
Another member of the group, John Barnard, is serving 20 years after he was sentenced in 2016.
In delivering his sentence, Judge Ellem Jacob Francis said the accused committed heinous and barbaric crimes.
“The evil deeds committed by the accused were heinous, barbaric and bloodied crimes,” he said.
Francis said the victims died a brutal death from multiple stab and bullet wounds, while one was set alight inside Valentine’s Mercedes Benz.
“Krugersdorp was struck by a tsunami. [Cecilia] Steyn was the driving force of the tsunami,” he said.
Greed, revenge, religious extremism and manipulation underpinned the group’s motives.
2. The rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana
Former post office worker Luyanda Botha will serve life in prison for the rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, in terms of a plea and sentencing agreement concluded in the Western Cape High Court.
The court heard in November that Botha, 42, pleaded guilty to raping and killing the UCT student earlier this year.
According to the agreement, Botha was sentenced to life for murder, two life sentences for both counts of rape, and five years for defeating the course of justice. The five-year sentence will run concurrently.
He will not be eligible for parole for 25 years. Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe confirmed the sentence.
Botha was charged with twice raping 19-year-old Mrwetyana, a first-year student, before bludgeoning her to death on August 24.
Botha admitted in his plea that he arranged to be alone with Mrwetyana in the locked Clareinch Post Office that day by telling her a parcel was ready. He had met her two weeks earlier when she first enquired about the package.
He made sexual advances towards her but she did not respond and looked scared, he said.
“I grabbed her by the waist and forcibly pulled her closer to me… the deceased fought while I sexually violated her,” he admitted.
He then raped her.
“She managed to run to the door but I caught up with her and knocked her to the ground.”
He then dragged her to the post office safe and locked her inside while she was still screaming.
“I choked the deceased and she fought back and kicked me.”
He took a 2kg weight, used to weigh packages received at the post office, and used it to kill her, targeting her head.
Botha then left the post office, drank alcohol and returned to cover her body with cushions, a blanket and a jersey.
He returned the next day and found the area covered in blood. He cleaned up and waited until dark to put her body in a large postal mail bag and take it away in his car.
Once at a field in Lingelethu West, Khayelitsha, he dumped her body in a shallow hole before dousing it with petrol and setting it alight.
Botha confessed and pointed out the scene after he was arrested.
3. The Dros rapist
In October, Nicholas Ninow, the man who pleaded guilty to raping a 7-year-old girl in the bathroom of a Dros restaurant in Pretoria in 2018, was sent to jail for the rest of his life.
Handing down judgment in September, Judge Mokhine Mosopa found Ninow guilty of rape and accepted the State’s version of events.
“The only reasonable inference the court can draw is that the accused saw the victim playing in the play area, saw her going to the bathroom, followed her and then undressed and raped her,” Mosopa said.
Ninow was also found guilty of possession of drugs and defeating the ends of justice.
In the trial, which took four days to complete, the State called six witnesses, including the victim, focusing on the sequence of events. Ninow’s Legal Aid lawyer Herman Alberts closed his case without calling any witnesses.
While he admitted raping the victim, by forcing his penis into her mouth and inserting his fingers into her vagina, he claimed the victim found him in the bathroom and that he acted impulsively.
In his plea explanation, he said he went to the women’s bathroom to snort the drug CAT because he was afraid of being caught.
But the State disputed this, saying Ninow planned the assault and preyed on the victim, following her into the bathroom.
News24 previously reported that the mother of the victim had found Ninow naked in the bathroom with her daughter.
“No parent should ever see what I witnessed,” she told the court.
She testified that Ninow came out of the toilet and ran to the men’s bathroom. She then retrieved her child and handed her over to someone before running back to confront Ninow.
“Then I found him cleaning himself with my child’s clothes.”
According to the mother, Ninow also told them not to disturb him as they tried to force the toilet stall open. The victim called out for her mother, the court heard.
4. Jason Rohde
In February, the Western Cape High Court sentenced property mogul Jason Rohde to an effective 20 years in prison for killing his wife Susan and staging her suicide in Stellenbosch in 2016.
Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe said 18 years for the murder was an appropriate sentence. He received five years for staging the suicide, three of which would run concurrently.
Rohde, 50, was found guilty in November last year of murdering his wife at the Spier wine estate in July 2016 and of obstructing justice by trying to make her death look self-inflicted.
The property mogul had “staged her death as a play” and roped in various “actors” and “extras” to tell a story that she had committed suicide, Salie-Hlophe said in her judgment.
“This court finds that the accused staged the suicide and had the direct intention to kill.”
Salie-Hlophe carefully laid out how Jason had devised a plan to stage the suicide after a physical altercation resulted in murder.
Based on expert evidence, she found it “highly improbable” that Rohde’s wife would have gone to the bathroom to hang herself.
Susan was found hanging from a hook of a hotel bathroom door. Throughout the trial, Rohde claimed his wife had committed suicide.
The court heard that Rohde’s wife learnt that he was having an extra-marital affair which was followed by “harrowing” months of trauma and suffering leading up to her murder.
Although Jason claimed that he had ended the affair with estate agent Jolene Alterskye, Susan uncovered his lie at the wine estate while the couple was attending a conference and the two engaged in a vicious argument.
The very next morning, her body was found in their hotel bathroom.
Earlier this month, Rohde was granted R200 000 bail pending his appeal against his conviction and sentence.
5. Mass murderer gets 146 years in prison
A convicted killer and rapist was handed six life sentences and a further 146 years imprisonment in the Scottburgh High Court in KwaZulu-Natal in December.
Nkosinathi Alpeos Ngcobo, 32, was sentenced for charges that include murder, rape, attempted murder, armed robbery, possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition.
In 2017, Ngcobo was arrested by Mehlomnyama detectives for double murder and rape. At the time, the prosecutor declined to prosecute and opted to hold an inquest.
A year later, Ngcobo was arrested again on an armed robbery charge.
“His legal team attempted to have the charges withdrawn on the basis of a technicality. However, the local magistrate’s court refused and offered the investigating team three days to collect evidence for a bail application,” said KwaZulu-Natal Hawks spokesperson Captain Simphiwe Mhlongo.
“A multi-disciplinary task team consisting of the Hawks Port Shepstone Serious Organised Crime Investigation, Port Shepstone Cluster Detectives, Port Shepstone war room, Mehlomnyama detectives and forensic science laboratory set out on an exhaustive investigation”.
Ngcobo was linked to 22 cases of murder, attempted murder, rape, armed robbery and housebreaking through DNA in Mehlomnyama, Port Shepstone, Southport and Benoni.
6. The Vlakfontein murders
The case of two men accused of murdering a family of seven in a house in Vlakfontein, south of Johannesburg, led to no convictions because the one accused, Ernest Vusi Mabaso, 27, committed suicide and the other, Fita Khupe, 61, was acquitted.
In October last year, a stench at a house in Vlakfontein, Johannesburg, led police to a grim discovery.
The bodies of seven people – three women and four children – were discovered buried under a pile of sand in a bedroom of the house.
The children were aged from 2 to 11.
Mabaso’s suicide in a prison cell in Cape Town in January this year has added more questions to the gruesome mystery, particularly around what his role in the murders was.
In June, the State withdrew charges against Khupe. This came after it failed to find a way forward after Mabaso committed suicide.
“Prosecutors tried to establish facts and found that there were no reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution going forward,” NPA spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane told eNCA outside the court.
“All we have is a confession from the deceased. The law does not allow us to use this against Khupe,” she said.
Mjonondwane added that witness statements had failed to link the 62-year-old to the murders.
In a confession, Mabaso claimed that Khupe instructed him to commit the crime.
Rebecca Moloi, who lives three houses away from the Khoza home, said Mabaso owed the nation answers about why the family of seven was wiped out.
“I am still shocked that he is dead. I don’t believe that he died. He was full of tricks and maybe he has faked his death like he once did before. He died with a lot of information,” she said.
“My children told me that there was a doctor who was living in our neighbourhood and I must meet him. When I saw him, I became suspicious of his behaviour. He didn’t look like a doctor. He looked ordinary and very young to be a doctor. He wore the same clothes.
“A person needs to study for more than six years in order to be a qualified doctor. But Mabaso didn’t look like a person who had studied medicine overseas as he had claimed. He duped my neighbours in order for them to trust him.”
Moloi said at some stage, Mabaso pretended to be a teacher specialising in mathematics. Children would ask him for help with their school work.
She said her children had come home to tell her the news when the decomposed bodies were discovered.
7. The Coligny murder
Two men convicted of killing Coligny teenager Matlhomola Moshoeu were respectively sentenced to 18 and 23 years in prison in March.
In imposing an 18-year sentence on Pieter Doorewaard and 23-year sentence on Phillip Schutte, North West High Court Judge Ronnie Hendricks said the murder was not planned and not premeditated.
He said the court found the incident happened as a result of dolus eventualis (indirect intention).
In January, the two were found guilty of murdering 16-year-old Moshoeu in Coligny on April 20, 2017.
This, after they claimed that they saw Moshoeu stealing sunflower heads worth R60, after which they loaded him into their bakkie to take him to the police.
They pleaded not guilty, claiming that Moshoeu had jumped from the vehicle.
While handing down judgment, Judge Ronnie Hendricks said that after all the contradictions, probabilities and improbabilities were taken into account, he had relied on the version of the lone witness, Bonakele Pakisi.
The defence had argued that Pakisi’s testimony was not credible because of contradictions in his statements.
“I am satisfied that the evidence of Mr Pakisi is honest, truthful and reliable,” Hendricks said while he handed down judgment last year.
Hendricks said there was no practical reason why Pakisi would have invented the evidence given, as he remembered “each and every scene” and was able to describe what had happened at the various scenes.
However, in November, Doorewaard and Schutte were released on R20 000 bail each.
This comes after their special application for leave to appeal against their conviction for the murder of Moshoeu was granted in the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.
8. Father hangs his 4 children
Sibusiso Mpungose was sentenced to four life terms in November for hanging and killing his four children.
He had pleaded guilty to killing Kuhlekonke, 4, Khwezi, 6, Siphesihle, 10, and 17-year-old step-daughter Ayakha Jiyane on September 3, in Wyebank, Pinetown.
In sentencing Mpungose, Judge Sharmaine Balton said the crimes he had committed were atrocious.
“It is unimaginable that a father who is described as a loving caring father by his wife could have committed these offences,” she said.
The judge added that the photographs of the dead children at the crime scenes were horrendous.
Mpungose had said in his plea that he killed his children because he believed his wife was cheating on him.
News24 previously reported that the man allegedly sent their 10-year-old back and forth to the tuckshop to buy snacks so he would have time to murder his children, according to their mother, Xoli.
Clothing was used to hang the three youngest children. He allegedly attempted to hang the fourth away from the family home, but failed and strangled her instead.
In September, Xoli described in painful detail how she had discovered her children hanged.
“In one child’s room, he hung them on a burglar bar on the window, with the belt from their night gown. In my room as well, he hung the other one,” she said.
Mpungose will return to court later to face an additional charge of rape for an unrelated incident, which allegedly occurred mere days before he took the life of his children.
9. Student bludgeons, stabs flatmate to death
A University of Johannesburg (UJ) student who killed his flatmate who used a hammer to bludgeon him multiple times was sentenced to 15 years in jail in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg in June.
Siphamandla Gamede, 25, was also handed a two-year sentence for obstructing justice after killing Nkosinathi Ngema at Cherry Manor Complex in Roodepoort in January.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane said in a statement the Bachelor of Mathematics graduate was living with Ngema and Ngema’s brother in a flat. The day of the murder, the brother had gone to work and left Gamede and Ngema asleep in their rooms.
“When the brother came back from work, he found blood inside the flat and the accused lied that the deceased had been robbed during a robbery,” Mjonondwane said.
Gamede pleaded guilty.
Judge Mohamed Ismail explained there needed to be compelling circumstances to warrant the court deviating from the prescribed sentence, Mjonondwane said.
Ismail said mitigating factors in the case were that Gamede had no previous convictions and had pleaded guilty.
“Killing of innocent human beings has reached an unprecedented level in the country. The NPA condemns such inhumane deeds and will continue to advocate for the right to life,” Mjonondwane said.
10. The brutal gang rape and murder of Hannah Cornelius
In November, three men involved in the kidnapping, rape and murder of Stellenbosch University student Hannah Cornelius and the brutal attack on her friend Cheslin Marsh have received life sentences.
Vernon Witbooi, Geraldo Parsons and Eben van Niekerk heard their fate in the Western Cape High Court, less than a week after they were convicted on 10 charges, including kidnapping, rape and murder.
Their co-accused Nashville Julius was found guilty of robbery and kidnapping, as he had fled before his accomplices drove off with the students that night.
Witbooi and Parsons were sentenced to life imprisonment for Cornelius’ murder, and life for her rape.
None of the accused showed true remorse, Judge Rosheni Allie said. There could be no doubt that the four were lucid during their modus operandi.
It was appalling that they had kept Cornelius with them after dumping Marsh, as it showed they wanted to take full advantage of her, Allie said.
Her rape was intended to bring her to complete subjugation, “violating her privacy, dignity and humanity”.
The manner in which they preyed on Cornelius made it the “crudest and cruellest form of violence”.
They put her in the boot after gang-raping her, and she must have resisted because she was in pain and anguish.
She was stabbed at Groenhof Farm and further attacked while she lay with her face on the ground. Throwing a rock on her was “vengeful and vicious, to cause death instantly”.
The Cornelius family had been torn apart, while Marsh had suffered extreme trauma and couldn’t study further.
Cornelius’ body was found on the morning of May 27, 2017, outside Stellenbosch.
She was last seen alive with Marsh hours earlier, when the four men accosted the two students in her car in Bird Street in the town.
Marsh was stoned and left for dead near Kraaifontein, while Cornelius was raped and later stabbed at Groenhof farm.
Her Citi Golf was used in two armed robberies before Witbooi and Parsons were apprehended after a high-speed chase.
– Compiled by Riaan Grobler