Nun's killers say why they did it

2015-05-14 16:02
(Jeff Wicks, News24)

(Jeff Wicks, News24)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Pietermaritzburg - Mondli Shozi, 26, one of the men who raped and strangled Catholic missionary Gertrud Tiefenbacher, was a struggling builder who was raised by his grandparents and is a father of two young children.

Sbongiseni Phungula, who worked in concert with his cohort to brutally murder the well-liked nun, would sometimes earn R30 a day for collecting trolleys from the parking lot of an Ixopo retail store.

The two, who claim to have met during a drunken night at a local tavern, made plans to walk to the forest and fell trees for a shack, before abounding their gambit to steal food from the Sacred Heart Convent.

Once inside they insist they were interrupted by Tiefenbacher, whom they forced into her room before they raped and murdered her.

As the two sat stony-faced in the dock of the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Thursday, advocates for the State and defence argued in mitigation and aggravation of their sentence.

The two were found guilty on charges of murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances and rape by Judge Nompumelelo Radebe on Wednesday, who accepted most of the facts contained in written confessions placed before the court.

While black-robed lawyers argued, and with a gallery packed with white-veiled Roman Catholic nuns, the two men awaited their fate, staring blankly into space.

As Radebe weighs their right to liberty against their debt to society, many vagaries continue to shroud the murder of the nun.

The court heard that both men had found themselves on the wrong side of the law before the murder of Tiefenbacher.

State Advocate Sandesh Sankar placed on the record that Shozi had been convicted of house breaking in March last year.

For his crime, he was sentenced to six months imprisonment, which was wholly suspended for five years.

Phungula too has double-convictions one month apart in 2011, for the illegal possession of dagga.

Sankar stressed that the two had committed a trio of the most heinous crimes against a woman who was “defenceless”.

“Violence against the elderly and more especially elderly women induce such extreme shock. Whether they [the two men] were intoxicated or not, they indulged in this. They had no need to rape her, once they had subdued her it would have been enough had they simply come to the convent to steal food,” he said.

“The aggravating features of this matter so far outweigh anything presented in mitigation on behalf the accused.”

Impoverished backgrounds

Sankar dressed down the fact that the two had come from impoverished backgrounds, and were denied relationships with their parents.

“Poverty and partial employment, as well as growing up without ones parents is not unique in South Africa and befalls a large proportion of society... they are not all rapists and murderers.”

“They had money to spend on two bottles of alcohol, why didn't they buy food if they were hungry?” he asked.

In their defence, advocate Zina Anastasiou honed in on their fractured personal circumstance.

She told the court that Shozi had two children - aged 4 and 8-years-old - who had been abandoned by their mother who left Ixopo for Durban to look for work.

He had completed Grade 8 but had left school when his then girlfriend fell pregnant.

“He never knew his parents and they were both deceased when he was baby and he was raised by his grandparents,” she said.

Phungula was raised by his sister, who was four years his senior, after his mother and father died when he was very young.

“He left school in Grade 9 because of the financial problems experienced by his family. At the time he and his sister was staying at his grandmother's home when the elderly woman passed away,” Anastasiou added.

Anastasiou argued that the two had not planned the murder and rape, which had occurred during the committal of a crime.

“They were not premeditated... and happened in [a] situation when two people were intoxicated and became opportunistic and spontaneously went in search of food and landed up raping and murdering the deceased.

“Even though there is a dispute of fact that this court had to solve, ultimately the accused were not running from guilt and they pleaded guilty to murder and rape when they were quite aware that they were facing life imprisonment. This is not a case where the case against them was so overwhelming that they were forced to plead guilty. It is too early in the investigation to have DNA linking them to the case and from the outset they admitted what they did and it is certainly a sign that they can be rehabilitated.”

“Their personal circumstances together with intoxication that reduces moral blameworthiness, which doesn't effect their responsibility or guilt, should be mitigating factors when considering sentence,” she said.

Sentencing is expected on Friday.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  crime

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Financial advisors – Do you need one and should you get one?

The good, the bad, and everything else you need to know when considering hiring a financial advisor.


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.