Nun’s murder has tainted SA

2015-05-15 09:47
Gertrud Tiefenbacher (87) was found murdered at her convent home in Ixopo on Sunday.
PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Gertrud Tiefenbacher (87) was found murdered at her convent home in Ixopo on Sunday. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

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THE horrific rape, robbery and murder of 87-year-old Ixopo nun Sister Gertrud Tiefenbacher has made international headlines and people are asking, “What is the country coming to? Where has Ubuntu gone?”

This is one of the comments made in a Victim Impact Statement (VIS) by Sister Gerald Frye of the Sacred Heart Convent where Austrian-born Tiefenbacher (affectionately known as Sister Stefani) was raped and strangled with a towel and shoelaces by two men on the night of April 18.

Judge Nompumelelo Radebe is expected to sentence her killers, Mondli Shozi and Sibongiseni Phungula, both 25 years old, today.

State advocate Sandesh Sankar has asked for two life sentences to be ­imposed on them for the rape and ­murder charges and 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment for robbery with aggravating circumstances in terms of minimum sentencing laws.

He said in the space of “one visit” Shozi and Phungula had perpetrated “all of the most serious forms of violence possible” on a defenceless 87-year-old nun in the sanctity of her own home where she ought to have been safe.

Their actions induced extraordinary and extreme shock.

He said the question remained why they had raped Tiefenbacher, after they had already subdued her and tied her up. “They don’t say why they did so. They simply state that they did,” he said.

Sankar added that a “multitude of people” have similar disadvantaged backgrounds like these two men, but they don’t become rapists and murderers.

Meanwhile, defence advocate Zina Anastasiou urged the judge to accept as mitigating that the two men were intoxicated after drinking two 750 ml bottles of alcohol at a tavern before the incident. She said this affected their judgment.

She also said the fact that they pleaded guilty — even if not proving remorse on their part — did show that they can be rehabilitated.

Frye said in the VIS the incident has been “very bad for South Africa” as the story was covered by the international press. Messages of condolence have come from as far afield as Libya, Canada, Australia, Germany, Korea, Zimbabwe, Austria, Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and the U.S.

“It seems with the xenophobia attacks all eyes are critically on South Africa,” she added.

“They all express sympathy, shock and horror at the murder and rape of an 87-year-old nun,” she said.

Frye said Tiefenbacher “did not deserve to die like this”.

“Sister Stefani … was a loving 87-year-old who was going blind. Why kill her? She could not even have identified the perpetrators,” she said.

She described her as a “humble, kind and gentle soul” who was always ready to help wherever needed.

“She was mentally alert with a big heart for all people: black, white, coloured, young or old. She dedicated her life to doing God’s work of quietly bringing God’s love to each person without preaching,” she said.

She added she was “not your typical nun” but had a great sense of adventure and in her younger days “thought nothing of riding an ostrich or climbing a mountain”.

Frye said Tiefenbacher’s death has shocked her fellow sisters at Sacred Heart home. “The sisters are shocked and very fearful. Is this a thank you for a life of dedication?

“If these men were hungry all they needed to do was ring the bell and ask for food. They would have been given food and a hot drink, as well as a parcel of food to tide them over,” she said.

She said the other sisters now feel insecure in their own home. At night they lock themselves into their rooms. Some wake with anxiety attacks too afraid to walk the passage to the bathrooms at night.

Frye said a psychologist was brought in to provide individual help and support, and group therapy for those who needed it.

“It will take a long time, if ever, for the effects of this intrusion into our lives to be forgotten,” she said

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