Former motor mechanic Johannes Christiaan de Jager has been sentenced to life in jail for the “brutal and savage” murder of two teenagers.
Western Cape High Court acting Judge Chuma Cossie today handed down four life sentences, finding there were no substantial and compelling circumstances allowing her to deviate from prescribed minimum sentences.
The sentencing was misunderstood earlier. What initially appeared to be three concurrent life sentences later turned out to be four life sentences.
First news reports mostly stated that De Jager was handed down three concurrent life sentences for killing two teenagers and raping one.
In reading out the sentence, Cossie had bundled two rape charges together and mentioned that life imprisonment was applicable.
She also gave a life sentence for each of the murders.
Western Cape National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman Eric Ntabazalila explained that Cossie had not stated that the rape charges would be taken together, thus a life sentence was applicable for each.
The NPA confirmed De Jager was thus handed down four life sentences.
Journalists were unable to access the written judgment after court as the registrar wanted some spelling errors fixed first.
De Jager (49) was last month convicted of killing and raping 18-year-old sex worker Hiltina Alexander in 2008 and killing 16-year-old Charmaine Mare last year. Both crimes were committed in Cape Town.
Cossie found that there were no substantial and compelling circumstances allowing her to deviate from the prescribed minimum sentences of life imprisonment.
“This court has taken into account the personal circumstances of the accused. However, it is in agreement with the State that the accused has shown no signs of remorse during the trial and during mitigation of sentence,” she said.
“It is also mindful of the fact that two young lives were violated and such lives cannot be replaced.”
Six years in jail were handed down for dismembering Mare’s corpse and three months for stealing her cellphone.
De Jager, dressed in jeans, a checked shirt, and blue jersey, smirked as the sentence was handed down. He leaned against the dock in a relaxed manner and looked around at the people in court.
Cossie said she agreed with Sakkie Maartens that his client was not a serial killer, as suggested by State witness Brigadier Gerard Labuschagne during sentencing arguments.
However, rape and murder were very serious offences and needed to be punished in a way that would satisfy the interests of society.
“This kind of brutality is regrettably too a part of life in South Africa. Courts are expected to send out a clear message that such behaviour will be met with the full force and effect of the law,” she said.
“The legislature is concerned about this and so too should we be.”
Outside court, members of the Sisonke sex workers’ movement ululated and jumped for joy at the sentences. Some carried posters stating: “We demand justice” and “Decriminalise sex work now”.
National Sisonke organiser Duduzile Dlamini shouted that she was happy that they were also regarded as human.
She said many crimes had been committed against her on the street but she had not reported them because of trouble with police and the justice system.
“I’ve been in the industry many years. This one [case] shows me that our voices are heard now and I’m going to motivate my colleagues to go back and review their cases.”
Ntabazalila said the NPA hoped the sentences would serve as a deterrent to other would-be women abusers and killers.
“Rape and murder of women are on the increase in South Africa ... We will continue to prosecute without fear or favour or prejudice and ensure justice for the victims of crime, especially against women and children.”
» This article was updated after first published to correct the sentence handed down.