“I AM sorry I did not protect you”.That was Xoli Dladla-Mpungose’s emotional message read out at the funeral of her four children, Kuhlekonke Mpungose (4), Kwezi Mpungose (6), Siphesihle Mpungose (10) and Ayakha Jiyane, who were murdered last Tuesday.Racked by grief at not being able to protect her children, the mother of four from Copesville said she was sorry she was not there when her children needed her the most.The three younger children were found by their mother, Xoli, hanged in their bedrooms at their home in Wyebank, Durban, on Tuesday afternoon. Ayakha was found dead, strangled with the belt of a dressing gown, in bush.It is alleged that the father picked up three of the children from school earlier in the day. He then allegedly hanged the children before going to pick up his wife’s oldest daughter from school.It is alleged that after picking the children up, the man hanged the three smaller children in the family home in Wyebank and then took the teenager to bush near New Germany where she was hanged from a tree. Sibusiso Mpungose (44) was arrested in KwaDabeka, Pinetown, last Wednesday. He abandoned his attempt for bail in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court last Friday.In an emotional letter read at the mass funeral at the Copesville Sportsfield yesterday, Dladla-Mpungose, who was inconsolable throughout the funeral, described the siblings as her “joyous celebration”.“You will always be my pride and joy. Ayakha, you were not just a big sister, you were the second mom to the squad. Continue taking care of your siblings.“I am sorry I couldn’t protect you all. Luhle, stay close to Ayakha, she will protect you. I lived for all of you. I will always pray for you,” she said.Friends, politicians and family paid tribute to the four siblings and collectively expressed shock at the manner in which they were murdered. Ayakha would have celebrated her 17th birthday yesterday. Speaking about Ayakha, Sibongile Njapha, the principal of Pinetown Girls’ High School, remembered her fondly, and said the youngster had the world ahead of her. She said her achievements were many and varied.“Yet again, not everyone knows this. Such was her humility and modesty. She was clearly a pupil with both feet on the ground.” She said that it was not just her fellow pupils, but also teachers, who sang her praises.“Her teachers told me about her impeccable manners and warm smile. Not that I needed much reminding — a generous smile to match a generous spirit.”Njapha said Jiyane had also been charitable and led a drive to collect pens for the less fortunate.“She was recently involved in the pen drive, an initiative to collect writing instruments for schools in poorer communities. She took ownership of that project and made it her own,” Njapha said.Njapha said there was little that could explain her untimely death.“An intelligent, caring and wonderful soul was violently extinguished from this world so abruptly. “Surely the answers, however well-crafted they may be, can never justify such a heinous act. It is time for us to speak up or out. “There is a darkness that pervades some of our homes. “And if we remain silent, then that darkness will flourish,” she said.Speaking at the funeral, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala, said the murders displayed a level of brutality and anger displayed through various acts. “This is the worst of all kinds we have seen. We believe that we have to take up the lead on moral regeneration and show men that they must respect women and children,” Zikalala said.He called for harsher sentences for murderers and rapists.“There must be no bail for people who commit such acts. There must be heavy sentences for people who kill and for those who commit sexual abuse,” he added.The moral regeneration campaign currently being pursued by government, Zikalala said, has resulted in the creation of a provincial men’s forum to allow men to deal with their anger.