A Mpumalanga taxi driver has been sentenced to almost four decades behind bars for raping passengers.Police say this will send a stern message to men to stop abusing women, especially during the Covid-19 lockdown.The 37-year sentence was handed down to Collen Mandla Ndala, 43, on Friday, and has been welcomed by Mpumalanga's police chief, Lieutenant General Mondli Zuma.Police said in a statement the Mkobola Regional Court in Kwaggafontein convicted Ndala "for various charges, including rape, assault with intention to cause grievous bodily harm, attempted rape, kidnapping as well as compelled self-sexual assault"."The court heard how between December 2013 and January 2015, Ndala, who by then worked as a taxi driver, took advantage of his victims by targeting vulnerable and unsuspecting women who were hitchhiking at night," said police spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi."He would then offer them a lift, enquire about their destinations and, after a short distance, would make an excuse that he needed to pass by his house first to switch on the lights, to which his victims would agree. Ndala would then take a detour, drive to a secluded area and brutally rape his defenceless victims."The incidents came to light when two victims, aged 15 and 24, separately reported the matter to the police, who immediately opened cases, upon which investigations commenced."2015 arrestDetectives investigated and arrested the taxi driver in February 2015. He had remained in custody while the court process had taken place. The police explained in their statement: "During the trial, Ndala pleaded not guilty to all the charges put before him. He told the court that the victims were his girlfriends and he never had sexual contact with the first one, who was 15 years old at the time, but conceded sleeping with the second one, who was 24 at the time."READ | Taxi driver arrested while allegedly raping passengerPolice noted that Ndala's legal representative had argued Ndala was a breadwinner with three children, was a first-time offender and suffered from a chronic illness.But the prosecutors had countered that taxi drivers held a duty of care to protect their passengers – not harm them. "When handing down sentence, the Regional Court magistrate said that the type of sentence to be imposed should fit the crime committed, and also indicated that crimes against women and children occur almost every day, including during the period of the nationwide lockdown," police said.Possible deterrentNdala was finally sentenced to 37 years imprisonment for the five counts.On count 1, assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, he was sentenced to seven years. On count 2, attempted rape, Ndala was sent packing to three years, whereas on count 3, kidnapping, he was sentenced to five years. On count 4, the rape charge, he was sentenced to 25 years and on count 5, compelled self-sexual assault, he was sentenced to two years.Lieutenant General Zuma said he hoped the sentence would deter others."I am elated... This is another step towards the realisation of a safe environment for children and women in our society."We believe that the sentence will serve as a deterrent to would-be rapists... We urge men to desist from perpetuating violence against women."