Living in the shadow of evil

2015-05-20 09:29
Sister Gerald Frye looks at a picture of nuns at the Sacred Heart Convent in Ixopo (Amil Umraw, The Witness)

Sister Gerald Frye looks at a picture of nuns at the Sacred Heart Convent in Ixopo (Amil Umraw, The Witness)

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VIOLENT crime in South Africa has again fallen under the international spotlight with the brutal rape, murder and robbery of Ixopo-based nun Sister Gertrud Tiefenbacher at Sacred Heart Convent on April 18.

Tiefenbacher was born in Austria and still has family overseas. At the time of the incident, an 18-year-old mission worker from Germany was also staying in the same home.

Messages of condolence have poured in from countries far and wide, and the message sent to the world once again is that South Africa is a dangerous destination.

The effect will be to scare away potential investors and tourists to this country and it will impact negatively on the national economy. This, of course, was not the intention of the assailants, who clearly put no thought into the consequences of their actions.

This is the most frightening part of the violence that South Africans come face to face with daily.

Speak to any parent, property or business owner about crime and they all say: “Let them help themselves to whatever they want, as long as they don’t take my life or hurt my family.”

Speak to any woman and she will tell you the greatest fear is the constant threat of falling victim to rape.

Criminals who rape women and children in this country, including babies and women of 87 or even older, clearly are not driven by lust. A sense of power? Maybe. But there must also be hatred in them to inflict such torture on a defenceless human being. Through years of reporting courts in KwaZulu-Natal, I still wonder — why do they do it?

Tiefenbacher’s attackers, Mondli Shozi and Sibongiseni Phungula, both 25, did not say why they decided to rape a woman 62 years their senior. They merely stated quite unemotionally that they did.

In her victim-impact statement, Sister Gerald Frye, who is in charge of the Sacred Heart home where Tiefenbacher was murdered, said the larger Ixopo community gathered around the nuns after the tragedy and also expressed anger, dismay and fear.

“Many are asking us what is this country coming to? Has ubuntu vanished altogether? Others express their wish to leave the country. This sentiment is held by people of all races,” said Frye.

She added: “Our answer is that they must not leave because of this; we cannot let evil win.”

Sadly, the current situation in South Africa is that we live constantly in the shadow of evil. What could be more evil than the deeds of these two young men in their prime? For no apparent reason, they horrifically and brutally raped and murdered an 87-year-old nun who was partially blind.

Any right-minded citizen would expect that a community of nuns living in a convent, assisting the local population, would indeed be “a protected species”, even from criminals — the term used by Judge Nompumelelo Radebe when she imposed life sentences on the two killers last Friday.

Their claims in their written pleas to court that they went to the convent in search of food is gainsaid by their actions that night. Instead, what they did — in the judge’s words — was attack an elderly woman of God and “molest her dignity, her body and her soul in a manner that cannot be described”.

As Frye also pointed out, if they were hungry all they had to do was “ring the bell and ask for food”. The nuns would have given them food, a hot drink and a parcel of food to tide them over.

A fact sheet based on research by the Institute for Security Studies and Africa Check reflects an increase in South Africa’s murder rate from 16 259 murders in 2012/2013 to 17 068 (809 more people) in the year 2013/2014.

It also states that this followed on the heels of a substantial increase in the murder rate (when murders went up by 650) the previous year as well.

The average number of murders being committed daily in 2013/14 is 47, and the murder rate is reflected as being 32,2 per 100 000 people.

This figure is about five times higher than the 2013 global average of six murders per 100 000. These statistics are an indicator that the government and the SA Police Service have their work cut out for them and they need to throw whatever available resources they have at the fight against crime.

• Ingrid Oellermann is the court reporter at The Witness

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