Nun was left to die, court hears

2015-05-12 13:58
Nuns look on as the two accused hide in the dock of the Pietermaritzburg High Court. (Giordano Stolley, News24)

Nuns look on as the two accused hide in the dock of the Pietermaritzburg High Court. (Giordano Stolley, News24)

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Pietermaritzburg - One of the two men who pleaded guilty to the murder and rape of an 86-year-old nun admitted that he left her to die on her bed after he had raped her.

In his statement that was read to the High Court in Pietermaritzburg, Sbongiseni Phungula, 25, said that after he had raped Sister Gertrud Tiefenbacher, he left the room, but she was "still moving".

Phungula, along with 26-year-old Mondli Michael Shozi, earlier pleaded guilty to charges of murder, rape and theft.

Sister Tiefenbacher, who was Austrian born, was found dead on the floor next to her bed in her room at the Sacred Heart Convent in Ixopo on April 19.

Her hands were bound together by the cord of her electric typewriter and a wet towel, believed to have been used to suffocate her, was over her face.

In their statements that were read to the court by Advocate Zina Anastasiou, the two explained that they had known each other by sight, but that the night of April 18 was the first time that had socialised at a tavern in Ixopo.

Steal food

Phungula said in his statement that he had drunk a bottle of cane spirits and a bottle of brandy before he and Shozi decided to head into the nearby woods to find wood to build a shelter.

On their way to the forest, they passed the Sacred Heart Convent and decided to enter the kitchen and steal food.

But as they were walking down a passageway in the convent, Sister Tiefenbacher disturbed them.

Shozi, in his statement, said Tiefenbacher shouted at them before he grabbed her, with one arm around her chest and another around her neck, before dragging her back into her room.

Phungula then tied her up.

“I then removed her panties and had sexual intercourse with her,” he said.

Shozi said he then left the room and went to the kitchen.

Still moving

It was then in his statement that Phungula also admitted to raping the 86-year-old and seeing her still moving as he left the room to join Shozi in the kitchen.

The two then seized a vacuum cleaner, some groceries and it was said that they had also made off with a watch.

Neither of the two men’s statement indicated whether the watch was seized in the kitchen or taken from Tiefenbacher.

They had both been charged with robbery, but pleaded to the alternate charge of theft.

Both said in their statements that they had been intoxicated, but that neither had an excuse for their actions.

“I wish I could undo what I have done,” said Phungula in his statement.

Plea for mercy

They both asked the court for mercy and said that they had admitted to their involvement in the crime the moment the police caught up with them.

The public gallery was filled with nuns from the convent who listened to every word that was being said.

When the two men arrived in court they hid their faces from the photographers and initially even kept their heads down when Judge Nomphumelelo Radebe entered court. She had to order them to sit up and be visible to the court.

Proceedings were adjourned to Tuesday afternoon for argument in mitigation and aggravation of sentencing.

Sister Gerald, one of the nuns attending the proceedings, said that the two men’s statements had not contained all the details, "but I don’t want to talk about it anymore”.

She praised the police for their work and the speedy resolution of the case.

“We have had exceptional co-operation from the police. On the evening of the funeral, they had arrested the first one.”


More than 1 400 people attended funeral at the end of April and a memorial service was held for her in Austria.

Known as Sister Stefani, Tiefenbacher was born in 1928 and arrived in South Africa in 1952.

Tiefenbacher was a Missionary Sister of the Precious Blood for more than 60 years, and worked at the Little Flower School as a teacher and secretary for 40 of those years until 1992.

Sister Gerald said that Tiefenbacher had lived in the same room for the past 60 years.

“You know, not long before this she told me ‘My room is tidy, but my desk is a mess’.   She was a very humble lady with a sense of humour,” said Sister Gerald.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  crime

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