Rapists smile during testimony

2009-09-01 22:18

Johannesburg - Some of the men found guilty of gang-raping a Tembisa woman smiled as the victim's sister wept in the witness stand of the High Court in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

The woman, who cannot be named to protect her sister's identity, described the difficulties the family had faced since the 2005 crime.

She said it had traumatised the whole family, including the victim's 10-year-old daughter.

"My niece's schoolwork has deteriorated. She no longer listens... it's like there's something wrong with her mind and I'm the one who has to help her through it because her mother is forever angry," the woman told the court during pre-sentencing procedures of the seven rapists.

As the woman wiped her tears during her testimony, two of the seven men convicted in June for her sister's rape looked at each other and smiled, the only emotion evident on their faces during Tuesday's proceedings.

Otherwise they appeared relaxed and talked during intervals.

Trauma of incident

The woman said comments made by her niece made her realise that she had heard from local residents that her mother had been raped.

"There was a time she came back from school and she asked me if I knew that raped people had Aids.

"The other time she was playing with stones near the kitchen door... talking to herself saying that she and her father had gone looking for her mother's rapists... her father armed with a gun while she had a knife," the woman said.

She said the rape had also left her traumatised, because she was the one who had had to take care of the victim, whose health and emotional well-being deteriorated following the crime.


Before the woman took the stand, a psychologist, Shaheeda Omar,  who assessed the victim said the woman, called Buyisiwe by gender rights activists to protect her identity, was still traumatised by the incident four years later.

"She has given up. She's emotionally fragile, so if given the opportunity she would take her life," said Omar.

"Although she has been prescribed tranquillisers, her anxiety levels remain high and she tends to drink herself into a stupor. She has also attempted suicide as she has no hope for the future," Omar read from her 2007 assessment report.

Not much had changed when she assessed her again in May. The situation was exacerbated by the death of Buyisiwe's grandfather earlier this year, to whom she had been close.

"Her situation hasn't improved since the first assessment... her situation has deteriorated. She doesn't show any signs of coping," she said, adding that Buyisiwe continued to receive counselling.

She suffered from incontinence, as her bladder was damaged during the rape.

"A loss of bladder control has immobilised her in more ways and she's scared of meeting others as she constantly has a... smell of urine.

No remorse

Earlier on Tuesday, two probation officers called for harsher sentences for two of the accused, Oupa Mohlala, 22, and Mojalefa Seleka.

Prudence Chili said Mohlala had not shown remorse and a lenient sentence would not do much to change his attitude.

"A suspended sentence is not suitable, because it will not better the accused. The offence is serious ... they violated the complainant's dignity, reputation and privacy.

"Society is looking forward to seeing justice being done. Sending the accused to prison will correct his attitude towards the case and help him learn to deal with his feelings of using others for gratification," Chili said.

Having assessed Seleka, Bannie Rulash said a suspended sentence and correctional supervision should be ruled out as Seleka was not a first time offender and had not been remorseful.

"Direct imprisonment is the most suitable sentence in this case... He was convicted for rape and given a suspended sentence in 2000," said Rulash.

He however asked the court to be lenient on another accused, Bongani Nhlapo and consider the "dysfunctional" family in which he was raised.

"At 16 his father rejected the family to live with another family and it's the probation officer's opinion that this has left the accused with feelings of rejection. The accused could be ordered by the court to do community service," said Rulash.

'Life sentence for all'

This raised the ire of Carrie Shelver of People Opposing Women Abuse, who said the men - including Thabiso Thukwane, Sello Mohlala, Moeketsi Mphuti and Kabelo Mwale - had "displayed arrogant and inappropriate behaviour" throughout the trial.

Speaking outside the court, she said: "Life sentence for all... After all, it [the rape] will be with the complainant for the rest of her life.

"Also given the prevalence of violence against women and sexual violence in particular, the community needs to be protected by the state against such criminals."

Seated alongside her were activists from the One in Nine Campaign, which supports rape victims and had advocated for justice in the matter for the past four years. Judge Lucy Mailula stood the matter down for Wednesday.