Cannibal case: ‘Most heinous crime’

2018-12-13 15:27
Nino Mbatha (front) and Lungisani Magubane (centre), who were convicted for the murder of Zanele Hlatshwayo, have been handed life terms in prison.

Nino Mbatha (front) and Lungisani Magubane (centre), who were convicted for the murder of Zanele Hlatshwayo, have been handed life terms in prison. (Ian Carbutt)

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Two men convicted of killing a woman for her body parts in the infamous “cannibal case” have been handed life terms in prison.

Judge Peter Olsen sentenced Nino Mbatha (33) and Lungisani Magubane (32) at the Pietermaritzburg high court on Wednesday for what he labelled “the most heinous crime”.

A third accused, Khayelihle Lamula, was acquitted during conviction proceedings on Tuesday.

They were charged with the murder of Zanele Hlatshwayo in Estcourt last year.

Mbatha, a traditional leader who had served in the South African National Defence Force from 1997 to 2004, was acquitted of charges of being in possession of Hlatshwayo’s body parts and also “dealing” with her body parts by trying to sell them. The men were not convicted of cannibalism.

Olsen said in a scathing 30-minute-long sentence that anything less than a life sentence for both men would cause the public to lose faith in the justice system.

Olsen said “most right-thinking people” would not have done what Mbatha and Magubane did.

“Every facet of human dignity was affected by… the accused,” he said.

He said the victim impact statement by Hlatshwayo’s mother, Philisiwe, was “perhaps the most meaningful statement” he had ever come across.

“The victim impact statement was a sanitary reminder to all of us that the pain of this continues to be felt by the deceased’s loved ones,” he said.

Olsen said the personal circumstances of the two men, such as their low level of education and tough upbringing, were not “compelling” mitigating circumstance for the crime they committed.

He added that their home life was “relatively commonplace” for the community they lived in. “My view is that there is only one just sentence here… in the interest of society. If we do not impose [a strong sentence], it will damage public faith in the justice system.”

Mbatha’s advocate, Di Franklin, brought forward a leave to appeal application in respect of his conviction on the basis that another court may find that state witnesses in the case were unreliable.

State prosecutor Wendy Greeff, however, denied this, saying the witnesses were “thoroughly assessed by the court” in a way that an appeals court could not.

Olsen dismissed the application.

The incident gained notoriety last year when Mbatha walked into the Estcourt police station community centre carrying a small bag and a horn usually seen with traditional healers, and announced that he was “tired” of eating “human flesh”.

Police officers thought he was mentally unstable, but due to Mbatha’s revelations being self-incriminatory, his rights were read out to him.

He persisted telling police his story and said the police should “hurry up or those detaining him will escape”. He then produced a human hand and leg from his bag.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg
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