This article was previously published in the Drum print edition.
He was the apple of his mother’s eye, the brilliant boy who was top of his class and wanted to study medicine at the University of Cape Town after finishing school.
Jane Leteane (42) was unemployed so she did the only thing she could think of to secure her son’s future: she applied for future maintenance from his estranged father to cover the university fees. Little did she know that by doing so she was digging her beloved boy’s grave.
Sixteen-year-old Kearabetswe Leteane was shot and killed in April 2017 in the backroom of his grandparents’ home in Thaba Nchu in the Free State. His father, Tebogo Molatole (47), a former teacher, was arrested soon afterwards, along with his wife, Kelebogile (49).
The pair was convicted of murder, for hiring a hitman to kill the teenager to avoid paying maintenance.
According to Kearabetswe’s heartbroken mother, she went to the Thaba Nchu magistrate’s court to apply for the future maintenance when she learnt her child’s father had taken early retirement.
At the time, Tebogo was paying R800 a month in child support and Jane asked for R200 000 from his pension fund. “The money wasn’t for me,” she tells DRUM.
“He was supposed to understand that it was for the benefit of his child. And it was his responsibility to take care of his son.”
But Tebogo became bitter and angry after she applied for future maintenance, she claims.
“He didn’t care about his son from the beginning. I don’t regret asking him for future maintenance – I was doing what I could for my son. He had to do what was right for him too but instead he decided to have him killed.”
If Kearabetswe was still alive, he would be in his first year of medical school at UCT, Jane says.
“My son was very smart and always told me how he wanted to go to Cape Town. I knew the stumbling block would be funding his education.”
Kearabetswe was in Grade 11 at Albert Moroka High School – the same school his parents attended and where they had met. Her boy was also a great soccer player, Jane says.
“I often thought he could’ve been the next [ former Orlando Pirates player] Thembinkosi Lorch. He was a really good midfielder. He was also a good chess player.
“But his father put an end to all that talent.”
Kearabetswe was in a jovial mood that terrible day, chit-chatting with his cousin Liefie (21) after soccer practice. Jane was preparing supper for the boys and Kearabetswe told her he was going to take a bath in his backroom and then come back to eat. Fifteen minutes later, Jane heard two popping sounds.
“We were still wondering what the noise was when a man came in, went straight to my mother and said, ‘Your son has been shot’.”
Trembling, Jane rushed out to her son’s room and found him slumped on a chair with his head down. “The door was wide open. I rushed to him but when I held him, he took his last breath. I tried to wake him up but he didn’t respond.
“Kearabetswe was my gold, my silver and my future,” she says, weeping. The past two years have been an emotional rollercoaster for Jane.
“I still remember that day as if it were yesterday. I remember grabbing him and trying to wake him up.”
Jane says before her son was killed; the hitman came to her mother’s house posing as someone looking for work as a shepherd.
“At home we have livestock. My sister, Anna, spoke to the man who was looking for a job and told him we didn’t have anything for him. He then left.
“I think he came through that day just to check how he was going to orchestrate his plan to kill my son.” The Leteane family didn’t only lose Kearabetswe but his grandmother too. Jane’s mom, Julia (81), died last year after experiencing heart problems.
“I believe the pain she experienced after my son’s death killed her. She wasn’t sick before the incident.”
The Bloemfontein High Court sentenced Tebogo and Kelebogile (49) as well as hitman Khoeliea-Marena Sefuthi to life imprisonment for Kearabetswe’s murder. Sefuthi, who was paid R25 000 for the murder, was given an additional five years for being in possession of an illegal firearm. Justice has been done, Jane says, “but I will never forgive him for taking the only thing I had”.
She now wishes she’d never met Tebogo – although when they got together as high-school students he was a “real gentleman”, Jane says.
“So loving and caring.” He was happy when he found out Jane was pregnant but when she was about six months along something changed. “I don’t know what happened – the relationship just ended.” Nevertheless, Jane expected him to be part of their child’s life yet he wasn’t interested.
This forced the single parent to go to Thaba Nchu magistrate’s court to apply for maintenance when the baby was three months old. “He contributed R200 a month for Kearabetswe at the time.”
Jane would get temporary jobs through the expanded public works programme in Thaba Nchu to supplement the maintenance but she knew she’d never be able to afford to give her son what he really wanted: to study medicine at UCT.
Which is why she applied for the future maintenance. Pension fund administrators can withhold a lump sum to pay outstanding maintenance from a pension fund on instruction from the courts. They can also withhold the sum to secure future maintenance obligations. In South Africa, pension law is regulated by various acts, none of which directly provides for the payment of future child maintenance from retirement benefits.
As such, the courts had to be innovative and use rules of interpretation to ensure that retirement fund members are forced to fulfil their child maintenance obligations through their retirement benefits.
“Being a single parent isn’t easy,” Jane says, adding that she’d needed all the help she could get.
Her mom and siblings were helping her raise Kearabetswe, stepping in when he needed guidance and discipline. Now all everyone has are memories. “Those people took away everything that was dear to me. My son and my mother are both gone because of them and I will never be the same again.”