When crime and culture clash: Court battle over burial rights after triple murder and suicide

Picket over the burial rights for Pumla Mvinjelwa Ntombela and her children. (Jenni Evans, News24)
Picket over the burial rights for Pumla Mvinjelwa Ntombela and her children. (Jenni Evans, News24)

The grieving families of a murdered mother and her two daughters, and the husband who is suspected of shooting them and then himself, are locked in a clash over who has the right to bury the children. 

NGO employee Pumla Mvinjelwa Ntombela was killed with her young children Nhlanhla and Bajabulile on September 26 in their home in the gated Bardale Village in Mfuleni, east of Cape Town.

Her husband Sithembile Ntombela, who worked at a construction company, is understood to have shot himself afterwards.  

The police are investigating three murders but, in the meantime, the two families are at odds over who has the customary right to bury the children - her family, or his.

They have been quarreling over this since the tragedy, and, unable to agree on who should have custody of the children, her family took the matter to the Western Cape High Court, in the hopes of finally having their bodies released for burial.

There was no hearing on Monday, but while waiting for lawyers who were in chambers discussing the matter with Judge Elizabeth Baartman, her brother Vulabeza Mvinjelwa told News24 on the sidelines that the sticking point was who is allowed to bury the children. 

He said there were some problems between the couple before the shooting, and her parents had asked that she send the children to them. 

Pumla decided against it, choosing to continue living as a family with her children and husband Simthembile. 


Bajubulile and Nhlanhla in happy days (From poster/Jenni Evans, News24)

Mvinjelwa said they were only told of the shooting and the apparent suicide after the bodies had been removed. 

Then they struggled to get them released from the mortuary for burial, being told that only the Ntombelas could do so, because she had their name. 

Her family was told by his family that they could bury her, but that in terms of customary law, his family had the right to bury the children.

He said the triple murder and suicide came as a shock, because even though the couple had had problems, he had always regarded his brother-in-law as a very quiet and humble man.

"Today we find ourselves in [one of] the highest courts in the land," he said. 

Outside the court a group of women and men rallied around Pumla's family, with one of the posters saying "End cultural and traditional bullying". 

READ: Cops probe whether Cape Town dad shot wife, sons before turning gun on himself

They pasted pictures showing the children on pillows, with the words: "When he shot me dead, I trusted him." 

Another poster read: "We were murdered by a Ntombela, we cannot rest anywhere near him #FreeUs", with a picture of Pumla on top with more writing that read: 'Free Pumla and her kids".

Pumla Mvinjelwa

Pumla Mvinjelwa Ntombela (From poster/Jenni Evans, News24)

After a very long wait outside, the family was called in to the court room to be briefed by their lawyer. 

He did not want to be named, but he explained to the family that they would not have an answer immediately. 

He said representatives of the two families had not come to an agreement and that the case would go on, but not on Monday, as expected. 

He said that replies still had to be filed, and the application would be heard in court later this week when all the parties had filed the required paperwork. 

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