After three years of waiting for justice to take its course, the Vorster family, who lost their mother Reinnete Vorster in a gruesome 2014 Gantsi murder, is nearer to finding closure. On the other hand, fate got darker for two farm hands who abducted, robbed and killed Vorster. Judge Abednego Tafa yesterday ruled that there were no extenuating circumstances, which may have fuelled the two men to commit the offences. Mmegi correspondent, TUMELO MOUWANE reports on a high stakes case, which has all the ingredients of sending the accused to the gallows.
Yesterday, the two accused men stood inside the dock with visible disbelief written on their faces after it became clearer that they were destined for the gallows.
The three-year case, which has divided the Gantsi farming community, sections of the lower judiciary and raised the uncomfortable themes of class and race divisions, will come to an end when Tafa hears mitigation and issues a sentence on December 13.
Tshiamo Kgalalelo and Mmika Mpe were found guilty of waylaying and abducting Vorster, strangling her to death, robbing her of various valuables and burning her inside her vehicle in an incident that happened in the afternoon, evening and night of January 30, 2014. Cash of P11,000 meant for other workers’ salaries and valuables including cellphones, GPS system, DVD players and others were stolen, with the two convicts later leading police to some of the items, stashed away in the Okwa Valley farm where the horror occurred.
Driving from Gaborone to Gantsi after midnight on January 30, 2014, Batlang Losibe of Kalkfontein could not have imagined that the flame he spotted on the side of the highway would lead to a macabre discovery that traumatised even seasoned law enforcement officials.
A Toyota Hilux Double Cab vehicle was in flames and the police, after a long search that lasted until 6am, would discover a severely charred corpse lying in the backseat, with a metal rod in the front cabin apparently used to jam down the accelerator of the vehicle.
Police attending the scene spotted shoe prints of ‘people running away’ from the scene and later DNA analysis, including the use of samples from parents, would confirm the body as 44-year-old Voster, a well-known businesswoman in the farming community described as an animal lover and an avid contributor to the community.
The footprints were leading from the driver’s side of the vehicle to the main road where they disappeared. Even with the shock of the callousness of the incident, events would move very quickly and within days, suspects would be in custody.
Two months ago, Tafa found Kgalalelo and Mpe guilty of abduction, robbery, murder, motor vehicle theft and arson in an incident, which rocked the Gantsi farming community.
A month ago, the two defence attorneys did their best to convince Tafa not to issue a capital punishment on reasons that the offence was motivated by anger, slave conditions at Okwa Valley Farm and that the accused were young and immature at the time of committing the offence.
Holding brief for Tafa, Judge Michael Leburu read the ruling in which Tafa said the arguments adduced by both attorneys were not extenuating to the committal of the offence and that “a helpless woman was killed for her belongings”.
This was in respect to Kgalalelo.
“In my opinion, the factors raised by the defence, cumulatively or individually, do not amount to extenuating. Assuming that the accused was unhappy with his salary, and Mrs Vorster hurtfully accused him of lying, could these factors of killing a defenseless woman by strangulation after taking her money be said to extenuating or if at all, to reduce moral blameworthiness?
“I am mindful of the fact that the convict was relatively young, his level of education was somewhat low. I do not for once believe that he was immature. He was a father of a child and in his own evidence he fully appreciated that he has a duty to maintain the child,” he said. Tafa added; “In my considered view, even if it were found that the factors mentioned, considered cumulatively, constitute some form of extenuating, they are by far outweighed by the aggravating factors to which, the killing of an innocent defenseless lady for what was perceived by the accused to be lack of appreciation of his plight by the deceased’s husband.
The convict’s actions are to be considered as revenge directed at an innocent person. At any rate he, in his confession makes clear that he was after the deceased money. In the circumstances, I find that no extenuating circumstances exist in the case of the first convict, Kgalalelo,” Tafa said.
In respect of the second convict, Mpe, Tafa said the convict admitted to strangling the deceased and that there was nowhere in the statements where he complained of low wages or barbaric treatment.
“Regarding the second convicted person, the same principles of law as enunciated in relation to the first convict apply…The convicted person admits to strangling the deceased, he however says he did all this on the instructions of his co-accused.
“After killing the deceased, they proceeded to ransack the farmhouse from which they stole various personal belongings. Nowhere in the statement does the accused complain of low wages or ill treatment by the employer. What comes clearly from the statement is that the motive behind the killing was for material gain.”
He added; “Although the second convicted person is of rural background like most Batswana, he is not completely illiterate, having gone up to Standard 4. He was brought up to know right and wrong and behaved well. His age was not revealed to the court, but he appeared to be older than his co-accused. I shall treat him as a young man,” he said.
The judge said in his opinion, the extenuating circumstances are way outweighed by the aggravating factors in the nature of the offence.
“In my opinion, there are no factors, neither in evidence before conviction, nor in extenuating circumstances that when put together can be said to cumulatively amount to extenuating. There is no evidence whatsoever upon which the court can find that the convicted persons ‘moral blameworthiness is somewhat reduced. Even if it is held that their youthfulness and their rural background combined with low level of education amount to some sort of extenuating, I would still hold that the aggravating features of the crime, i.e., killing a defenseless woman to steal her personal belongings far outweighs the ‘extenuating factors’.
“By so saying I am not by any means holding that there are no extenuating circumstances at all. All I am saying is, in case I am wrong, in my finding that no extenuating circumstances exist, the factors are not sufficient to reduce the convicted persons moral blameworthiness in the face of aggravating factors. In summation I find out that there are no extenuating circumstances in this case,” he said. Legal experts close to the case said the death sentence usually follows a ruling, which quashes extenuating circumstances.
“On December 13th the court will hear mitigation and pass sentence. Mitigation is where by the accused persons pray to the judge not to sentence them to maximum sentence on reasons specifically personalised to the convict,” the source said.
Human rights groups are said to be on standby to tackle the matter, henceforth in case a maximum sentence is issued.