Judge Bert Bam on Friday sentenced Anna Mahlangu to the maximum term for the October 2014 murder of her niece, Nelly Maswanganyi, at their home in Mamelodi.
Mahlangu, who raised Nelly along with another sister’s daughter, said in a statement she had confronted her niece several days before the incident when money went missing from their house, but Nelly denied taking it.
She took the child to the police, hoping she would be scared and tell the truth, but Nelly still denied taking the money. The police referred them to a social worker.
According to Mahlangu, she had impulsively decided to scare the child by pouring paraffin over her and pretending that she wanted to burn her.
She said she was convinced that the child would not burn, because she was going to put out the fire by removing her clothing, but Nelly “slipped out of her hands” and started running away.
The flames became worse when the child ran, and Mahlangu and other tenants poured water over her, but Mahlangu also caught fire.
She said she never really intended to burn Nelly, whom she loved. She had high hopes for the child to pass matric and study at university like her other adopted daughter.
Passing sentence, Judge Bam said he had taken into account that Mahlangu was a first offender and was at an advanced age, but her niece had died a gruesome, cruel death.
He said he could not understand how a woman of her age could reprimand a child in such a manner. The girl, who sustained serious burns, died in hospital a month and eight days after she was set alight.
Judge Bam also questioned Mahlangu’s expression of remorse, and the question arose if she had true remorse or merely regretted what she did.