After Karabo Mokoena’s boyfriend Sandile Mantsoe, 27, was found guilty of her murder by acting judge Peet Johnson in the High Court in Johannesburg yesterday, he was handed a harsh sentence on Thursday morning.
He was sentenced to five years in prison on assault. On the murder he received 30 years. On obstruction of justice, he received four years.
His effective sentence was therefore 32 years in jail after some of the years were allowed to run concurrently with count two.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had asked for the maximum sentence. Mantsoe’s defence said immediately after sentencing that they found the sentencing too heavy, as the minimum for murder is 15 years, and a sentence double that was not justifiable. They said they intended to appeal.
The judge had said in handing down sentencing that he found “what you call remorse” was in fact “self-pity” and Mantsoe was not remorseful. “Even in evidence today, you’ve tried to avoid responsibility. In your attempt to escape responsibility, you maligned the deceased and attacked her character.”
He said that the court could find no factors in mitigation of sentence aside from Mantsoe’s young age and his first-offender status.
Judge Johnson said that when Mantsoe had testified he had given the impression that he saw himself as the victim and showed no regard for his victim, her friend or her family.
All his offences were serious, including his earlier assaults on Mokoena prior to her murder.
“The fact that you paid for her hospital bills does not minimise the assaults,” adding that none of her actions could have warranted being assaulted, and she had probably been inebriated during the assault, making it difficult to resist.
He described Mantsoe’s actions in the assault as “nothing other than cowardly”.
In explaining the sentence, the judge said it would be important to send a message against the wave of violent crimes against women in South Africa, which he agreed was a serious problem. Justice would need to be seen to be done to prevent the community from “taking the law into its own hands”.
As for the murder, Judge Johnson described it as a “heinous crime”.
“You had no right to take her life. A person’s life is without doubt their most important asset. In this case the deceased has nothing, thanks to you.”
He said Mantsoe had “nonchalantly carried on with your life as if nothing was wrong” until the reality caught up with him.
The judge was unimpressed at the fact that Mantsoe had not admitted to the murder, nor told the court why he’d done it. The fact that he kept the whereabouts of his victim (a “dark secret”) to himself, he only caused further distress to Mokoena’s family by “feeding everyone lies”.
“The court cannot describe you in any other way than a ‘devil in disguise'”, which the interpreter translated as “Satan”. He was later referred to as “cold-hearted”.
“It is unclear why she was in your apartment when she met her untimely death … whatever that reason was, men who abuse the rights of women should be punished severely.
“You ultimately afforded the deceased no sympathy and mercy,” though the court would nevertheless lend itself to a merciful sentence.
On his obstruction of justice, the judge admitted that the postmortem had not been able to determine the cause of death, and it was therefore up to the court to make such a finding.
“The court has no doubt that you are a danger to society. I say this in view of the callous way you killed the decent and then tried to cover it up with deception and lies.
“Your actions have also had a serious effect on the mother of the deceased,” describing Mokoena’s family as “close-knit” and “caring”.
He said that Mantsoe’s attempts to malign her father as abusive, which had been refuted in court, was also serious, and warranted a stronger sentence in response.
“For you it cannot be business as usual any more. You caused an imbalance in the scale of justice, and that must now be corrected in imposing an appropriate sentence. The court must remind you that a person’s life is not cheap. To take a life comes at a high price, and you will now have to pay that price.”
In mitigation of sentence, Mantsoe had earlier continued to deny that he’d murdered Mokoena, merely admitting that it had been a shortcoming on his part to have burnt her body after continuing to claim that she committed suicide.
When the judge had wanted clarity on what he was apologising for, he said: “I am apologising for burning Karabo … I didn’t kill Karabo.”
He later said that he’d burnt it because “I honestly lost it … I switched off … I panicked.”
The NPA had put it to him that he’d been systematic in moving her body, and that had meant a lack of panic.
“I’m a very smart guy,” Mantsoe responded. “…I would have done it in sequence. But I panicked.” He added that, at times, he had been “powerless” in how he “handled Karabo” because she was more experienced in relationships.
However, he said that he would accept whatever sanction he was given.
“I’ve always been an optimistic person,” he told the court, and explained that he was a religious, churchgoing person. He said he’d done community work, particularly in Alexandra, through his church, and his church’s satellite branch was still there.
He said that his time in correctional services had taught him about himself and he claimed he had inspired people not to continue lives of crime.
Mantsoe said he and his victim had both come from “complicated backgrounds” but they shared a spiritual connection through religion.
“I wasn’t ready to settle down; she wanted to settle down.”
On the point of remorse, he said he was sorry about what had happened but he did not admit to murdering Mokoena. He only admitted to having “disappointed her” in not wanting to settle down with her.
However, he said he had inspired her and was “teaching her” how to be more independent. He said he had “failed” in not being more patient with her, and not wanting to be in a relationship with her.
“She was a wonderful person. She stood against this thing of women being taken advantage of in terms of their looks. Things were being thrown her way; from a young age she had way older men throwing things her way. She got sucked into that,” particularly being made to offer men sex in return for material things.
He claimed to have shown her another, better path in life, but it wasn’t enough. He agreed that he had been in a toxic relationship with her, which he regretted.
“I hear everything, but I don’t know what to say.
“To avoid it happening to any other person, young women need to become people of substance.”
He later referenced a time when Mokoena allegedly crashed his car, claiming they had an argument about it and that she undertook to pay for the damage. He claimed she’d expressed suicidal intentions at that time after it became clear she couldn’t afford to pick up the tab.
The NPA charged that he was not showing true remorse and merely being sorry for himself because he’d been found guilty of murder.
On Wednesday, the court found that Mantsoe had stabbed Mokoena and tried to cover up the murder by burning her body. He dumped her body in a veld and set her alight in 2017.
Acting judge Johnson also found Mantsoe guilty of defeating the ends of justice and assault to do grievous bodily harm.
The judge rejected Mantsoe’s defence that Mokoena had committed suicide, and also found that his argument that he had been the victim of abuse at Mokoena’s hands was not credible.
The hashtags #KaraboMokoena and #SandileMantsoe have been trending on Twitter following the verdict handed down yesterday, with most users mourning Mokoena’s murder and applauding the judgment.
Other users drew comparisons between Mokoena’s murder and Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) student Zolile Khumalo, who was shot three times, allegedly by her 23-year-old ex-boyfriend.