Judge Vivian Tlhapi in the High Court in Pretoria sentenced Mduduzi Sbusiso Hlengethwa and Mphanyana Given Kanyane to life imprisonment for murdering Piet van den Berg, 64, on his smallholding near Cullinan in July 2009.
They were sentenced to a further 41 years’ imprisonment — to be served with their life sentence — for attempting to murder Van den Berg’s wife Madelein, setting the couple’s house alight and for unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition.
Wonder Mbongezini Makwakwa, who was 18 years old and under the influence of his older co-accused at the time, was sentenced to 20 years’ effective imprisonment.
Although their confessions to the police were admitted as evidence against them, Hlengethwa and Kanyane maintained their innocence.
Makwakwa changed his mind several times, at first confessing, then retracting his confession and then again confessing to the crimes.
He testified in mitigation that he was sorry for what he did and wished he could ask Mrs Van den Berg for forgiveness in person.
The elderly woman was not in court when the men who attacked her and her husband of 40 years were sentenced.
The court heard that Makwakwa had started using dagga at the age of 12 and was thrown out of the house as a youngster after stabbing his stepfather with a knife to protect his mother.
He made a living selling dagga in a squatter camp near Johannesburg with Kanyane.
Tlhapi said it was clear that Makwakwa was still very immature and easily influenced by others and that he should be given a chance in life.
She described the deeds of the three accused as heinous and callous. The strong young men had attacked an elderly couple living alone on a smallholding after watching their house for three days.
They overpowered the couple, shot Mr Van den Berg and then forced his wife to accompany them while they searched the house for valuables, repeatedly climbing over their victim’s body in the process.
There was no explanation why they found it necessary to shoot Mr Van den Berg, to lock his wife in a cupboard and set the house alight after they took what they wanted.
Kanyane, who was the leader of the group, had asked Mrs Van den Berg if she had any last wishes after shoving her into the cupboard and telling her the house was on fire.
The woman told the court how she had banged against the door and prayed to God, asking Him if this was how she should meet her end by being burnt to death.
She was diagnosed with anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder after the incident and was still receiving treatment five years later.
The couple were in the process of moving to a retirement home when they were attacked.
Tlhapi said the house had burnt down completely and Mrs Van den Berg was today an old, lonely woman without the trinkets, pictures and the other little things collected over a lifetime that people keep as mementos.
The accused had actually taken very little of value, making off with only firearms, clothes and a little money and liquor which could not have benefited them to any great extent, she added.