Sonke Gender Justice (“Sonke”) welcomes the expeditious conclusion of the trial against Lungephi Ngeshweni for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Dorcas Nqanqali — a 14 year old girl from Dadamba village in the Eastern Cape — which resulted in a guilty verdict on all three counts.
The verdict was presented a week ago on June 17th, a day after Youth Day, in South Africa. Community members, activists and representatives from Sonke stood by the Nqanqali family as they braved the winter winds outside the Willovale Regional Court calling for justice.
In July of 2014, Ngeshweni coerced Nqanqali from her home, and then dragged her to the bushes, where he proceeded to brutally beat and rape her. Examinations completed by the district surgeon found that the young victim suffered bruises to the face, a broken jaw and tearing of the vagina. At the time of the attack, Ngeshweni was out on parole for the rape of his 10-year-old niece in 1996.
On the witness stand, Ngeshweni in fact pleaded guilty to all three counts, and expressed remorse for his actions. His defence lawyer continued with a request for leniency from the victim’s family and the magistrate. Given Ngeshweni’s criminal record and the brutal nature of the attack, however, he was sentenced to four years for kidnapping, and two consecutive life sentences for rape and murder.
“The court will look at the purpose of this sentence. Firstly, it’s for retribution so that the community can see that this court serves justice. Secondly, it’s for rehabilitation, and thirdly it’s for deterrence and to give a message to the public that crime has no place in our society,” the magistrate said. “The court really sees this as a horrible act for a 14-year-old to be killed in this fashion. These three offences are common in the village, and boys are learning from you adults how badly to treat women.”
Sonke’s involvement with this trial began on the same day that we celebrated justice for Sandiswa Mhlawuli —the 27-year-old woman whose ex-boyfriend was pronounced guilty, on September 11, 2014, for killing Mhlawuli nine months earlier. Sonke, alongside Community Action Teams (CATs), travelled to the site of Dorcas Nqanqali’s grave in her village to pray with the family and begin working to ensure that Dorcas’ murder is remembered in the ongoing struggle to end Violence Against Children (VAC) in South Africa. Later, CATs, which are teams of community members who mobilise to address justice and other issues locally, led a march to the local South African Police Services (SAPS) office, and staged a sit-in to ensure that state agencies were working to resolve the case efficiently and transparently.
“We knew, by law, that the investigator was supposed to be communicating with the Nqanqali family and he was not doing that,” says Sonke and MenCare’s Government & Media Liaison, Patrick Godana.
The community sit-in resulted in the Station Commander ordering the investigator to respond to the grievances and allegations of the community.
“When [the investigator] arrived at the police station, he was in a state of shock — outside the offices CATs were singing freedom and accountability songs, and inside, the station commander was calling him to account,” Godana recalls.
The investigator apologised to the community and the Nqanqali family for the mishandling of the case and committed to expediting DNA samples and extending social services to the family.
“The road towards this victorious day was never easy,” said Godana remembering the collective efforts of the CATs.
Sonke Gender Justice celebrates the fact that the legal outcome provides justice for Dorcas Nqanqali and her family, as it did for Sandiswa Mhlawuli last year. Although these murder trials are over, we remember the victims of gender-based violence (GBV) and continue to dedicate ourselves to the prevention of GBV in the first place.
Sonke renews our urgent call on the South African government and the Minister of Women in the Presidency, Susan Shabangu, to immediately develop, fund and implement a comprehensive, multi-sectoral national strategic plan to end GBV, with strong prevention strategies at its heart.