Justice snatched from raped girls

26 July 2013 - 02:16 By GRAEME HOSKEN
Image: Times Media Group

The 35 victims of South Africa's worst serial child rapist were robbed of justice when their "monster" hanged himself hours before his trial was due to start.

Shulters Sifiso Makhubo, 42, was found hanging from a blanket tied to a light fitting in his cell at Johannesburg Central Prison.

He was to have appeared yesterday in a southern Johannesburg court for the start of a four-month trial. He would have had to answer to 118 counts of rape, kidnapping, armed robbery and attempted murder.

If a successful prosecution had been obtained, the trial would have made legal history. Makhubo would have been the first person convicted in South Africa of wilfully trying to murder people by infecting them with HIV. Seven of his victims now have the Aids virus.

Their hopes for justice died the moment they learnt Makhubo had committed suicide, taking with him the truth of his crimes.

The suicide has made closure for those whose lives he destroyed impossible.

"We just wanted answers. Answers as to why he did this. Why he robbed our children of their innocence," said a mother.

The fight for answers has been long, with the police seemingly unable to catch him for almost six years, despite having knowledge of who he was.

Makhubo was eventually arrested in February 2012 after one of his victims spotted him in Thokoza, east of Johannesburg, as she played in the street - just metres from where he had kidnapped her two years earlier.

Police discovered Makhubo was on parole, having served only eight years of a 15-year prison sentence for the 1997 rape of a young girl.

Within months of his release, he had begun preying on youngsters again, attacking them at empty schools, tennis courts and stadiums, behind shopping centres and in parks and fields in Thokoza, Vosloorus, Katlehong and Brackendowns.

Forensic and psychological investigative crime detectives began piecing the cases together.

But with a change in the police DNA format system from 1997 to 1998, detectives were unable to compare DNA from his first rape with the samples of his crime spree stored in the new format system.

A policeman with knowledge of the investigation said the inability to compare DNA data prevented officers detecting that Gauteng's "new" rapist was, in fact, Makhubo, a known sexual predator.

Makhubo's attacks intensified in 2007, with 11 girls attacked.

Now, with a year of intensive work behind them since Makhubo's arrest, prosecutors had finally hoped to provide justice to the victims and their families.

Advocate Maro Papachristoforou, a specialist in the prosecution of sexual offences, said: "Serial criminal investigators have a duty to pinpoint such criminals, which they did, but this case was difficult.

The girls were little 'kiddies' on whom he preyed like a predator. He would watch them, waiting until they were vulnerable and then pounce.

"When Makhubo was finally caught we thought 'this is it ... we have him, we will get justice'.

"The families needed this . The girls are from poor backgrounds who knew no justice. I got them to believe that, though slow, there was justice for them. But Makhubo has robbed them of this."

National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Phindi Louw said the death was a devastating blow for justice. "I cannot imagine how the victims must feel.

"This monstrous perpetrator has robbed them of the closure they desperately sought. A conviction would have made legal history [setting a precedent] and bringing justice for so many others."

Vincentia Ngobese of Women and Men Against Child Abuse said:

"We wanted him to face the music, especially as he sentenced his victims to death.

"We wanted answers on how a convicted sexual predator could be paroled for similar crimes."

Gauteng correctional services spokesman Oftense Morwane, describing Makhubo as a "well-behaved prisoner", said he had killed himself in the early hours.

"Because he was a high-risk prisoner he was kept in a single cell. "He [had] never tried to commit suicide and left no note."

Gauteng police spokesman Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said an inquest was under way.

MAKHUBO'S ALLEGED TRAIL OF TERROR:

Rape dates, place and victim's age:

2006

  • January 27, Thokoza (13)
  • April 3, Thokoza (12)
  • September 19, Thokoza (11)
  • October 14, Katlehong (13)
  • October 29, Katlehong (12)

2007

  • May 9, Katlehong (11)
  • July 21, Thokoza (21)
  • August 5, Thokoza (10)
  • September 14, Katlehong (12)
  • September 26, Thokoza (12)
  • October 3, Thokoza (34)
  • October 21, Thokoza (11)
  • November 3, Thokoza (10)
  • November 19, Thokoza (13)
  • November 24, Thokoza (13)
  • December 2, Thokoza (13)
  • December 7, Kathlehong (13)

2008

  • February 2, Thokoza (11)
  • March 22, Thokoza (10)
  • April 21, Thokoza (13)
  • April 27, Thokoza (16)
  • June 19, Katlehong (11)
  • July 14, Thokoza (11)
  • November 7, Thokoza (11)
  • November 15, Brackendowns (11)
  • December 28, Thokoza (10)

2009

  • February 15, Thokoza (13)
  • February 21, Katlehong (22)
  • April 11, Katlehong (12)
  • May 9, Katlehong (12)
  • September 24, Vosloorus (10)
  • December 6, Vosloorus (12)

2010

  • May 16, Katlehong (14)
  • October 17, Vosloorus (13)

2011

  • January 4, Vosloorus (11)
  • February 20, Thokoza (10)

Witnesses:

About 183 witnesses, including the victims, hospital staff, HIV specialists, and criminal psychology specialists.

Victim profile:

The youngest victim was 10; the oldest 34.

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