SCA endorses lengthy jail term for rapists of mentally challenged woman
The courts must demonstrate that vulnerable members of society enjoy equal protection of the law.
The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) made this remark this week as it dismissed an appeal by two men who had raped a 24-year-old woman with a mental age of 10 in the small town of Pearston in the Eastern Cape in 2013.
The incident happened in the early evening of April 30 2013 when the woman was returning home and was accosted by Joey Haarhoff and Ian Baartman on a street corner.
They took her to a house of a third man where the two took turns raping her.
She was only released the next day as members of the small community had started looking for her following her disappearance the previous night.
Haarhoff, Baartman and the third man were charged with her rape and appeared before the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court sitting in Graaff Reinet.
The trial court accepted the unchallenged evidence of a clinical psychologist who had assessed the complainant.
The clinical psychologist said although the woman was mentally challenged with a mental age of a 10-year-old, she was competent to testify, as she was able to understand what it meant to tell the truth, what it meant to lie, and could be admonished.
The complainant testified in a separate room through an intermediary.
Haarhoff and Baartman were convicted of rape and sentenced to jail terms of 20 years each by the high court in April 2015.
The third man was acquitted.
The two men applied for and were granted leave to appeal to the full bench of the high court in Grahamstown.
In a 2-1 decision, the full bench dismissed their appeal in August last year.
After unsuccessfully applying for leave to appeal against the majority decision, the two men directly approached the SCA for leave to appeal.
In a unanimous judgment passed on Tuesday, the full bench of the SCA found that the high court had correctly found that even though the woman was not an intelligent witness, she was a demonstrably honest, credible and reliable witness.
Judge of appeal Mahube Molemela said the high court had correctly described the evidence of the two men as false beyond reasonable doubt.
“It was indeed riddled with improbabilities and inconsistencies. There were many self-contradictions and the two appellants contradicted each other in material respects.
“Furthermore, material aspects of their version were not put to the complainant during her cross-examination and came to light for the first time during their evidence in chief,” Molemela said.
Molemela agreed with the sentence imposed by the trial court, saying there appeared to be no expression of remorse, and the serious psychological harm caused to the complainant.
She said the men knew about the woman’s mental challenges and they “obviously” took advantage of her vulnerability.
“This is a serious aggravating factor. The courts must demonstrate that the vulnerable members of society enjoy equal protection of the law.”
She said the small community of Pearston was also outraged by the actions of the two, which explains the mob that gathered at the man’s house after she was found.
“This community is interested to see justice being meted out to the appellants.”