Granny forgives petrol killer

Granny forgives petrol killer
Tania Broughton
December 12 2007 at 08:59AM

In an apparent gesture of forgiveness, the grandmother of a 13-year-old boy who was burnt alive a week ago called out "go well" to the man who confessed to the killing as he left the Durban high court to begin serving his 20-year prison sentence.

Francine Hadebe, grandmother of Philani Hadebe, wept throughout the hearing before Judge President Vuka Tshabalala, her cries echoing out as the gruesome details of the crime were read out.

The man in the dock, Sibongiseni Khwela, 29, was also crying and at one stage had to be handed tissues.

In his guilty plea before the court, Khwela said he had gone to the Montford shopping centre in Chatsworth to buy lunch. When he came out of the shop, his bicycle was gone.

‘I woke them up and said: ‘Do you know what you did to me yesterday?’
He was told by others in the area that it had been taken by Philani.

"They described him to me, and it came to my mind that I knew that person as I had seen him at the shopping centre before," he said.

Eventually he found Philani, who said he would show him where he had hidden the bike. But before they got there, he was set on by a group of Philani’s street children friends, who threw stones at him, injuring his ribs and hands and bruising his eye.

Khwela said he became very angry. The next day he woke early and took a two-litre container to the nearest garage and filled it with petrol.

He then went to the supermarket and found Philani and Sipho Shezi, 18, sleeping in the passageway.

‘The whole family is shocked, angry and overcome with grief at the way he died…’
"I woke them up and said: ‘Do you know what you did to me yesterday?’ They suddenly woke up and I poured petrol over their bodies. I used matches and put their bodies on fire."

Shezi died that day. Philani died in hospital two days later.

Passing sentence, the judge said Khwela had shown a "clear streak of cruelty".

On the other hand, he said, while Khwela had overreacted to the theft of his bicycle, if that had not happened, he would never have done this. As a gardener and odd-job man, the judge said, his bicycle was a means of transport to get jobs.

"I can also take judicial notice of the fact that the deceased were street children.

"I have personally dealt with cases in this court where street children have committed crimes such as robbery and murder," he said, referring to a specific case in which a family living in their car on the beachfront were attacked by street children and the father was shot and killed.

While that crime had been far more serious than the theft of a bicycle, "it is an indication of what street children can do", the judge said.

In the circumstances – and because Khwela was a first offender and obviously remorseful – it would be unjust to sentence him to the legislated minimum sentence of life imprisonment.

Instead, he sentenced him to 20 years on both counts of murder, ordering that they run concurrently and that Khwela not be considered for parole until he had served two thirds of the sentence.

Philani’s aunt, Jabu Zaca, said the young boy had lived with his granny at first, but had been "rebellious" and had been living on the streets.

"The whole family is shocked, angry and overcome with grief at the way he died, but we are also angry at ourselves," she said.

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