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Witchcraft: judge mulls implications • Tuesday June 24, 2003

The Natal Witness (South Africa), June 24, 2003

A Pietermaritzburg High Court judge has proposed that a belief in witchcraft could serve as a mitigating factor in the case of two sisters on Monday convicted of murder and attempted murder.

Nokuphiwa and Sizakele Mncube hired hitmen to kill their stepmother Thopitha Makhatini in Impendle on February 27, 2000. They believed that Makhatini had bewitched their mother, causing her to fall ill and eventually die.

Makhatini survived the attempted assassination, but two innocent people, Crescentia Mcunu (69) and Thandeka Beatrice Hlongwane (14), were killed by the gunmen.

In arguing that life sentences should be passed on the Ncube sisters, advocate Dheelan Naidoo said they committed heinous crimes.

Judge Herbert Msimang, however, asked Naidoo whether the women’s belief in witchcraft could amount to a mitigating factor that would allow him to pass a lesser sentence.

“Black people living in rural areas really do believe in witchcraft they grow up in that upbringing,” he said, adding that people from a different community might not believe in witchcraft.

“We can’t say people are evil for believing in their tradition,” said Msimang.

The judge said three things could possibly amount to mitigating cirfactors: the sisters genuinely believe in witchcraft; they had a very hard upbringing and had to start work at a young age; and they are first time offenders.

Naidoo said that if the court finds substantial and compelling factors exist then it should impose a sentence of not less than 25 years instead of life.

“Twenty-five years is particularly harsh,” said Msimang, who added that the sisters did not plan to kill the two innocent people.

Sentencing takes place on Tuesday.

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