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Payback as Tholeni killer is sentenced to life in prison

FOR five years, Bulelani Mabhayi went undetected as he raped and murdered women and children in a small Eastern Cape village.

Yesterday it was payback time for his victims’ relatives when the courts gave him 25 life jail sentences for a crime spree that has made him one of the most prolific serial murderers in the country.

In terms of the law he will be eligible for parole only after 25 years.


The sentence was handed down by acting Judge Noluthando Conjwa in a special sitting of the Mthatha High Court in the Butterworth Magistrate’s Court yesterday.

The court was packed, both inside and in the hallways, as family and friends of victims of Mabhayi, 39, gathered to hear his fate.

Excited whispers as Conjwa read out the multiple life sentences were silenced by court officials to allow the judge to continue reading.

Mabhayi last week pleaded guilty to 20 murders, six rapes and 10 housebreakings. He terrorised Tholeni village in the Butterworth district for at least five years.

In most cases, Mabhayi broke into women-headed households with the intention of raping the woman, and would then murder her and all the children while they were sleeping.

He murdered 19 Tholeni villagers, nine of whom were young children. His youngest victims were little more than a year old while his oldest was 79. One victim was not from Tholeni.

Handing down judgment, Conjwa said: “It mattered not how young the victim was, no one was spared. The youngest was a 14-month-old baby.”

Another of his victims, Liyema Mxhunyelwa, 15 months, was hacked to death with an axe. The killer also raped and murdered 13-year-old Lukhanyo and their grandmother, Nomandla.

Noxolo Mxhunyelwa, Nomandla’s daughter and Liyema’s mother, was present throughout the trial.

Last week, when Mabhayi pleaded guilty to murdering her family, Noxolo had to be assisted out of court when she broke down crying.

Yesterday, Noxolo said she was happy about Mabhayi’s multiple life sentences. “I’m tired of coming to court and seeing that man every day. Now it’s finally over,” she said.

Conjwa said the people of Tholeni “lived in fear as there was a predator amongst them who was using the cloak of darkness to terrorise them.

“One can safely say that all right-thinking members of the public view such crimes with revulsion,” Conjwa said, adding that while Mabhayi may have said he was sorry to the people of Tholeni and South Africa for his actions, witness testimony and Mabhayi’s behaviour in court indicated otherwise.

“The accused does not appear to appreciate the enormity of his actions. He appears to lack insight into the seriousness of his actions.

“In fact, the accused, by his own admission, stated that had he not been caught, he would have continued killing. It becomes doubtful therefore that there is any chance of rehabilitation,” Conjwa said.

She questioned why it took five years for Mabhayi to be arrested.

“It is not clear from the evidence placed before me how the accused was able to escape detection for such a considerable length of time.”

He was arrested in August 2012.

His first victim, Nofinish Eslina Mayekiso, was murdered in May 2007.

Conjwa addressed Mabhayi directly and told him that he was a threat to society before sentencing him to 25 life sentences, among others.

National Prosecuting Authority spokeswoman Bulelwa Makeke said the harsh sentence handed down by Conjwa was “stunning”.

“We are very happy that such a strict sentence was handed down.

“The government has been prioritising crimes against women and children, especially rape.

“This stiff sentence will send a strong message that this will not be tolerated,” she added.

Conjwa said she hoped the people of Tholeni would have closure after the completion of the Mabhayi trial.

“Today this matter is drawing to a close, and the people of Tholeni will hopefully be able to pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward,” she said.

Originally published in the Daily Dispatch.

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Categorised in: News, Serial killer Mabhayi, Writing