How long is a life sentence in South Africa? Recent cases review 2021-2022

How long is a life sentence in South Africa? Recent cases review 2021-2022

How long is a life sentence in South Africa? Spending a lifetime behind bars is arguably traumatising and profoundly frightening to those facing the law. Different factors come into play when sentencing offenders for life, including the nature of criminal cases. But that is not all. Some recent cases review will help you understand factors determining the length of a life sentence in SA.

How long is a life sentence in South Africa
Hands of a prisoner on prison bars. Photo: Hiob
Source: Getty Images

What is a life sentence in South Africa? While a life sentence should ideally stretch for the rest of a person’s life, some sentences are fair enough and may see offenders reclaim their freedoms.

An excellent example of such rulings includes a sentence of about three decades to life with parole chances. Court ruling often attracts applause or outrage depending on the side of the ruling one finds themselves. In the current standing, a life sentence in South Africa is not static but rather a product of critical factors in the realms of the case.

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How long is a life sentence in South Africa?

Before disclosing the exact period of life sentence imprisonment in South Africa, it is essential to note that the severity of a crime in itself does not entirely inform the length of a life sentence. Instead, judges consider the relevant personal circumstances surrounding the case, considering that the offenders are also humans.

Another important consideration is the public interest, which determines the final ruling and the span of a life sentence.

South African life imprisonment has an undetermined length, which may last as long as the offender’s remaining life. Some of the actions that may attract life sentencing include gang rape, premeditated murder, farm murder, gang and serial rape, especially when the offender had prior consent about their positive HIV status.

It is also a matter of concern, especially when the victims were mentally disabled or underage when committing the offence. Other circumstances that can attract a mandatory life sentence include hijacking and robberies. Section 51 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1997 provides the following varying sentencing options in South Africa.

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  • Murder offenders: about 25 years
  • Rape offenders: about 15 years
  • Robbery offenders: about 10 years

Recent cases review of life sentences in South Africa

How long is a life sentence in South Africa
A young woman looking serious and desperate behind bars. Photo: valentinrussanov
Source: Getty Images

A life sentence is how many years in South Africa? The best way to learn more about this is to analyse certain outspoken cases.

Some exceptional cases attract life imprisonment extending to long periods of 1,000 years with no possibility of parole. Moses Sithole case is a perfect example of a ruling that gives no room for pardon.

Parole meaning in this application encompasses temporary or permanent releases of offenders ahead of completing their sentence term on the grounds of improved behaviours. Here is a review of recent criminal cases in South Africa that ended up or could end up in life imprisonment.

1. Mosimanegape Moleta’s case

In one of the most compelling cases in South Africa, Mosimanegape Moleta was sentenced to life imprisonment, an additional five years for rape, and 15 years for robbery. The North West High Court imposed the sentence.

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The convicted criminal's series of crimes started on April 26, 2012, at Phatsima village in Molopo District. According to court records, he broke into a house with the intent of committing a crime. While inside, Mosimanegape Moleta raped Goitseone Ramakepe and choked her to death.

Also, according to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the culprit committed another crime on August 18, 2012, of a similar nature. This time, he rapped an older woman with a mental disability after breaking into her house.

And that is not all, back in 2016, Mosimanegape Moleta raped another woman in Phatsima village, who he ordered to undress at gunpoint. He also robbed the lady R40.

Police captured Mosimanegape Moleta in Mocoseng village on October 18, 2017, after getting a tip-off from a police informer. He was caught with two unlicensed firearms and ammunition.

During Mosimanegape Moleta’s sentencing, the judge stated that the suspect had no respect for women and that his offences deserve sentencing.

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And Judge Tebogo sentenced Moleta to three years for every count of housebreaking, 15 for robbery, five years for the firearm, five for sexual offences, three counts each for having illegal guns and two years for ammunition. These sentences would run concurrently with the life sentence he was also given.

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2. Rosemary Dlovu case

If you wonder how many years is a life sentence in South Africa, then Rosemary's case would give you a pretty rough idea of how the court system works. The South African policewoman was sentenced to six life sentences after killing her boyfriend and five family members to collect life insurance.

The chilling trial shocked South Africa as her motivation for murder was revealed in court. On top of the six life sentences Rosemary Dlovu got in court, the judge added her 95 years in prison for incitement of murder and attempted insurance fraud.

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The trial was broadcast all over South Africa, and people were stunned at the lady's composure as the gruesome details of her crime were revealed in court. According to court records, Rosemary took out life and funeral insurance policies under her victims, murdered them, and later claimed the money.

If the claims were successful and passed without any suspicion of foul play, she would have made approximately R1,422,713. She killed most of her victims by hiring contract killers, but she poisoned Audrey (her sister) before strangling her.

Another of her plans in 2018, to set the home of one of her sisters on fire, didn't go through as the individual hired snapped. Also, another hired killer couldn't go through killing Rosemary's elderly mother.

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3. Donovan Moodley case

The Donovan Moodley case recently came into the limelight because of a possible parole hearing. He was found guilty in 2005 of murdering and kidnapping Matthews and extorting money from her father, Rob Matthews. Donovan was convicted to life imprisonment for murder, 15 years for kidnapping and 10 years for extortion.

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The Department of Correctional Services stated that there would be no parole hearing to determine if Donovan Moodley could be released from custody, much to the reprieve of Matthew's family.

4. Ntuthuko Shoba case

In another bizarre case, a former employee at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Shoba, was arrested in February 2021 for the alleged murder of the mother of his unborn child, Tshegofatso Pule.

Tshegofatso was discovered murdered and hanging from a tree in 2020. However, in an unexpected twist, Muzikayise Malephane pleaded guilty to the case, indicating that Shoba hired him. As a result, the trial was postponed to January 2022.

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Factors that determine the length of life imprisonment in South Africa

Are you wondering how are days counted in jail in South Africa? As aforementioned, South African trial courts are responsible for sentencing criminal offenders. For this reason, they establish the type of crime and its weight before proving the verdict based on discretion.

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Various principles are acceptable and suitable for determining appropriate punishment and sentences. However, the three central tenets commonly applied are called the Triad of Zinn, including public interest, the gravity of the offence, and circumstances confronting the offender, as further discussed.

i. The severity of the crime

The court takes a comprehensive approach to determine the offence's seriousness on trial and its resulting impacts. Of interest also are mitigating and aggravating factors. Fairness of the punishment concerning the crime is core in establishing a ruling on the length of a life sentence.

Cases that involve violent crimes require that the court considers the extent of violence, the brutality, weaponry used, and level of harm on attack victims, among other relevant factors.

ii. Offenders’ circumstances

Courts understand that offenders have human characteristics such as age, criminal record, health status, employment status, and motives. It is also essential to the courts regarding if the offender has dependents.

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Mosimanegape Moleta’s case cites that he didn't respect women and repeated the same offence multiple times. Such circumstances inform the judge's opinion when giving a sentence.

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iii. Public interest

Courts are keen to render proper community sentences purposely to serve as a warning and deterrent to criminals. Sometimes, increased punishment aims to teach the public without necessarily implying the proportion of crime.

However, the social and economic costs accompanying long incarcerations are significant before arriving at a verdict. Parties that believe that the decision was disproportionate can always appeal for remedies.

Questions on minimum sentences for ordinary crimes remain unanswered for most parts. Judges can deviate from these fixed minimums only when the offender is underage or a circumstance compelling enough to validate such a verdict.

Another cause of interest is the unpredictability of the law contrary to public expectations. For this reason, court processes drag in an attempt to include as many factors as possible ahead of a fairly delivered verdict.

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Concerns on how long is a life sentence in South Africa continue to overwhelm the nation as crimes literary occupy courts with severe lawsuits.

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