And the men who killed them

Sunday Times - - Front Page - By TANYA FAR­BER

● Three vic­tims. Three ver­dicts. Five men con­victed of mur­der.

The killers of Su­san Ro­hde, Han­nah Cor­nelius and Court­ney Pi­eters were con­victed this week in sep­a­rate cases in the high court in Cape Town.

The bru­tal mur­ders cap­tured the hearts of hor­ri­fied South Africans and high­lighted the scourge of vi­o­lence against women and chil­dren in the coun­try.

Ro­hde, 47, Cor­nelius, 21, and Pi­eters, 3, were from three generations and dif­fer­ent so­cioe­co­nomic groups.

Their cases are among only 20% of femi­cides that ended in con­vic­tions, ac­cord­ing to Prof Naeemah Abra­hams, a gen­der and health re­searcher at the South African Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil.

She said over the past five years, the high pro­fil­ing of such cases “had pos­si­bly led to po­lice and oth­ers” do­ing a bet­ter job “since they know they are be­ing scru­ti­nised by the pub­lic”.

On Thurs­day, Ja­son Ro­hde sat in the dock in a suit and blue tie as judge Gayaat SalieHlophe con­victed him of his wife’s mur­der.

He was im­me­di­ately frog­marched down into the hold­ing cells. When he re-emerged 10 min­utes later to hear his advocate fight for bail ex­ten­sion, his tie had been re­moved, his hands were cuffed be­hind his back, and his face was the pic­ture of anx­i­ety.

Ro­hde stran­gled and smoth­ered his wife at the lux­ury Spier wine es­tate in Stel­len­bosch in 2016. He tried to throw po­lice off his scent by fak­ing her sui­cide.

It emerged in court that Su­san Ro­hde was des­per­ate to hold on to her mar­riage, but her hus­band clearly pre­ferred the woman with whom he was hav­ing an af­fair.

De­scrib­ing the week­end the cou­ple and Ro­hde’s mis­tress, Jo­lene Al­ter­skye, were all at the same con­fer­ence at Spier, SalieHlophe said in her sum­mary: “Su­san in­sisted on es­cort­ing her hus­band to the con­fer­ence as she knew his lover would be there. She got Botox done. She bought out­fits on ap­pro. This was the week­end she was openly go­ing to tri­umph over her neme­sis.”

In­stead, she was mur­dered.

Cor­nelius, a Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity stu­dent, was robbed, stabbed, kid­napped, gangraped and mur­dered by hav­ing a rock thrown on her head in May last year. Her three killers, Ver­non Wit­booi, Ger­aldo Parsons and Eben van Niek­erk, were found guilty on Wed­nes­day.

In his heart-wrench­ing tes­ti­mony in ag­gra­va­tion of sen­tence, Han­nah’s fa­ther Willem Cor­nelius said: “I did not come here to­day to elicit sym­pa­thy and I can’t help feel­ing guilty about the pub­lic­ity that this trial has gath­ered when the most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of our so­ci­ety — the women, the chil­dren, the el­derly — are seem­ingly as­saulted, mur­dered and abused on a daily ba­sis and not an iota of the at­ten­tion is paid to the ma­jor­ity of those cases.

“I do not know why. All that I know is that my daugh­ter would have agreed that it is not fair. I am well aware of the con­straints placed on this court in im­pos­ing sen­tence and I fer­vently hope the court will con­sider im­pos­ing a sen­tence that will at the very least pre­vent other par­ents from go­ing through what we have gone through as par­ents.”

Also on Wed­nes­day, Mor­timer Saun­ders was con­victed of rap­ing and poi­son­ing Court­ney. He had been a ten­ant in her mother’s house in Elsie’s River.

He tes­ti­fied that he had given Court­ney ant poi­son be­cause he had been “ir­ri­tated for for hav­ing been wo­ken a sec­ond time‚ which was com­pounded by ill feel­ings be­tween my­self and her mother”.

The vast ma­jor­ity of per­pe­tra­tors are never brought to book.

In all but about 20% of the vi­o­lent deaths of women and girls in SA, said Abra­hams, “the po­lice say they could not solve the case and have not iden­ti­fied the per­pe­tra­tors”.

Su­san Ro­hde’s mur­der was a case of “in­ti­mate femi­cide” — a woman killed by her part­ner. Re­search by Abra­hams and oth­ers has found that SA’s rate of this type of crime is five times the global aver­age.

Clare Bal­lard, who heads the Pe­nal Re­form Pro­gramme at Lawyers for Hu­man Rights, said the three tri­als — which will likely end in heavy sen­tences — are not likely to de­ter per­pe­tra­tors.

“We know em­pir­i­cally that there is no re­la­tion­ship be­tween heavy sen­tences and the preven­tion of crime, whether sex­ual vi­o­lence, femi­cide, child mur­ders or any other crime.

“We are ap­palling when it comes to polic­ing, de­tect­ing and pros­e­cut­ing crime. Much is made of the 97% con­vic­tion rate that you find in the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Author­ity’s an­nual re­port, but we are only taking on 8% of recorded crime, which is dis­mal,” she said.

While Cor­nelius’s and Pi­eters’s killers are all from low-re­source com­mu­ni­ties, Ja­son Ro­hde is from a very af­flu­ent one.

Abra­hams said a high-pro­file con­vic­tion like Ro­hde’s “de­bunks the myth that in­ti­mate femi­cide is a prob­lem only in poorer com­mu­ni­ties”.

How­ever, “poverty does play a big role” and of­ten “pow­er­ful men do get away with it”. She said this was demon­strated clearly in the #MeToo move­ment which started in the US to cam­paign against sex­ual ha­rass­ment and sex­ual as­sault.

Pic­ture: Gallo Im­ages

Prop­erty mogul Ja­son Ro­hde is led down to the cells this week af­ter be­ing found guilty in the Western Cape High Court of mur­der­ing his wife Su­san Ro­hde, right.

Pic­ture: Anthony Molyneaux

Ver­non Wit­booi, Ger­aldo Parsons and Eben van Niek­erk were found guilty of kid­nap­ping, rap­ing and mur­der­ing Han­nah Cor­nelius, right.

Pic­ture: Esa Alexan­der

Mor­timer Saun­ders, who killed Court­ney Pi­eters, right, in a packed court in Good­wood, Cape Town.

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