The Herald (South Africa)

Anguish as murderer ‘forgives’ accusers

- Lee-anne Butler

EMOTIONS ran high in the Port Elizabeth High Court yesterday when a gardener came face to face with the son and daughter of the woman he bludgeoned to death and said he was “sorry” for what had happened to her and that he forgave them for accusing him.

Themba Hemp, 48, who murdered 70-year-old Theescombe resident Hester van der Berg after he was let out of prison early, was then sentenced to life in prison by Judge Irma Schoeman.

“No innocent man would have approached us like he did. We thought he was going to ask our forgivenes­s, but instead he just said he forgives us for accusing him and hopes that we can now move on,” Van der Berg’s son, Bernaford, 42, said later.

“He [Hemp] said he was sorry and that he never meant for any of this to happen but not once did he admit to doing any of it.” Bernaford said the family had decided to forgive Hemp so they could move on with their lives.

During sentencing, Schoeman rebuked the Correction­al Services Department for releasing Hemp early.

He had only served 16 months of a 30-month sentence for house-breaking and theft, and murdered Van der Berg when, if he had served his whole sentence, he would instead still have been in prison. Hemp had a string of previous conviction­s.

Van der Berg’s daughter, Ronel Clark, 39, was reduced to tears when Hemp approached the devastated brother and sister, who have attended every court ap- pearance since the start of the trial in October, before sentencing.

“He said our mother was a good person. He looked remorseful. It even looked like he was feeling guilty as a tear dropped from his eye. It was the first time he had looked close to guilty,” Clark said.

Hemp, a father of four, had been employed by the family as a gardener for only a few months before he attacked Van der Berg on May 3 2011.

The family was dealt a double blow when Van der Berg’s husband, Basil, 75, suffered a heart attack after he found her body, and subsequent­ly died.

Hemp was sentenced to life in prison for murder and 15 years for robbery with aggravatin­g circumstan­ces.

There were no mitigating factors to prevent Hemp receiving the maximum sentences on both counts.

Schoeman said that despite overwhelmi­ng evidence against him, he had maintained his innocence throughout the trial and claimed he was in Worcester at the time of the murder. However, cellphone records proved he was still in Port Elizabeth when the crimes were committed.

Hemp assaulted Van der Berg with a hammer or similar blunt object, before stealing items. She died at the scene.

Hemp had been in a position of trust and was employed by the family as a gardener for R500 a week. They had also provided him with accommodat­ion.

Schoeman described the family as close-knit and said Bernaford had testified that they had in fact lost two parents as a result of the murder.

The judge said the brutal nature of the murder indicated that Hemp was “cold, cruel and calculatin­g”.

Bernaford said Schoeman had been brilliant and fair during the trial.

“We are really grateful because we had the best team working on this case.

“The judge together with DetectiveS­ergeant Paul Roelofse of the Kabega Park police station and [state] Advocate Andre Canary have all been excellent.”

Advocate Robin O’Brien appeared for the defence.

 ?? Picture: EUGENE COETZEE ?? FACE TO FACE: Themba Hemp, 48, speaks to Bernaford van der Berg and Ronel Clark, in court
Picture: EUGENE COETZEE FACE TO FACE: Themba Hemp, 48, speaks to Bernaford van der Berg and Ronel Clark, in court

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