Baby killer ‘was a victim too, think about her feelings’
Defence’s argument was made at sentencing of young woman who murdered her baby moments after giving birth
The Tembisa mother who murdered her infant and discarded the body in a full bucket of paint is also a victim, and her trauma needs to be considered in deciding whether she should spend her life behind bars.
This was the argument of advocate Sindisa Hlazo during the sentencing proceedings of Zikhona Mndela, the 25-year-old who killed her child on the night of her birth.
Mndela was arrested in October 2016 after giving birth at her residence in Klipfontein, Tembisa, and at the time claimed she had had a miscarriage.
However, postmortem reports revealed the child had been born at full term, unlike her claims of premature birth. The state determined that the young woman, shortly after the child had emerged, had wrapped her in plastic and a jacket before submerging the infant in a bucket of paint and closing the lid.
Last year, Mndela was found guilty on a charge of murder and another of concealment of birth, though her sentencing proceedings at the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg have stalled for months in anticipation of a probation officer’s report.
On Wednesday morning, the probation officer, Sinethemba Nkosi, read her report into the court record, recommending that the mother be sentenced to a limited term in prison before being released into the care of a correctional supervision officer.
The report was constructed after interviews with Mndela and her own mother.
In the interview with Nkosi, Mndela detailed what happened on the night of the birth, claiming she had only been pregnant for about 19 weeks at that point.
Having woken up in the middle of the night with stomach pains, she went to use the toilet. She noticed blood in the water and felt the sudden urge to push.
“The next thing she saw was her baby flying out of her so forcefully that it landed a few metres away from her. After some few minutes, she was able to regain her strength, crawled to the child where she was not moving and had no heartbeat,” the report read.
Mndela claimed she tried to wrap the child in clothing to keep the “unusually cold foetus” warm and, “in her state of shock and disorientation”, placed the body in a nearby bucket, which she thought to be empty.
The young woman claimed she was worried that if she took the child to hospital, it would not be returned and she would not be able to give the child a dignified burial. She had also wanted to protect it from being eaten by rats.
Nkosi’s report read: “[Mndela] assisted herself to give birth. One can only imagine how traumatic that experience could be.”
“Even though this does not validate her actions, it is important to consider the thought process of a young woman in a desperate situation,” she wrote.
However, prosecutor Jacqui Drotsky was not impressed with this version of events, calling out a series of contradictions while cross-examining Nkosi.
She argued the state had proven Mndela was aware of her pregnancy in March that year, meaning that, by October, there was no way she could have thought she was only five months pregnant.
She also pointed out Mndela had lied to the doctors at Edenvale Hospital about the existence of the child until the police were summoned. The woman’s claim that she had had a miscarriage was entirely false based on the postmortem, which established the child was healthy and full term, and had taken her first breaths before her death.
Regarding her supposed reasoning for hiding the infant’s body, Drotsky said there was clear intent in Mndela’s actions, having wrapped the child in plastic and cloth and placing the lid back on the paint bucket to hide her crime.
She accused Nkosi of writing a one-sided report, as she had not consulted the investigating officer or the prosecution before constructing it. However, Nkosi was insistent that her report had taken account of the seriousness of the crimes, and was still multifaceted, which was how she came to her recommendation.
During his closing arguments in mitigation of sentence, the defence argued Mndela too was a victim, and life imprisonment for the murder was not an appropriate sentence.
Hlazo argued the state should have taken a victim impact statement from his client, taking note of how she felt following the death of her child.
“This is something that will haunt her for the rest of her life. The court should accept this as fact,” he said.
His client had been acting in an irrational matter based on the traumatic situation on the night of the birth, and argued she had neither space nor time to make a rational decision.
Her family’s failure to support her during her pregnancy, as well as the father not wanting anything to do with the child, had placed her in a deeply difficult situation, he said.
Drotsky said there was no reason for the court to deviate from the minimum prescribed sentence for murder – a life sentence.
The sentencing is set down for next week.