Two 'necklace' verdicts on the same day: Six to hang, three get life

Six people were this week sentenced to death for a “necklace” murder in Queenstown on the same day three people convicted of committing a similar offence in Duduza, on the East Rand escaped the gallows. The Duduza three received life sentences.

Now lawyers for the condemned Queenstown people are hoping to call on expert evidence given as mitigation in the Duduza case – evidence that is believed to have played a key part in keeping the accused from the gallows.

The six who received death sentences in Port Alfred were Mzwandile Gqeba, Whanto Silinga, Lundi Wana, Thembinkosi Pressfeet, Mzwandile Mninzi and Monde Tingwe. They were convicted at a special sitting of the Supreme Court in Port Alfred of the 1985 “necklace” murder of 18-year-old Nosipho Zamela, in Mlungisi location, Queenstown.
A seventh accused, Thozamile Bacela, was also convicted of the murder but sentenced to 20 years imprisonment by the presiding judge, Mr Justice Kroon. A further five accused were convicted of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, of which 12 months were suspended for five years.

The Duduza trial centred on the “necklacing” of Maki Skosana in Duduza on July 20, 1985, an incident that was filmed in full and captured a great deal of international attention. The three who received life sentences for their involvement in the murder were Sauna Twala, 23, Linda Hlophe, 26, and Daniel Mbokwane, 22. Six others were found guilty of murder and sentenced to a total of 62 years imprisonment. All were granted leave to appeal.

The expert evidence given at the Duduza trial – and which the Port Alfred lawyers want to use – was given by, among others, Professor Edward Diener, a world expert in crowd psychology. A defence lawyer in the Duduza trial, Krish Naidoo, said yesterday he believe Diener’s evidence contributed to the decision by Mr Justice Harfzenberg to hand out life sentences rather than send the three to the gallows.

The defence team for the 11 accused in the Duduza trial invited Diener to explain to the court the mechanisms behind the grotesque attack, in what is believed to be the first time that an authority on mob psychology was used in a South African trial. Diener, who was brought from Illinois, told the court that “most people accused of beating and burning to death (the victim) in a vicious attack at a funeral in Duduza were churchgoers while one of the accused plans to become a nurse”.

They all believed their actions – kicking her, hitting her with sticks, jumping on her and stoning her – were, in retrospect, quite wrong and he found that people who knew-them were surprised at what they had done. He said these people would go down in psychological literature as a classic case of “deindividuation”, where the individual loses his or her self-awareness and cannot regulate his or her own behaviour. “Because of the forces existing in crowds, they often commit actions which are often against their moral beliefs,” he said.

Diener watched the film of the incident and said at a press conference later: “I did not like what I saw, but knowing what I know about crowd behaviour, it did not surprise me that good people are capable of doing these sorts of things if the circumstances are right” He said several of the accused he interviewed told him they had not thought about what they were doing, they had not realised their actions would kill the woman, nor were they worried about being arrested, despite the presence of cameras. “In this case, we have a very clear example of factors such as conformity, imitation and deindividuation. These factors reduced the ability of the accused to make rational judgements about their behaviour.”

He added that the accused were impaired in their ability to appreciate that death could ensure and the large, chanting crowd which was present could have led to impulsive behaviour. “The psychological forces making up for aggression were very strong in this case. Such forces mitigate the level of responsibility of the defendants,” the professor said. Also an important factor was the mitigating evidence given by a field worker employed by the South African Council of Churches, the Rev Ross Olivier of the Methodist Church ir. Nigel, that Skosana was killed during a period of anger, suspicion and turbulence in Duduza. Pleading in mitigation, Olivier also described the period as abnormal.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail newspaper

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