A man who shocked the seaside community of Strand after raping and killing 5-year-old Minentle Lekhatha last year was on Wednesday handed three life sentences in the Western Cape High Court.
"The murder and rape of this young girl was senseless and the life-changing effect that this murder and rape has had on her father and grandmother is unthinkable," Judge Derek Wille said in sentencing 35-year-old Xolani Lantu.
Wille said that imposing anything other than the prescribed minimum sentences would be an injustice and constitute a dereliction of the duty of court to protect society.
Lantu, who has five children, was given five years in jail for kidnapping and a life sentence each for two counts of rape and a count of murder.
Minentle was last seen playing outside her home before disappearing on June 3, 2017.
Her body was later found dumped under a bridge near the N2 highway.
She had known her killer and even called him by the nickname "chomi (friend)".
Angry at grandmother
Lantu was apparently angry with Minentle's grandmother for ending a relationship with him and telling him to stay away.
Western Cape National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said Lantu accused the grandmother of having an affair with another man.
He said Lantu denied knowing where the girl was and had been rude to the family when asked if he had seen her.
His arrest came after investigating officer Sergeant Moleka Nteta secured CCTV footage showing Lantu carrying the girl to the footbridge around 13:41 on the day she disappeared.
Ntabazalila said the footage showed Lantu returning alone along the same route an hour later.
Lantu was arrested three days later wearing the same clothes as in the footage. Minentle's blood was found on his clothing.
"Mr Lantu knew exactly where he had murdered and left the deceased and kept this to himself, despite an orchestrated anxious search to locate the deceased by her family," said Wille.
Remorse not enough
The court acknowledged that the former granite counter top installer had not received a good education and struggled with socioeconomic circumstances.
However, it was of the view that his apparent remorse and clean record were not enough to justify a lesser sentence.
Prosecutor Maria Marshall rejected the accused's initial guilty plea.
"He made a confession, but he was also not entirely truthful. He chose not to tell that he viciously raped her, same thing in his guilty plea. He wanted to hide the fact that he assaulted her [and] never mentioned anything about the bruises," stated Marshall in her sentencing arguments.
Arguing in aggravation of sentence, she asked the court to note how many similar and violent cases of children it had dealt with in the last year alone.
She said the perpetrators were known to the victims and their families in many of these cases.
Ntabazalila said the NPA welcomed the long sentences.
Western Cape police also welcomed the outcome of the case.
Provincial police commissioner Lieutenant General Khombinkosi Jula praised the investigating team for the work they had done to ensure justice was served.