Tears and shouts of “we are free, we are no longer prisoners” erupted in the Pretoria high court's room GA on Thursday as serial rapist Sello Abram Mapunya was sentenced to 1,088 years in prison for his five-year reign of terror.
Hugging each other, his victims and their families openly wept in relief as Mapunya was led from the dock moments after judge Papi Mosopa handed down the sentence.
Mosopa gave Mapunya five life sentences and 988 years imprisonment for the rape and robbery of 56 women between December 2014 and March 2019, when he was arrested.
Condemning “evil” to an eternity behind bars, Mosopa said Mapunya was “hell bent” on infringing on society’s most vulnerable and their right to dignity and security.
“He failed to show any remorse,” said Mosopa.
Mapunya, 33, was convicted on Wednesday for 41 rapes and 40 separate house breakings and house robberies, as well as assault with the intent to commit grievous bodily harm, robbery and theft.
Mapunya’s crime spree — committed while he lived with his girlfriend, eight-year-old son and four-year-old daughter in Pretoria — saw him attack women in Tshwane’s suburbs of Nellmapius, Mamelodi, Silverton, Olievenhoutbosch and Atteridgeville.
His youngest victim was 14. She was attacked while walking home with a friend in Olievenhoutbosch. His eldest victim was 55.
Speaking after Mapunya’s sentencing, his youngest victim, Refilwe Selamolela, who is now 19 and agreed to be identified, said she had spent years asking herself why men raped and hurt women.
“I want to ask men out there to stop hurting us and ask them to protect us, love us and provide for us and our children. For so many years I have suffered, crying every time I hear of another woman who has been raped.
“Today, I just thank God and the justice system for bringing this man down, for sending him away to jail for the rest of his life,” she said.
Thuleleni Mtsweni, who was beaten over the head with a hammer and raped by Mapunya in her Nellmapius home, said some victims had almost lost their lives.
“It was the worst experience of my life, but that is now over. Today is a victory, not just for those of us who survived the terror this man unleashed, but for all women out there who are victims of similar crimes.
“We, as survivors, fought for our voices to be heard. We fought for the voices of all women to be heard. We stood here in court and have now watched the man who tortured us go down. He went down because of our bravery to speak out,” she said.
Speaking outside court, Sgt Catherine Tladi, who helped investigate Mapunya, said the sentence was a victory for all women, children and vulnerable people who had been hurt.
“This sentence will help restore society’s trust in the law and show society that there is justice. Rape victims remain uncovered until justice is done. Only when justice is done are they then able to cover themselves. Today these survivors' nakedness has been closed.
“We thank God, the justice system and prosecutor advocate Pieter Coetzer that the truth of what happened has been learnt,” said Tladi.
Delivering sentence, Mosopa, who described Mapunya and his deeds as evil, said he wanted this to be a lesson to “others out there who say that they can prey on society’s most vulnerable”.
“The sentence I am imposing will show others that women’s bodies are not commodities and cannot be abused with impunity. These sentences will not run concurrently because they were not committed at the same time. They occurred separately over five years, therefore you will be sentenced for every crime you committed separately,” said Mosopa.
Mosopa told Mapunya — who struck a lonely figure in the dock of courtroom GA, which was packed to capacity with his victims and their families — that he was being sentenced to life for the rape of his teenage victim, as well as for raping four of his other victims multiple times during their separate attacks.
“Evidence presented in court showed that you studied your victims. There is no doubt that you can be classified as a serial rapist. Your modus operandi was the same. Your evil saw you break into homes in the early hours of the morning, shine a torch in your victims’ faces so that they could not identify you, and cover them with blankets before you raped them,” Mosopa said.
“In some cases you raped and violated your victims in front of their husbands and children. Some of them you dragged from their beds and raped them in the street.”
Mosopa said the sentence had to take into account the heinousness and brutality of the crimes.
“You did not use a condom. At least one of your victims tested HIV-positive after you raped her. Before her rape she was HIV-negative. It was only through the urgent intervention from hospital staff that your other victims are not HIV-positive.”
He said sentences, while having to take into account mitigating circumstances, also had to reflect the severity of the crime.
Mosopa said Mapunya did not present any mitigating circumstances and refused to testify.
“You were properly raised and did not suffer abuse [as a child], yet you involved yourself in criminality in the early stages of your life.
“You are a first offender, but you did not just commit one offence. You perpetrated these crimes while living with your girlfriend and children. You would leave your home and go out and violate the victims in the presence of their families.
“While you have children of your own, who you seem to love dearly, you had absolute disregard for the children who witnessed you raping their mothers. In one of your attacks you threatened to rape your victim’s two children, aged two and four, when she refused you. She only relented to save the lives of her children.”
He told Mapunya the victim impact study reports provided to the court only gave a brief glimpse into the terror he brought down on so many.
“Some are suicidal, all are angry towards men and most have relocated from their homes. You crippled the soul of your 14-year-old victim.”
He said when Mapunya began his “evil deeds” he violated women and threatened them with a weapon.
“But, as time progressed your propensity for violence increased with some of your victims stabbed with screwdrivers and beaten with hammers. Crimes against women and children have reached alarming proportions. Women are no longer free to walk the streets without fear of being raped or robbed. They are no longer safe in their own homes.
“It took police, through the use of modern technology, five years to catch you. Society’s last hope is the courts. Society has to be able to rely on this court to ensure that this evil is now removed. Your lawlessness ends now.”
NPA Tshwane regional spokesperson Lumka Mahanjana welcomed the sentence, which she said would send out a strong message to those who thought that they could commit similar crimes.
“We are excited that the judge said the sentences will not run concurrently, especially as he violated so many women.”