'At last they are punished'

Mfundekelwa Mkhulisi

Mfundekelwa Mkhulisi

The mother of baby Khensani Mitileni, who was shot and killed while strapped to her mother's back, jumped for joy and hugged the prosecutor moments after her baby's three murderers each received double life sentences yesterday.

Only 15 months old, Khensani was caught in the crossfire during a shootout between robbers and security company guards in the Johannesburg city centre in October 2006.

For the first time since the tragic event, Cynthia Mitileni had the strength to smile.

Her child died at the scene and another victim, Sindisiwe Zuma, died five months later of gunshot wounds.

About nine people were also hit by stray bullets in the shootout.

Before handing down sentence, Judge Nigel Willis described the actions of the murderers, Menzi Hlongwa, 20, Siphamandla Sigidi Gasela, 22, and Phikani Sibongiseni Ngidi, 24, as a "callous disregard and contempt for human life".

"Who is not to be disturbed by the photographs of this beautiful 15-month-old darling lying dead on the tarmac?

"These images will haunt me for the rest of my life," Willis said.

He said it was this type of criminal who affected society "to the core of its being'' because they instilled fear among law-abiding citizens and adversely affected the economy of the country.

Willis said there were no compelling circumstances justifying lesser sentences.

Speaking to Sowetan afterwards, Mitileni said: "God is great.

"Though the sentence will not bring my baby back, I am happy that the killers got what they deserved."

She said the judge's decision would bring some peace to her family.

Martha Masunda, who has two bullets from the attack still lodged in her body, said she was still in pain.

"I do not have the money to remove the bullets," she said.