DOING JUSTICE: Judge Ronald Hedricks. 22/11/08. © Unknown.
DOING JUSTICE: Judge Ronald Hedricks. 22/11/08. © Unknown.

Elisha Molefe

Elisha Molefe

"If this were Botswana we would be celebrating, knowing that this killer will hang," said a bystander outside the Mafikeng high court on Friday.

This summed up the mood at the end of yet another racially charged murder trial in a South African court.

He is only 18 years old and Johan Nell faces four life sentences and 68 years in jail for a killing spree that claimed four lives, the youngest a three-month-old baby, at the Skierlik informal settlement in Swartruggens, North West, on January 14.

The sentence includes convictions for maiming 11 people and the illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition.

Judge Ronald Hendricks' ruling came at the end of a trial that was not without drama.

He and members of the prosecuting team had received death threats by SMS as expert evidence painted the picture of a young man driven by his hatred for blacks, inculcated since childhood, who had unflinchingly executed his unsuspecting victims.

January 14 will remain on Skierlik and South Africa's crime calendar as a bloody day.

In the case of three-year-old Onkarabile Lottering, who was playing with his toy car pretending to be the fastest driver, the pain he suffered when a bullet nearly severed his arm from his little body might last a lifetime.

His twin brother Onkgopotse was lucky because, though they were inseparable, they were not together when tragedy struck.

It was at about 2pm that the powerful bullet ripped through his left shoulder, leaving his arm dangling by strips of flesh.

He was the first of Nell's victims.

A few houses further on Annah Moiphitlhi heard the gunshots and saw people running in all directions trying to find shelter from the gun-wielding Nell in camouflage uniform.

Her mother's instinct prompted her to take her two-month-old daughter and run into the nearby bush.

Her male companion, Timothy Mokgathi, shouted at her that danger was imminent and she should stop running and hide.

But it was too late. A bullet ripped through her stomach and her intestines fell to the dusty ground.

As she fell, she was still clutching her beloved daughter.

The little girl did not survive either.