The 13 women were all choked before being raped while unconscious. A 14th died while being choked and raped.
Just when they were losing hope of receiving justice, serial rapist Sello November, 29, was finally sentenced in the Durban High Court on Wednesday.
November, who faces three other rape charges in Johannesburg, was arrested in 2017 for theft. A DNA sample taken from him then linked him to the DNA samples taken from the 14 women whom police had already established had been raped by the same man.
One of the women, Nompumelelo Mdlalose, 38, of KwaMashu, was on her way to work at 5am on April 25, 2013 when November strangled her and then raped her.
Beauty Zwane, Mdlalose’s mother, said she was raising Mdlalose’s 8-year-old daughter. She cried outside court after November was sentenced, describing the court’s ruling as“bitter-sweet”.
“We lived in a rented room in KwaMashu, which we shared with six other tenants. My daughter was my only hope of getting out of that situation. Our dream was to have our own house and have dignity, but we were robbed of all of those dreams,” she said.
November pleaded guilty to raping 14 women, including two minors, in the KwaMashu area, north of Durban, between 2012 and 2013.
He also pleaded guilty to Mdlalose’s murder and 13 counts of armed robbery.
He was sentenced to terms of life imprisonment for Mdlalose’s murder and the rape of the minors. He was sentenced to a further 10-year term for each rape of the 11 adult women and 15 years each for the 13 counts of robbery.
In his guilty plea, November admitted choking his victims, threatening them with a knife or a screwdriver and raping them while they were unconscious.
Victims laid charges of rape at the KwaMashu police station, but no one was arrested until sergeants Mndeni Mzila and Vusi Shinga of the Family Violence and Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS), stationed at Ntuzuma police station, investigated the cases.
They discovered that most of the rapes in the area were the work of one man.
Their investigations later established the DNA connection that linked November to the 14 unsolved cases.
Attorney Tiagraj Pillay pleaded with the court to consider November’s age and his personal circumstances in sentencing him. He said November was an orphan, had dropped out of school after his parents’ death in 2011 and got involved with bad friends who introduced him to drugs and alcohol.
Pillay said this was around the time November had started committing the rapes. He had been between 21 and 23 at the time.
He urged the court to also consider that he had taken responsibility for his actions and pleaded guilty.
But State advocate Krishen Shah said November’s personal circumstances were not exceptional.
“Although he pleaded guilty and showed some remorse, the problem that the court has is that we still do not know why he committed the rape offences, if his intention was to rob the women,” he said.
Judge Jacqueline Hendriques agreed with Shah that although November had taken responsibility for his actions, no one knew why he raped the women because he had said his intention was to rob them of cash and their cellphones.
The judge said November had said he had strangled Mdlalose to prevent her from screaming.
“The crime of rape is serious and prevalent in South Africa. Society is outraged by these offences. The victims were robbed of their dignity and their belongings. The frequency of the offences shows that he targeted women who were alone. These were not spur-of-the-moment offences,” said Judge Hendriques.
Some adult victims said they had terminated their relationships after the rape incidents.
“I am still affected physically and emotionally. My life will never be the same. I was beginning to lose hope of ever finding justice. It consoles me to know that he will be behind bars for a long time,” said one woman.
Mzila and Shinga have locked away a number of serial rapists in Durban.