Following what a judge called a “spectacularly stupid effort to rouse his friend”, a man who set the bedroom curtains alight to get his friend’s attention was convicted of murder and culpable homicide.
Thembilizwe Makhenke, of Germiston, told the Gauteng High Court, Joburg, this week that on February 8 he went to his friend Mawande Mafuya’s room to fetch his cellphone from him.
Mafuya was apparently asleep and did not hear Makhenke shouting his name outside the door of the outside room. In a bid to catch his attention, Makhenke fetched a bottle of paraffin from his house next door and doused the curtains with it.
He said he thought this would catch his friend’s attention. But the fire got out of hand and as the bedroom door was either jammed or locked, Mafuya couldn’t escape the flames. He died a few days later due to the burns he had suffered.
But unbeknown to Makhenke, a friend of Mafuya’s, Siphiwe Buthelezi, was also asleep in the room that night. He too died a few days later due to the burn wounds he had suffered.
Makhenke explained that after he had started the fire, he ran away as he feared the community would come after him.
Efforts to rescue the two men were delayed because the only door to the room was locked or jammed from the inside. By the time the men were reached, they had been very badly burnt.
Makhenke was charged with two counts of premeditated murder and one count of arson. He pleaded guilty to all three charges, but Acting Judge AJS Wilson questioned whether he in fact intended to kill the two men and whether they were killed as a result of Makhenke’s “stupid” decision to try to attract his friend’s attention.
Makhenke told the judge that he tried his best to get Mafuya’s attention that night as he desperately wanted his phone back. He shouted his name and knocked several times on the door.
He then saw the lights of the room being switched off and he thought that his friend was deliberately trying to avoid him.
Makhenke said he then walked across to his house and found the dregs of a container of paraffin. He decided to pour the paraffin on the curtains in the room, assuming that the blaze would make it impossible for his friend to ignore his presence.
According to him, smoke billowed into the room and ignited a mattress that was propped up against the wall, and across the bottom half of the window.
At this point, Makhenke realised that he had started a life-threatening blaze. He attempted to rescue his friend, but he could not enter the room. Instead, he ran away in fear for what he had done.
Mafuya’s twin brother, Wandile, who stayed in the main house, testified that he saw Makhenke outside the window of the room, shouting “I will burn them”.
He said he then saw him tossing a bottle with paraffin through the window and set it alight.
According to Wandile, Makhenke did try to douse the flames with his hands before he ran away.
But Judge Wilson rejected the evidence suggesting that Makhenke knew there were two people in the house, as Wandile never mentioned this in any of his statements to the police.
The judge concluded that Makhenke did not plan the murder, as he had no reason to kill his neighbour and friend. The judge said when he had committed this senseless act, he should have foreseen that his friend could have been killed.
He said Makhenke was thus guilty of ordinary murder, although he may not have foreseen the fatal outcome.
Regarding the death of Buthelezi, Makhenke was found guilty of culpable homicide.
Sentencing proceedings were postponed to a later stage. – IOL News.