Court slams ‘iron’ assailant

Magistrate lashes at men who believe they can own a woman

The Mthatha man who took a hot iron to his student lover’s body, scarring her permanently, was roasted by a regional court magistrate who told him women were not male property to do with as they pleased.Mthatha magistrate Sizakele Sihlahla yesterday found Thozamile Gawula, 30, guilty of attempting to murder his 26-year-old law student partner Mihle Sibembe and sent him to jail for eight years to think about his attitude towards women and relationships.When the magistrate announced the jail term Gawula clenched his eyes shut and dropped his head. The attack happened in Gawula’s Ikhwezi Township home in 2016. He burned the woman all over her body and then stuffed her in a drawer under his bed.Magistrate Sihlahla noted that Gawula had pleaded guilty and showed remorse, but said the damage had been done. In his plea Gawula said he acted in a jealous rage after he saw a photograph on Facebook of his love with another man.Sihlahla said attempted murder was a serious offence and his victim had suffered and been left traumatised.“What happened to the complainant is often caused by men who believe they own women, especially when they provide for them in one way or another. We also find there are men who think they can do as they please, even breaking the law and forgetting that women have rights,” said Sihlahla.He said in relationships there would be accusations and suspicions but that did not call for assault or burning someone’s body, including their face.Sihlahla told Gawula: “Nobody owns anyone else. Even if she may say ‘I am yours’ that is not to be taken literally. She is not your property; she is a human being. If you find yourself unhappy in a relationship rather end it. There are so many women out there you do not have to stick to one. Even if you are unhappy [don’t] end up attacking them as you did,” he said.The magistrate said the victim had been humiliated, and photographic evidence showed that even her private parts had been injured.“She has been left with scars that will always be a reminder that you were once in her life and those will not be good thoughts. You were the one meant to protect her, you were supposed to love and pamper her.”Sihlahla said society was against what Gawula had done. He said the abuse of women by their male lovers was prevalent and society demanded something be done to stop it.He said the sentence was intended to send a clear message to other men. “You will still be involved with women but this [judgment] will prevent you from assaulting another woman. If there is something you believe needs attention you will not use an iron. An iron is meant for clothes, not human skin,” he said.While the court found no reason to deviate from the prescribed minimum sentence, and instead found factors that could result in the maximum sentence, the magistrate said there was one mitigating aspect.“You saved the victim from having to go through the trauma of being cross-examined in court, and that is quite mitigating in your sentence because often accused persons deny sometimes even the most obvious [crimes], and victims end up with the feeling that the court is not on their side. “This is understandable because in the victim’s view there is no need for cross-examination, but unfortunately their testimony has to be tested,” said Sihlahla.Gawula was arrested in January 2017 and released on R800 bail, but was re-arrested after he failed to appear in court on several occasions. He faces additional charges for breaking his bail conditions, including harassing the victim on the phone.More damning evidence was submitted after he was found guilty when a victim impact statement was submitted for sentencing purposes.The statement, read out by prosecutor Noluthando Mgqibelo, states that the victim, who is a final year law student at an Eastern Cape university, is not coping with her studies and no longer has the confidence to stand up in front of people and give a presentation. She had suffered third degree burns and still fears for her life, it adds.The victim’s mother Zodumo Sibembe, 59, said they accepted the sentence but it would not change what had been done to her daughter, who had been left with injuries that were both gruesome and permanent. — ziphon@dispatch.co.za..

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