Two white men, convicted of burning a black woman alive in the trunk of a car after they had raped her, Thursday were sentenced to hang after a trial that had been closely watched as a test of South African justice.
Justice P.J. Schabort said that nothing could excuse the “cold-blooded murder” of Ginny Goitsione, 21. Calling the crime “gruesome and terrifying,” he sentenced Schalk Burger, 20, and George Scheepers, 21, to death.
Testimony in Klerksdorp Circuit Court showed that Burger and Scheepers, along with two friends, Daniel Durandt, 19, and Jacobus Matthyssen, 20, accosted Goitsione last Feb. 2 as she sat with her fiance, Jacob Wessie, in his car in Klerksdorp’s black township, about 90 miles southwest of Johannesburg. The two defendants forced the couple to drive to an isolated spot on a back road, where they beat him and raped her.
Goitsione, a beautician, who would have been married this week, was said to have been forced into the trunk of Wessie’s car, which was doused with gasoline and set on fire.
Wessie, a star soccer player, said he managed to break away from the men, who had poured a can of volatile transmission fluid over his body and were preparing to set him on fire. He escaped through the bush.
All four white men testified that they had been drinking most of that evening and had set out to “cause some trouble . . . and rape a black woman,” in the words of Matthyssen, who acknowledged under cross-examination that there is a “difference between droogmaak (trouble-making, in Afrikaans) and doodmaak (murder).”
Although serious crimes by whites against blacks are reported regularly here, the whites are generally not charged with as severe an offense as a black would be if the victim were white, and frequently are never brought to trial.
Only rarely are whites sentenced to death for crimes against blacks, and generally such sentences are commuted to life imprisonment after a mandatory review by the appeals court or by the president of South Africa.
“For a white to be sentenced to death for killing a black in South Africa, and then to actually hang, is so rare that the case becomes something of a landmark,” said Prof. John Dugard of the University of the Witwatersrand. “And, of course, it is an indictment of South African society as a whole.”
Case Closely Followed
For this reason, and because of the brutality of the Goitsione killing, the case has been followed closely around the country, and the court has been filled with blacks from the town where the victim lived.
Matthyssen and Durandt were found guilty of rape but not of murder, since they did not take part in the actual killing. They are to be sentenced today.
When the death sentences were announced Thursday, whites in the courtroom gasped, for many apparently thought the sentences would be life imprisonment. Burger’s pregnant wife collapsed. Blacks expressed a measure of satisfaction, and some said the executions should take place in public, in the middle of Klerksdorp.
“Although I don’t believe in capital punishment, I think these two deserved it,” Wessie, the victim’s companion, said. “They showed no mercy when they killed my Ginny.”