Artist’s attacker confesses – too late

Artist Marie-Jose Hartmann with caregiver Anelisa Ndaninzi outside court
Picture: Eugene Coetzee

Moments after a court convicted two men of robbing and savagely beating a Port Elizabeth artist yesterday, one of them did an about-turn and admitted to his role in the violent attack – but his unremorseful admission came too late. In sentencing the men to the max

mum term of 20 years’ imprisonment, magistrate Johan Potgieter described Mandisi

“Welcome” Mkontwana and Simphiwe Simanga as cowards who had shown absolutely no remorse despite the mounting evidence.

Marie-José Hartmann, 58, a French artist who lived in Richmond Hill at the time, was beaten so badly that her ear was nearly severed from her head. She suffered a stroke later, rendering her unable to walk or paint ever again.

Her former gardener of eight months, Mkontwana, 31, and Simanga, 37, entered her home through an open door on June 16 last year and attacked her – just as she had finished off what she did not know at the time would be her last work of art.

Potgieter said while Hartmann’s injuries were undoubtedly severe, there was, however, not enough evidence to prove attempted murder. He said the robbery charge carried a prescribed minimum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment, but he had opted for the maximum of 20 years.

Simanga, who has a string of previous convictions for violent crimes, then told his lawyer that he now admitted to his role in the crime. Potgieter described the men as ugly criminals who had dabbled in crime pretty much their whole lives. “It amazes me that a man can show such a desire to destroy himself,” he said. “Neither of you has shown any remorse. You are cowards.”

Potgieter said the men had young children and would now play no role in their upbringing. While Mkontwana had been positively identified by Hartmann as one of her attackers, Simanga had been linked to the heinous crime through her blood on the bottom of his shoes and her stolen cellphone found in his possession on his arrest.

Potgieter said Hartmann had been nothing but kind to Mkontwana by giving him clothing and money, and had completely trusted him. “Imagine what that woman went through. “She was painting and the next moment she was on the ground being strangled.”

Potgieter said Hartmann had been a reliable, honest witness and he had no doubt that her identification of her former gardener was correct. He said that, in addition, the cab driver had identified the two accused as the men he had given a lift to shortly after the incident.

Mkontwana’s alibi also did not check out. While he had claimed to have been watching a movie at home the night of the attack, it came to light later he did not have electricity at his house.

Both men were dishonest witnesses and became uncomfortable when probed on certain aspects.

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