• Plants can play a vital role in linking individuals to crime scenes: from the leaves we step on to the pollen that stick to our clothes. If you are curious about the secret language of plants and the link to crime scenes, be sure to read the article about Forensic Botany published in Servamus: September 2020.

  • Forensics is a fascinating science with a variety of subdisciplines that are used to link an individual to a crime scene. In an article published in Servamus: September 2020, we highlight some of the lesser known forensic disciplines.

  • Wildlife crime can be fought by using forensics, such as in poaching incidents where forensics is used to link seized rhino horn or ivory to a crime scene. If you want to read about the development of wildlife forensics, be sure to read the article in Servamus: September 2020.

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By Kotie Geldenhuys in cooperation with Brig Dirk Lambrechts

There are times when we celebrate the sentences handed down to offenders for the crimes they committed. Then there are times when we are outraged by the sentences. Our feelings are typically dependent on our interpretation of whether the punishment fits the crime - if not, we are convinced that justice has failed us. However, determining the period of incarceration is not as clear cut as many people might think, as the courts have to take a variety of factors into consideration before handing down sentence. Sentencing is considered the primary prerogative of trial courts and they enjoy wide discretion to determine the type and severity of a sentence on a case-by-case basis.

In doing so, they follow judge-made, broad sentencing principles known as the “triad of Zinn”. The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in S v Zinn 1969 (2) SA 537 (A) on p540G held that “what has to be considered is the triad consisting of the crime, the offender and the interests of society”. This dictum became trite law. Yet, in order for the court to direct itself properly, the different elements of the triad need to be in balance (also refer to S v Isaacs 2002 (1) SACR 176 (CPD) as published in Pollex in Servamus: April 2002). Once the opposite is found, the sentence will be overturned on appeal (Van der Merwe, 2015). Snyman (2008) informs us that the theories of punishment are retributive; preventive; deterring; and reformative.

The triad of Zinn requires that presiding officers (judges and magistrates) need to consider three things when making sentencing determinations, namely the gravity or seriousness of the offence, the circumstances of the offender as well as public interest. These factors must be considered equally and one should not be relied upon more heavily than the others (Goitom, 2014). Three of these factors will be discussed individually in this article.

The gravity or seriousness of the offence
In deciding on the sentence, the court will look at the severity of the offence and its impact and explore various aggravating and mitigating factors. If violent crimes have been committed, the court will consider factors including the extent of the violence, the types of weapons used, the brutality of the attack and the extent to which the victims were harmed. In the case of Henri van Breda (refer to the crime series published in Servamus: November 2018 to January 2019), the accused was found guilty of a very violent crime as he had attacked and murdered three of his four family members with an axe, which the court considered a very cruel way to kill. It also did it count in Van Breda's favour that he was found guilty of planning the attack and faking a crime scene to avoid his own arrest (Grobler, 2018).

The offender’s circumstances
A court needs to consider an accused’s personal circumstances during sentencing. Goitom (2014) explains that the sentence could be aggravated by a number of factors, including whether the person is a repeat offender; had a morally unacceptable motive to commit the crime such as greed; lacks remorse; committed the offence by abusing a position of trust; or is a professional criminal. In the category of factors in mitigation of sentence, the most effective one is diminished capacity, in addition to factors such as age, employment status, health status and being a first offender, which may also contribute to a reduced sentence. Other factors that may extenuate a sentence include having dependents, gainful employment, positive motive (for example a mercy killing), diminished intelligence, lack of planning, having remorse, a guilty plea and a belief in witchcraft and/or religion.

In the Van Breda case referred to above, the accused had no previous convictions or arrests and he was only 20 years old at the time when he committed the offences. He also suffered from depression, anxiety and myoclonic epilepsy. A social worker found that he was very emotional about the deaths of his parents and brother, but according to the State, he did not show any sympathy towards his sister who had lost her entire family. His legal representatives argued that he could not show remorse for something he maintains he didn't do (Grobler, 2018).

Public interest
The courts reflect on the type of sentence which will best serve the community, whether the sentence needs to stop a criminal from committing more crimes, whether rehabilitation is possible and whether the sentence will serve as a deterrent to others. Despite the public's strong feelings and opinions, factors relating to the danger posed by the accused and whether a long period of incarceration will protect the community, or that the offence is so severe that an increased punishment is necessary to serve as a warning to others, are important to consider (Grobler, 2018). The case of Victor Kwenda (S v [Victor] Kwenda (682/2018) [2019] ZASCA 133 (17 September 2019) (SCA)) is one of those that served as a warning to others. He committed fraud totalling R4.9 million over a period of time and was sentenced to 20 years’ incarceration after he had pleaded guilty and shown remorse for his actions. The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) however rejected his remorse and ruled that the sentence had to serve as a warning to others involved in or potentially engaging in fraud. The reason for this judgment was further motivated by the fact that Kwenda was employed in the education and training sector and that the funds he had stolen were intended for beneficiaries of the organisation for which he worked. Paragraph [1] of the SCA judgment, inter alia, states that: “... about 200 youths from disadvantaged backgrounds were robbed of education and apprenticeship opportunities which would have enabled them to uplift themselves in society.” In this same paragraph [1] the court further referred to fraud as “a cancer that was crippling our country”. However, when sentencing is considered, it is important to also take the economic and social cost of a long sentence of incarceration into consideration (see more below).


[This is only an extract of an article published in Servamus: April 2020 from pp 24-29. The rest of the article notes how the courts’ discretion is limited and provides the details as to what minimum sentences are prescribed for serious crimes and lastly whether such minimum sentencing is indeed the answer to our high crime problem. If you are interested in reading the rest of this comprehensive article, send an e-mail to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  to find out how. Ed.]

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Servamus - September 2020

When crimes are committed, the first thing criminals want to do is to get rid of the evidence that would link them to that crime.
By Kotie Geldenhuys
When Albert du Preez Myburgh abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered his close friend's eight-year-old daughter in May 1999, he did not realise that bugs would play a role in his conviction and sentence.
By Kotie Geldenhuys
When Sinja Robin Mabitsela and Josias Xaniseka Mkansi (also known as the Alexandra Balaclava serial rapists) started their raping spree, they did not realise that their DNA would be their downfall.
By Kotie Geldenhuys
Imagine how challenging it must be for scientists to identify a victim when only skeleton remains are available… now imagine how much bigger this challenge becomes for forensic anthropologists when only burnt skeleton remains are available and they have to identify these bones.
By Kotie Geldenhuys

Pollex - September 2020

In Servamus: July 2020, Pollex published a legal quiz regarding the current/recent state of disaster. Please refer to that issue for the questions.

Letters - September 2020

The current COVID-19 pandemic which has affected many and claimed the lives of so many, is still continuing to be a global threat for which there is no cure.
Const Kwayo Louw (23), a policeman from Kraaifontein, was recently commended by the Western Cape Minister of Community Safety, Albert Fritz for his exemplary contribution towards his community in Kraaifontein.
Retired W/O Sham Singh, the first Indian Station Commander of Lenasia, celebrated his 80th birthday on 9 July 2020. A milestone birthday for anyone and it was even posted on Facebook.
September Magazine Cover

Servamus' Mission

Servamus is a community-based safety and security magazine for both members of the community as well as safety and security practitioners with the aim of increasing knowledge and sharing information, dedicated to improving their expertise, professionalism and service delivery standards. It promotes sound crime management practices, freedom of speech, education, training, information sharing and a networking platform.