The tragedy should never have happened as the suspect is a repeat offender and should have been behind bars.
Wiehan Botes, Rita Botes, Wiets Botes
It took five years for Rita Botes to fall pregnant after a miscarriage of twins, and several unsuccessful attempts at artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilisation. When her and husband Wiets heard that they were expecting a little boy, conceived naturally, they were overjoyed.
The arrival of baby Wiehan last December was a blessing and a miracle for the couple. For five short months, they lived the life they had always dreamt of having with their bundle of joy completing their family. Wednesday morning, May 23, 2012 started like any other week day for the Botes family. Rita dropped Wiehan off at his day care mother, 66-year-old Margrietha de Groede, who had been caring for Wiehan for two weeks, along with an 18-month-old girl, Reane Visser. At around 07h30, Rita arrived at Margrietha’s house and kissed her son goodbye, not knowing she would never see him alive again.
When Rita arrived to fetch Wiehan later that morning, she found the gate to the property unlocked, which it had never been before. “I rang the bell but no one answered,” says Rita. “I thought Margrietha had maybe taken Wiehan and Reane for a walk, so I drove up the road but couldn’t find them. I returned to the house and, through the window, I saw Reane sleeping in one of the rooms. My first thought was that Margrietha had had a stroke or a heart attack. I broke the window and climbed through it. I picked up Reane and started looking for Wiehan. His nappy bag was still there but he was nowhere to be found. By that stage, members of the Neighbourhood Watch had arrived and were helping me look for him. I went outside and saw Margrietha’s car was in the garage. I went into the outside store room and climbed over a carpet that had been rolled up, thinking maybe he was behind it, but he wasn’t there either.”
The police were called and, after a half-an-hour search, they found a heart-wrenching sight. Hidden under the bed in the bedroom was Wiehan. He had been strangled and was still clutching his favourite blue bunny. An hour later, Margrietha was found wrapped in the carpet Rita had stumbled over in the outside store room. Judging from her wounds, police said she fought her attacker and suffered a number of violent blows to her body before dying from strangulation. It’s believed the killer took Margrietha’s life before killing Wiehan.
“According to the police, the murders took place at about 11h00, which is the same time Wiehan was supposed to be fed. I think he was hungry and was probably crying, which is why they killed him,” says Rita. Police launched a manhunt to find the killer(s), while the Botes family turned to private investigator Mike Bolhuis of Specialist Investigators into Serious Violent and Serious Economic Crimes (SSS). Bolhuis immediately focussed his attention on finding 28-year-old Themba Ephraim Mahlangu, who worked as Margrietha’s gardener, after hearing the two allegedly had an altercation over money just days before and that Mahlangu, who police have not issued a warrant of arrest for, could possibly have information that could help solve the case.
Bolhuis, who has offered his services to the Botes family free of charge, says: “On the morning of the murders the gardening tools were found left out in the garden (indicating he had arrived for work on the day of the murders), and the following day, he never arrived at work. He also has a history of violence. Mahlangu was previously found guilty of assault with the purpose to inflict grievous bodily, two burglaries and one account of malicious damage to property. These criminal activities make him a known criminal and repeat offender. It is our opinion that he should have been in jail for these crimes, yet he was allowed to walk a free man.”
Bolhuis explains that police have arrested other suspects believed to be linked to the case. “Two men – Enock Mbele, 44, and Lazarus Mabhena, 54 – were arrested on May 31 in Daveyton after the police found them in possession of a red bag, which had belonged to Margrietha,” says Bolhuis. “Inside the bag they discovered Margrietha’s jewellery, as well as her sim card inside one of their phones. A green jacket covered in blood was also found in the bag. A third suspect was arrested at a later stage – Fernandos Maritse, 27, a Mozambican citizen found to be in possession of Margrietha’s cellphone.”
All three suspects appeared in the Delmas Magistrate’s Court and were released on R1 000 bail each after the charges of murder were withdrawn against them. They will still be charged with theft and the possession of stolen goods and as such will still be involved in the investigation, either as suspects or as witnesses. The trio is expected to appear in court again later this month. Bolhuis is appealing to the public to help find Mhlangu, who he believes is hiding in Mpumalanga or Gauteng.
“He could, however, be anywhere in South Africa. His information has been circulated to all police and authorities throughout South Africa. The police tracked him to an informal settlement in Mpumalanga, but he escaped. He has also been sighted in Daveyton, Witbank and the Groblersdal area. The police raided an initiation school but established the owner had chased him away when it was discovered that he was a suspected murderer. I do, however, believe justice will prevail in this case. It is just a matter of time.” While Bolhuis and his team continue their investigation, Rita and Wiets say nothing will ever be able to bring their baby back and the pain of his loss is something they will carry with them forever.
Last month Rita lodged a complaint with the government of South Africa ‘because it does not take crime in SA seriously enough’. “We requested the government consider establishing a unit within the police that deals specifically with serious violent crimes committed against young children. While the police say they are following up leads in my son’s case, there are so many murder cases that I believe they cannot give sufficient attention to Wiehan’s murder. His case, like so many others, has ‘fallen through the cracks’.”
Mpumalanga police spokesman Leonard Hlathi confirmed that police were hunting ‘a suspect’ who was still at large, but said no arrest warrant had been issued. People with information on the whereabouts of Themba Ephraim Mahlangu can contact Mike Bolhuis 082 477 6116, or Vincent Harris 082 673 1830, the prime murder investigator of SSS.
Rita is a member of The Worst Club In The World, an online support group for people who have suffered the worst loss one could encounter – the passing of a child. For more information on the Club, log onto theworstclubintheworld.org.
Rita Botes, Wiets Botes, Wiehan Botes, Margrietha de Groede, murder