Three Court of Appeal judges on Friday upheld Francistown High Court Judge Terrence Rannowane’s ruling that 34-year-old Zibane Thamo should be hanged for killing his girlfriend in 2007.
The three, Justice Ian Kirby, J. McNally, and A. Howie found that, while there was no eye witness to the murder, all evidence pointed to the fact that Thamo killed his girlfriend, Sihle Dube, and tried to conceal his crime by dismembering her body, burning it with paraffin and burying her body parts in scattered locations.
Thamo and Sihle shared a single room at New Stands location in Francistown. He was unemployed, while she worked as a maid at a nearby suburb. On the evening of 21st April 2007 Sihle called Thamo to ask for permission to go out with a friend. He later came to collect her from the nearby bars.
That was the last time she was ever seen. The next morning, Thamo told their neighbour, Beauty, that he had fought with Sihle and that she had run away to her sisters’ place. Beauty told the court that Thamo later went to buy paraffin to burn some unwanted clothes, and that she saw a suspicious bloodstain on the burning clothes.
Thamo later went to Sihle’s employer, Veronica Onia, to report that she was missing. He was given P50 to go and look for her. Thamo continued to ignore requests to report that Sihle was missing. He told the police that Sihle’s parents, who were resident in South Africa, had confirmed that she was with them. This later proved to be untrue.
A month later, passersby discovered a human skull in a nearby bush, just next to Marang Hotel. A subsequent search by the police uncovered a gruesome murder, in which a woman’s body was dismembered, burnt and buried in several locations. They found the left side of a rib cage with an arm attached, the right side of a rib cage a few meters away, and a hand further away.
Thamo was arrested and brought to the scene of the crime. After initially denying any knowledge of the crime, he later became cooperative. He even led the police to where the rest of the dismembered body parts were buried. On further prodding, he took them to a nearby soccer field, where he dug out the pelvis and the legs.
During the trial, witnesses testified that Thamo and Sihle were in a stormy and abusive relationship. They narrated how at one point Thamo chased a naked Sihle out of their house and struck her down in front of everyone, and that he repeatedly threatened to kill her.
In defense, Thamo insisted that Sihle disappeared on him and never came back. He denied that the body parts that were discovered at the scene were Sihles’, adding that he was confused by the sequence of events on the day that he led the police to the body parts as he had been assaulted by the police. As far as he was concerned, Sihle was alive and well in South Africa.
“It was not me who led the police to the body parts. They are the ones who took me there,” he said.
Justice Rannowane later found that the case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence. He, however, convicted Thamo of murder.
In his appeal, Thamo argued that Rannowane erred when finding that there was proof that Sihle was dead. He argued that the state had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that it was him who had killed Sihle, and that there were no extenuating circumstances on the case.
But the three court of appeal judges found that circumstantial evidence can, in some cases, prove to be stronger than the direct evidence of a single witness, who is subject to the frailties of human weakness.
“The only reasonable hypothesis is that the victim was killed, and her body was destroyed and concealed to make discovery of her killer difficult, if not impossible,” they said.
While the deceased’s body was decomposed and destroyed to a point where she could not be easily identified, the judges found that the facts and the circumstances following the discovery of the corpse pointed to the fact that it was Sihle’s body.
“She vanished on April 21st.The braids that were found on the scene were similar to the ones she got four days before her disappearance. Her sister later discovered three distinguishing marks on the corpse, and she was the only woman who was reported missing during the period in question,” said the judges.