As the international community marks its annual 16 days of activism to end gender-based violence, judges are running out of words to describe the horrific cases of femicide that regularly come before them for trial. A case in point was recently heard by Namibia's high court and concerns the butchery of a woman by the man with whom she had been in a romantic relationship. From the remarks by the judge in this case, it seems the courts are 'exhausted' by the horror they see and struggle to find the right words for the 'barbarism' involved in the cases before them.
Every week I read scores of judicial decisions from all over the world. Many involve the rape or murder of women or children.
This week was no different.
Completely life-shattering for those involved, these trials are even painful for outsiders to read. As for the judges who must try such cases, you should hear the stress and frustration in their voices.
Domestic Violence Act
Take the trial and sentencing of Johny Diergaardt, 36, by Nate Ndauendapo, judge of the high court in Windhoek.
Judge Ndauendapo had convicted Diergaardt of murder, read with the provisions of the Combating of Domestic Violence Act.
Now the day for sentencing had arrived.
Perhaps the most unusual feature of the case was that Diergaardt actually seemed very sorry for what he had done – the judge made a point of mentioning this. Far too often the accused simply keeps quiet on this question or even claims he was justified.
Unmarried, Diergaardt was raised by his grandparents, and had never known his father. He had been in a relationship with Tiffany Lewin, the woman he murdered, and they had a child together.
The judge continued: ‘He does not feel well about what he did. The deceased was somebody he loved and who died at his hands. He is heartbroken, (he) hurt the family of the deceased very much and is asking for mercy. He loved the deceased very much and he wanted them to be together as a family.’
Convicting Diergaardt, the judge read from a notebook written by the accused as a letter to Tiffany. Much of what he wrote sounds like the justification of many men for crimes of violence against their intimate partners: ‘I know I am jealous but it is because I love you so much. I cannot imagine my life with anyone else. Please forgive me because I love you.’
But Tiffany Lewin had no opportunity to forgive him.
One evening in March 2014, she went to his room to collect things he had taken from her handbag earlier on that day. Jealous and angry, he attacked and stabbed her at least 27 times, using a number of knives from a box in his room.
Tiffany’s older sister told the court that Tiffany had ended their romantic relationship, because he was ‘a jealous person and (she) felt it was not worth continuing.’
Diergaardt said Tiffany was sometimes ‘difficult’. She drank too much, didn’t care for the children as he thought was appropriate – and she had other boyfriends.
He felt humiliated by her behaviour, he said.
On the day he killed her he found a ‘used condom wrapper’ in her handbag. When she arrived at his door later that evening, to collect her things, they began to quarrel.
He told the court that he ‘went blank’. When he ‘regained consciousness’, Tiffany was lying in a pool of blood.
The psychiatric reports requested by the court concluded that he did not suffer from temporary insanity or any psychiatric illness.
A neighbour who heard the woman screaming also heard her four-year-old son shouting, ‘Don’t stab my mother’. The neighbour ran out and found the little boy with a knife in his hand: he had stabbed Diergaardt in the leg, trying to protect his mother.
The neighbour saw Diergaardt standing over Tiffany’s body, stabbing her in the head with a knife that became stuck in her skull.
He ‘continued stabbing (Tiffany) as if she was an animal. The pain … must have been very profound,’ said the judge.
The actions of Diergaardt ‘towards another human being were simply beyond belief.’
‘The courts must send out a strong message that gender-based violence is totally unacceptable and (culprits) will be sentenced to very lengthy sentences.’
He continued: ‘Violence against women, the most vulnerable members of our society, continues unabated. The courts are trying their level best to impose severe sentences to send a clear message that murderers will be dealt with severely.’
Then he quoted from a South Africa case saying he agreed fully with it, ‘The vocabulary of our courts to describe (such) barbaric and repulsive conduct is being exhausted.’
Diergaardt got 35 years.
* 'A matter of justice', on the Legalbrief site, 26 November 2019