On a Saturday night, around 8pm, while you sit down to a meal with your family or catch a movie; something goes off in the mind of a killer. Something unknown, something fatal, something that eats at him so much that it perhaps is what drives him to kill those he holds dear to him.
A study, released this week by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), delved deep and found that an increasing number of family deaths occurred late at night out of the public eye. The study aims to contextualise what actually goes down in the mind of a family murderer, what it is that pushes someone to the edge, that they kill their own family.
In the space of 10 years, 456 cases have been reported. The toll has increased from about 25 cases in 1999 to more than 60 occurrences at the end of last year.
There have been five family murders reported this week alone, with 12 people killed.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, a police constable in Limpopo shot his girlfriend before turning the gun on himself.
Later that day, an Mpumalanga couple were shot dead by the woman's ex-lover, who then tried to commit suicide. The man later died in hospital.
On Monday, a man stabbed his wife to death after slitting her mother's throat in front of her.
In Westonaria on Tuesday, a 27-year-old man threw himself and his 1-year-old daughter in front of an oncoming train.
A day later, a senior advocate of the Mmabatho High Court killed his former live-in-lover of 10 years and her new partner. He then committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest.
Pretoria-based criminologist Irma Labuschagne blames unemployment, depression, jealousy, a patriarchal society, and alcohol and drug abuse.
In extreme cases, it is spitefulness.
"Some fathers kill their kids to get back at a cheating partner, as a way of getting their own back," she said.
A Gender-Based Violence Programme researcher at the CSVR, Collet Ngwane, said the high "intimate femicide" rate was an indictment of a deeply patriarchal society or of men who are jealous. One woman is killed by her partner every six hours in SA – yet less than a third of men who kill their wives or girlfriends are convicted of murder. Nearly 70 percent escape punishment because of a lack of evidence or because most cases result in suicide.
In this week's five incidents, only one of the perpetrators is still alive: three committed suicide and one died while in hospital after being shot by a police officer when he tried to grab his pistol. He had previously shot himself in an arm in a bid to kill himself.
Three of this week's cases involved a firearm – an increasingly common weapon of choice. Ngwane believes this is due either to the easy accessibility of firearms or possibly that an increasing number of perpetrators are policemen.
Ngwane said 52 percent of recent cases were linked to a firearm and one in every 13 of these involved a member of the SAPS. Two of this week's cases involved a police officer.
About half of the victims are unemployed and thus dependent on the man in the house. When the man loses his job, he feels he has let his family down. Labuschagne said "This is because the man has lost all hope of anything good to come".
In other cases it was because he saw his family as a part of himself, so they should suffer too.
Ngwane said "This is unfair, because most of the time, families suffer for something they possibly had no influence over whatsoever."
In the past, a very small minority killed their partners and children for some kind of financial gain. That has changed and is proving to be the motive for more and more killings these days.
In the killing of Pretoria hospital matron Antoinette Botha, who was bludgeoned to death in her home last month, the alleged killers stood to gain R2-million in insurance payouts.
Botha's alleged killers included a 21-year-old man, a relative who could not be named, and a sangoma.
Labuschagne said "It's amazing to see how many of these murders are linked to witchdoctors, who at times are the ones who planted the seed of the murder."
Originally published on page 5 of The Star on July 12, 2008