Pretoria – Abram Sello Mapunya, the Pretoria serial rapist who received one of South Africa’s harshest sentences, was “so comfortable” upon being arrested.
Sergeant Catherine Tladi, the officer instrumental in bringing Mapunya to book recalled: “He looked so innocent. He even had me wondering whether we had the right guy. But he is a psycho man. He is sick… very dangerous.”
Tladi was not only the investigating officer in his case and one of the driving factors behind Mapunya spending five life terms and 988 years in jail, but she was also the rock to which his many victims clung following their ordeal and during his high court trial.
Mapunya, 41, started his rape and robbery spree in 2014 – mainly in Mamelodi, Atteridgeville, Olievenhoutbosch and Nelmapius, where he stayed with his girlfriend.
For nearly five years he would leave her sleeping at night, none the wiser, between 2am and 4am to go and rape and plunder. More than 50 victims could not identify him because they never saw his face.
But he left his DNA behind and he made the vital mistake of giving his girlfriend one of the cellphones which he had stolen from a victim.
This led to his arrest on March 20, 2019 while in a shop in Bloed Street in the Pretoria CBD.
Tladi was not there at the time, but she said the cellphone was traced through police investigations to Mapunya’s girlfriend. She said he gave it to her, and took the SAPS to where he was.
Another phone which was stolen during a house robbery a few hours before his arrest, was also found in his possession, as well as several SIM cards belonging to some of the victims.
Tladi laid her eyes on the man they had been hunting for years shortly afterwards. “This guy was so comfortable talking to me. He looked so innocent… so innocent. He kept on denying any wrongdoing.
“I kept on asking myself ’Could it be him? What if we do not have the right person?’
“At that time we did not have any DNA. For me, DNA and fingerprints sealed it all. I rely on it, but it was a long nine-day wait before we got the results.
“Meanwhile, I was wondering whether we arrested the wrong person as he just kept on denying everything, and he was so convincing. You will not believe how innocent he looked.”
Tladi said he mostly spoke to her in his home language, Sepedi. “I made him relax because I felt if it is really him, he must tell us, because there was no way that if DNA came back positive, he could deny 56 dockets to say he did not rape.
“When the DNA came back and both swabs confirmed it was him, he still denied. In fact, denied until last week in court.”
Mapunya initially pleaded not guilty to 101 charges, many of them rape, before Judge Papi Mosopa. However, he made an about turn after some of the victims started testifying, and when he realised that he could no longer deny the DNA evidence.
He then pleaded guilty and and confessed in a statement to court that he went on a raping and robbing spree. However, he never took the stand to testify in mitigation of sentence.
He received his hefty sentence last week, when he gave the judge the middle finger.
Tladi said he was difficult from the start. “We found Sello to be very stubborn and without remorse. He was so rude and always wanted his way. I feel he is an angry broken man who needs help emotionally.
“He could only relate to anyone who spoke Sepedi and he refused to speak English, unless you agreed with him.”
Tladi said it was a long and difficult road which led to his arrest.
While they tried to trace all the victims, they could not, as some had relocated and their contact details had changed.
But she said an amazing bond developed between her and the victims who were found. “Once you met them and see the pain in their eyes, there was no stopping until we had scored a victory for them.
“Their pain and brokenness makes you feel uncomfortable. Some victims did not want to open up; we pursue them with love and understanding…
“All they need is the assurance and affirmation that they are doing the right thing.”
The bond between Tladi and her victims was clear in court. As the judge spoke the last word in sending the neatly dressed Mapunya to jail forever, Tladi and the victims exchanged hugs, with tears of joy and relief running down their cheeks.
“What a relief it was to finally conclude this case… We all went through a lot of stress because of the kind of accused we were dealing with. All the joy was for our victims and for the communities. It is so fulfilling.”
Tladi said it was sad that South Africa was known as a rape centre. “We have so many broken women out there who fear speaking out.”
But South Africa has dedicated and compassionate police officers such as Tladi. She is extremely humble and although all her arrests and hard work do not always make the front pages, she vowed to continue to try and make the country a safer place.
“I really want people to know that as SAPS, we are still dedicated to our work. We want to make a difference. We are honest. We do our work without bribery and are committed to ensure justice is served.”