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Yes, two South African fathers who accidentally shot sons got different sentences

The tragic story of two South African fathers, one black and one white, is shared in a 17 September 2019 Facebook post.

It shows two screenshots of News24 reports, below emojis of the South African flag and a person tossing rubbish in a bin.

In the first screenshot, a black man is seen sitting with his face in his hands, above the headline: “Father who accidentally shot, killed son gets 10 years.”

The text reads: “An Ennerdale father, who claimed that he had shot his son accidentally when he was startled by a knock on his car window, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, which was suspended for five years.”

The headline in the second screenshot reads: “Dad who killed son after mistaking him for a burglar freed after murder conviction.”

It shows a white man hugging another, below the text: “A 51-year old man from Vanderbijlpark who mistook his son for a burglar and shot him dead, has been released on a warning and will serve no jail time.”

The post and its screenshots have been flagged as possibly false by Facebook’s fact-checking system. Are these real News24 reports of two different sentences for the same act?

Screenshots of real news reports

Both stories were published on News24. The “Ennerdale father” is named as Sibusiso Emanuel Tshabalala, and the “Vanderbijlpark father” as Coert Kruger.

But in the report on Tshabalala, dated 4 June 2019, the phrase “gets 10 years” in the headline has been changed to “gets suspended sentence”. The article’s URL still has the words “gets 10 years”.

The report on Kruger, dated 16 September 2019, appears unaltered.

There are many other credible media reports on the cases of both Tshabalala and Kruger.

Ennerdale dad gets 10-year suspended sentence

On 5 June 2018 Tshabalala mistakenly shot and killed his 16 year old son Luyanda in the parking lot of the Fred Norman Secondary School in Ennerdale, Gauteng province.

Tshabalala faced a murder charge after what he said was a freak accident. Luyanda attended evening classes and his dad came to pick him up. Tired from working at a construction site, Tshabalala fell asleep in the car while waiting for his child. 

The father was frightened by a knock on the passenger’s side window. He mistook his son for a hijacker and fired the gun into his direction. Tshabalala was initially released on a warning, before facing a charge of culpable homicide.

On 4 June 2019, he received a 10-year prison sentence, suspended for five years, at the Lenasia Magistrate Court in Gauteng. This means he was found guilty but would only go to prison for 10 years if he commits the same crime in the next five years.

Vanderbijlpark dad will serve no prison time

On 22 March 2019 Coert Kruger’s son, Coert Jr, allegedly broke into the Kruger property in Vanderbijlpark, also in Gauteng. 

The alarm went off and with a private security company, Kruger went to investigate. While the security officers went inside the house, he waited outside and saw a figure on top of the house. He fired a shot in the general direction of the figure on the roof. That figure was his son.

Senior prosecutor Andre Coetzee from the Vanderbijlpark Magistrate’s Court told Africa Check that in September 2019 Coert Kruger “was convicted of murder and the sentence was of caution and discharge”. 

This means he was convicted but released on a warning. He will not serve any prison time.

Why the different sentences?

Both Tshabalala and Kruger accidentally shot their sons dead, thinking they were criminals. Neither of them is currently in jail. 

We asked an expert to comment on the two cases. 

Stephan Terblanche is a professor in the department of criminal and procedural law at the University of South Africa. He told Africa Check there were a few possible reasons for the two different sentences. 

Terblanche said it would be impossible to comment on each sentence without taking a closer look at the court's judgement on sentencing in each of the cases. 

The court’s judgement includes the reasons for sentencing and is the only source that can be used to compare cases. 

“Reactions based on a simplistic view of a sentence, based on just a few facts, are unlikely to get anywhere close to the truth or to be fair comment,” Terblanche said.

Surrounding circumstances

Even though some facts of the two cases might be similar, he said, the law demanded “a proper assessment of all the surrounding circumstances, especially as to whether any of these circumstances affected the seriousness of the crime and the extent to which the offender is to blame for the crime and its consequences”. 

Another factor the courts take into account is the offender. “A court should not unfairly discriminate between people, especially not based on factors prohibited by the constitution, such as the person’s race or origin,” Terblanche said.

Again, the court’s judgement states which factors were taken into account and how the court weighed each of them. 

Yes, it is true that the two fathers received a different sentence for crimes that look similar. But Terblanche highlighted that the “practical outcome of a totally suspended sentence and of a warning is the same in at least one important respect – neither of the sentenced persons will go to prison, but both will leave the court a free man”. – Eileen Jahn


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