'Greedy’ gardener killed gran who trusted him

Rajani Devi Reuben-Murray. Picture: Supplied

Rajani Devi Reuben-Murray. Picture: Supplied

Published May 26, 2024


"The very same hands that she gave to, were the very same hands that silenced her…”

Those were the chilling words with which Durban High Court Judge Makhosi Hadebe handed down a life sentence to Siviwe Magugu, 37, for the murder of Rajani Devi Reuben-Murray in September 2022.

On Friday, Judge Hadebe said Magugu’s actions were “solely propelled by greed.”

He was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder and 15 years imprisonment for robbery.

Reuben-Murray, 67, was found gagged and strangled in her Foresthaven home, by her son, Vickranth Reuben-Murray, on September 9, 2022.

She had hired Magugu as a gardener for a few weeks before she was killed.

He was nabbed by police after surveillance footage captured him struggling to carry Reuben-Murray’s television, which he had wrapped in a sheet and black bag with appliances, shoes and jewellery.

A second accused, Menolan Naidoo, of Goodhaven, in Phoenix, was also arrested for the murder. He turned State witness and the charges against him were dropped.

Judge Hadebe said the offence Magugu committed deserved a lengthy term of imprisonment.

She said he had shown no remorse during the trial.

“Is it possible for someone to be remorseful in such a case? Where you kill someone and do not own up. Do not admit it because you do not want to go to jail. You deny it. What kind of remorse is that?” Judge Hadebe asked.

Magugu’s defence layer, advocate Sabela Mlungisi, argued that he was still young and could be rehabilitated.

But the said: “Must the court send him back to the same society he scoffs at? The deceased had no obligation to offer him food or give him a job. He used the same access to kill a 67-year-old. Why should he be let back into that same society?” Judge Hadebe said.

State prosecutor, advocate Gugu Xulu, said: “The accused was trusted by the deceased and her son. He took that trust for granted. He bit the hand that was feeding him. He told the court that he had a good relationship with the deceased but it did not stop him from attacking and killing her. He kept denying it, causing the family to relive the traumatic way in which the deceased died. Vickranth found the deceased in the state she was in after the murder.”

Xulu added that Vickranth would never recover from finding his mother dead.

Judge Hadede said from the evidence it was clear that the motive that propelled the accused to kill the deceased was that he was unhappy with what she was paying him.

“Even though the deceased kindly sourced more employment for the accused from her son, she died for being kind and giving and opening her home to a stranger and treating him as family. I have considered the victim impact statements submitted by three children of the deceased. The pain coming out of this is raw,” she added.

She said the court believed every word penned by them.

“Their loss is obvious. The deceased can never be replaced. The deceased was obviously the holding centre of this family and this centre has been caused to collapse by the actions of the accused. Who do the children go to after the murder of their mother? What is sad to note is that lightning has struck twice in this family. Even the head of this household suffered the same fate of being murdered,” Judge Hadebe added.

Reuben-Murray’s husband, Anand Reuben-Murray, was murdered during the riots in 1985.

Hadebe said members of the community and the children of the deceased looked to the courts for protection.

Magugu, she said, could not be considered so young that he did not know how to distinguish between right and wrong, or the consequences of his actions.

“He had the ability to earn a living. He has embraced the life of an adult, binging on liquor. He stays with a partner and has a child. He can’t be young. His actions were calculated and brazen. He killed the deceased, looted her house and paraded around her residence with his award. Should he be allowed to benefit from these cold-blooded actions and gain his freedom?” she said.

Judge Hadebe added that the court was still in the dark as to how the State had benefited from dropping the charges against Menolan Naidoo.

“He came here, took himself out of the scene and took advantage of the failure of justice. It is sad to note that in this case, the failure of justice did not end with the police. It spilled over to the State and the defence. Wrangling between the two led to them ending up with no confessions being made. In the court's mind, this is an indictment on the administration of justice and it has been frowned upon,” she said.

In the minds of the public, Judge Hadebe said such instances tainted the administration of justice.

“The public looks up to the courts for justice. If they take the law into their own hands, they get prosecuted. If they let the law take its course, then this bungling happens,” she added.

Judge Hadebe said Magugu’s actions were barbaric and the courts were urged not to tolerate these kinds of actions.

“You targeted the deceased person of a weaker sex. You knew she was vulnerable and ill, and you knew that she was alone at home. Even if she did not have an appointment with you, she would still feed you. You returned her favours by killing her in the most gruesome way,” Judge Hadebe told Magugu when she handed down the sentence.

Speaking to the POST after the sentencing, Reuben-Murray’s son, Satvir Reuben-Murray, said the grief his family had endured was indescribable.

“Simple daily tasks have become monumental challenges without our mum’s presence,” he added.

He said his family was relieved and satisfied with the court's verdict and sentencing, and that justice had been served.

“We firmly believe that our beloved mother's guidance and presence were with us throughout this challenging trial, and we feel her spiritual influence in the outcome.