Bringing Betty Home

Devi Sankaree Govender
By Devi Sankaree Govender | Follow @Devi_HQ
Devi Sankaree Govender is an award-winning investigative journalist who has spent the past 24 years working in the media, starting out on radio and later turning to print and television. Devi, an MBA graduate, joined Carte Blanche in 2002 and often finds herself in the middle of life-threatening situations. She has ga [...] See full profile

There are many things about the day I first met Betty Ketani’s family in Queenstown I won’t forget.  It was the 4th of June 2014 and the wind was  demonic and unrelenting, rousing up litter and eerily howling its way into the little house where I sat talking to three young people, each with tears running down their faces.

Their mother was Betty Ketani.  Was.

Lusanda was just seven months old when her mother disappeared.  The hurt of never knowing her mother is carved into her young face.  Betty’s eldest son, Thulani stares vacantly through the window while Bulelwa (Betty’s eldest daughter) talks about all the unanswered questions they have, beginning with why their mother was murdered.

Betty’s older brother, Mankinki Kula is the family patriarch.  He has been taking care of Betty’s children since she vanished.  He grieves about the fact that his mother passed away a few years earlier, not knowing what had happened to her daughter.  He says Betty’s children are good.  The youngest is still at school and the elder two were contributing to the family by doing part-time work.

Mankinki is consumed with guilt – Betty’s spirit is not resting in peace.  There is no body to bury.  But there are just six tiny bones.  Three of which were used in DNA testing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, positively identifying Betty.

When we part that afternoon, Mankinki holds my hand tightly and says he hopes to see me in Johannesburg soon because he has promised Betty’s spirit that the family will fetch her and bring her home.

I don’t dwell on this too much.  Instead, for weeks, I’m consumed by the picture I have in my head of the family waving us off, outside their small RDP home – huddled together from the wind and their tragic, unexplained loss.

A lot happens before I do see the Ketani family again.  On the 13th of May 2016 Carrington Laughton, who wrote the confession letter was sentenced to 30 years in jail for the murder of Betty Ketani.  His co-accused, two policemen, David and Carel Ranger received lighter sentences.  The State is congratulated for putting up a strong case, despite the deep pockets of the accused, and South Africa moves on to its next court drama.

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Then, last Wednesday, Betty’s family travelled to Johannesburg to fetch her spirit.

Eight family members, including Betty’s children, had made the 10 hour journey from Queenstown the day before, their car pulling a trailer that carried Betty’s coffin.  Something about those Eastern Cape number plates also tugged at my heart.

We travelled in convoy to the plot in Kliprivier, south of Johannesburg, where Betty died inside an old bus.  Mankinki retrieved a small branch from inside the coffin, taken from a special tree.  He explained to me that Betty’s spirit would climb onto this branch and that was how they would take her home.

It was a short ceremony.  Betty’s coffin was neatly laid out with her clothes, as if she lay there, and then the family, standing in a line, facing the bus, begged Betty’s spirit to join them.

Betty Ketani

It was one of the saddest moments I have ever witnessed.  Lead by Mankinki, the family spoke aloud to Betty, explaining why they were not able to fetch her earlier and that they were sorry she died without any one of them there to comfort her.

Watching from the edges was Gerhard van Wyk, the police detective who worked like a Trojan to fit the many pieces of the puzzle together.  A large, tall man, he too had tears in his eyes.

Betty’s coffin was loaded onto the trailer and we travelled to Leo Street in Kenilworth where Betty’s body was originally buried under concrete but three years later exhumed by the accused and her remains disposed of.  It is in the back of this Leo Street home where those six tiny bones from her feet were later found by police.

Betty Ketani

Betty’s family talk to her spirit, explaining why they are here.  They dig up some soil from the back yard of this home and place it in her coffin.  Again, they ask Betty’s spirit to come home with them.

Betty Ketani

The coffin is closed for the last time and loaded onto the back of the trailer.

As the Ketani’s leave I find myself speaking to Betty’s spirit in my mind.  I tell her that we still don’t know why she was murdered.  I tell her I’m sorry for the unspeakable suffering she had to endure.

But, I also tell Betty that she is lucky.  Lucky, that she had people like EWN’s Alex Eliseev (who broke the story and stuck with it), Herman Broodryk (lead prosecutor who wouldn’t let go of this cold case), detective Gerhard van Wyk and many others who didn’t rest till they had solved her murder.

I tell Betty that most murders in South Africa are not solved and that many families don’t even know where to find the spirit of their loved ones.

I tell Betty I am glad her family found her spirit and if she comes across any of those other lost spirits, to tell them to please go home too.  Finally, I tell Betty that I so hope she can finally rest in peace.

Betty Ketani