Hillary Gardee, daughter of Godrich Gardee who is a senior member and former secretary-general of the Economic Freedom Fighters, went missing in a supermarket last month. She was last seen alive at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, April 29th, while she was with her three-year-old adoptive daughter. Her family reported her missing when she failed to come home over the weekend. A day after the kidnapping, Hillary’s adoptive daughter was discovered. Hillary’s body was found on Tuesday, four days after she went missing. Her body was discovered 500 meters from the R32 road that connects Mbombela and Sabie.
She was studying computer science at the University of South Africa. Hillary was regarded as an eager, friendly, and caring person. The circumstances surrounding the disappearance and murder of Gardee remain mostly unclear. Gardee was kidnapped at the Nelspruit Plaza Spar, about six kilometers from her house, where she lived with her brother and a three-year-old adopted daughter. The first police statement reportedly stated that Gardee had suffered head injuries and bruises on her body. However, they have since established that she was shot in the upper body.
She was laid to rest at Kamagugu Township in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga on Saturday, May 7th. Godrich Gardee, former secretary-general of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), claimed his daughter was a warrior who battled until she died. Gardee stated that the manner in which his daughter’s body was discovered reminded him of how powerful and daring Hillary was. Gardee told the mourners that he discovered his daughter bleeding from the nose, with boot prints on her chest and stab wounds on her breasts.
Police were able to link three individuals to the savage murder of Hillary Gardee after a confession statement and bloodied shoes at a guesthouse.
“We are cracking this case and we are there. We are doing what is right and we are going to be getting all the information to ensure that more arrests will be made possible. The verification of information is precise and we are sure of what we are doing. The suspect right now that we have in our hands is the correct suspect,” stated Provincial Commissioner Lieutenant General, Semakaleng Manamela.
One of the suspects, Sipho Mkhatshwa, collapsed and confessed to police about Hillary’s murder, according to a source close to the investigation. A multidisciplinary task force searched a guesthouse in Mbombela just after 7 p.m. on Friday, looking for forensic evidence. The breakthrough came exactly 72 hours after police launched an action plan to find the killer.
On Saturday night, another two individuals were apprehended, according to police spokesperson Donald Mdhluli.
According to a witness, authorities believe Hillary Gardee was murdered at the guesthouse before her corpse was driven out and discarded on Sabie Road.
It has been revealed that one of those detained in connection with Hillary Gardee’s murder works in Mpumalanga’s Office of the Chief Whip. The suspect is identified as Philemon Lukhele, who is also a member of the ruling party.
“The senseless killing of Hillary, the young lady with such a bright future ahead of her, has once again shown the level of cruelty perpetrated against women. We want to take this opportunity to appreciate the unity and ability shown by the people of Mpumalanga and South Africa to put aside all their political differences and confront this pandemic of gender-based violence,” said a member of the Mpumalanga office.
The ANC member accused of murdering Hillary Gardee has had his membership revoked. According to the ANC, their investigation reveals that Lukhele got his membership inequitably. According to the party, Lukhele is not a South African citizen and so cannot be a member.
The Mpumalanga ANC spokesperson, Ngelosi Ndhlovu, declared in a statement, “Following the arrest of Mr. Philemon Lukhele and his subsequent charging for kidnapping, rape, possession of an illegal firearm, defeating the ends of justice and the murder of Ms. Hillary Gardee, the ANC provincial working committee has taken a decision to immediately withdraw his membership. The withdrawal of his membership has been invoked in accordance with the ANC Constitution Rule 4.”
Ndhlovu also added that “After an investigation into his membership was conducted, which proved that it was obtained irregularly, and therefore does not satisfy the stipulated requirements of the ANC Constitution, in that he is not a South African,”
The charge sheet details how Hillary Gardee was coerced into a car with a three-year-old child she was with at a local supermarket on April 29th. According to the court documents, she was raped and subsequently killed less than 5 kilometers from the Nelspruit Plaza, where she was last seen.
On Monday, May 9th, three men appeared in the Nelspruit Magistrate’s Court in connection with the murder of the 28-year-old. They withdrew their bail application on Monday and will appear in court on June 9th. An Eswatini-born civil servant-turned-politician and the adopted son of a prominent politician were charged in connection with the death of Hillary.
The suspects accused of killing Hillary Gardee were reportedly preparing for her murder since January, according to court documents. The charge sheet reveals that the accused, Sipho Mkhatshwa, Philemon Lukhele, and Albert Gama, reportedly planned to murder Gardee between January 22 and April 28.
The family spokesperson, Sinawo Thambo, says the family will not easily find closure. “We must be able to commend and compliment and applaud the hard work that the police have been doing. We are going to let the law run its course. But I must convey one message to the public which the father of the late Hillary Gardee has, that he would have loved to have had one opportunity to speak, even if it was to speak through the holding cell or speak through a window and ask this individual why he killed their daughter. “
Gardee’s barbaric murder is a painful reminder of how very little has changed for women and children in South Africa. The death toll continues to rise.
According to the most recent crime data in South Africa, 902 women were murdered in a period of three months, with 232 of these deaths being directly related to domestic abuse. During the same period, 11,315 rape instances were reported, averaging 123 incidents per day. While there was a 9% decline in sexual offenses, statistics sometimes do not reflect the true picture since such incidents are under-reported. According to Gorata Chengeta, a sexual violence researcher, gender-based violence does not occur in a vacuum, and statistics must be studied with other relevant data to understand its origins as well as the reasons for fluctuations in the number of incidents.