Maverick Citizen


Eight life sentences for rapist initially released due to DNA delays

Eight life sentences for rapist initially released due to DNA delays
Xolani Gcelu was sentenced to life imprisonment for a brutal spate of rapes between 2016 and 2019. (Image: Adobestock)

A determined police detective finally secured justice for eight rape survivors when their attacker was sentenced to life imprisonment last week.

It was a long and arduous quest for Detective Sergeant Ndileka Bokolo of the provincial head office of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit. Nationwide problems with the analysis of DNA led to her suspect initially being set free.

ndileka bokolo

Detective Sergeant Ndileka Bokolo. (Photo: Supplied)

Between 2016 and 2019, Xolani Gcelu attacked and raped eight young women despite knowing he was HIV positive.

Two of his victims subsequently died. One, who was still a schoolgoer, fell pregnant and had a child.

Gcelu was arrested in 2019. However, charges were provisionally withdrawn because of long backlogs in DNA testing. He was rearrested only in 2022.

His case was among more than 250,000 affected by the unavailability of forensic DNA services at police laboratories.


Last week, the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court in Mthatha sentenced 34-year-old Gcelu to eight life terms, tacking on 158 years imprisonment to run concurrently.

He had been charged with rape, kidnapping, robbery and attempted murder of young women between the ages of 17 and 26 in the neighbouring villages of Sidwadweni and Zandukwana near Tsolo in the Eastern Cape. 

The attempted murder charges were based on him having unprotected sex with his victims even though he knew he was HIV positive. Tests had shown that he carried a high viral load.

During his reign of terror, Gcelu attacked women who were walking alone or who lived alone. He used a knife to force his victims to go with him to secluded areas or deserted building sites where he would rape them. He would also rob them of their phones and money.

DNA analysis linked him to all the rapes.


Gcelu was arrested in June 2019 after he attacked two women. While threatening them with a knife, he raped them and forced them to perform sexual acts on one another. Even though they did not know Gcelu, they managed to describe him to their elder brothers who tracked him down and handed him over to the police. 

During the trial, Gcelu challenged the procedure when samples were collected from him for DNA comparison. 

Gcelu also insisted to the court that five of the women were in a romantic relationship with him and that he had bought alcohol for the others in exchange for sex.

The court, however, found him to be an unreliable witness and dismissed his version of events.

The Eastern Cape Director of Public Prosecutions, Barry Madolo, commended investigating officer Bokolo and the prosecutor for the meticulous collection and presentation of evidence.


Provincial commissioner Lt Gen Nomthetheleli Mene applauded the sentence and Bokolo’s investigative skills. Mene also praised her for ensuring justice for the victims.

“The sentencing of eight life terms for this serial rapist highlights the severity of his heinous crimes. Justice has been served, sending a clear message that such abhorrent acts will not be tolerated, and those who seek to inflict harm on the vulnerable will be arrested and held accountable for their actions. 

“We appreciate the dedication of our detectives who tirelessly pursued and gave attention to every detail of the case, and the sterling efforts of the prosecuting authority in ensuring convictions in court,” she said.

Gcelu’s case was among thousands provisionally withdrawn when forensic labs of the SAPS came close to collapse between 2019 and 2023 due to non-renewal of contracts, a lack of consumables and a need for equipment maintenance.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cash crunch stalls DNA tests, results in sabotaging of prosecution of GBV cases

In a written reply to Parliament in March this year, police commissioner Fani Masemola said the backlog of DNA samples that had to be tested at one point in 2022 stood at 251,603, but was eradicated in 2023.

A joint project between the NPA and the police in 2022 saw no further cases being withdrawn due to delayed DNA results. Another 41,855 cases were also enrolled under the auspices of this project.

The Democratic Alliance’s Andrew Whitfield, who pursued this issue for five years, said constant vigilance was needed as contracts were at times not renewed due to corruption and mismanagement of the procurement process. DM


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