A high court judge expressed concern over the lack of interest in the trial of four men found guilty of murdering Khayelitsha woman Bongiwe Ninini and dumping her in a drain.
He wondered aloud if people were becoming desensitised to such brutality.
"I am struck by the apparent lack of interest in the community, judging by the few people attending the trial," Acting Judge Mushtak Parker said in the Western Cape High Court on Monday.
He said he knew transport was expensive, but he was concerned that a killing as brutal as Ninini's had not drawn more attention.
It worried him that Ninini's death may have been seen as "just another killing". About 13 people, including Ninini's mother and the relatives of the four men convicted of her murder, sat in the public gallery upstairs.
Sentencing procedures started with the four -- Masimthembe Solontsi, Phumlani Nyewu, Melikhaya Mgushelo and Thabiso Balithoba -- filing into the dock. Each had a policeman guarding over them. Solontsi's lawyer was nowhere to be found.
Ninini was throttled, hit with a spade so severely that her skull and brain were damaged, then rolled into a sheet and dumped into a drain. She was found there on July 18, 2015. The motive for her murder was never established.
She had gone to visit her ex-boyfriend Nyewu with a bottle of brandy. The other three men were there too.
After a court orderly's search of the corridors for advocate Eric Nogilana yielded nothing, Parker complained that the lawyer had done that sort of thing before, and asked Solontsi if he knew where his counsel was.
He answered in the negative and so Parker cast about in the public gallery for a family member who might have information on whether Nogilana had withdrawn from the case or not.
It seemed he had, but had not done so formally in court. The case was stood down and the interval used to try and track Nogilana down. When they returned without any word from Nogilana, Parker gave Solontsi the option of getting a new lawyer, applying for Legal Aid, or defending himself.
Solontsi opted for the latter, to Parker's surprise. He then painstakingly checked, through an interpreter, if he knew what he was doing.
He gave Solontsi 10 minutes to read his pre-sentencing report while he sat in the dock, but extended it to after lunch time when it became clear he needed more time.
At the first opportunity Solontsi demanded to know what evidence had been used to find him guilty. He said he would be bringing no witnesses as there were none who would have evidence of his guilt.
Parker told him that Monday's proceedings were not about whether he was guilty, but about what kind of sentence he would get, and warned him to stop wasting time and take his case on appeal after sentencing.
He said if he had been paying attention during judgment on December 6, 2016, he would have known how he had been found guilty.
As Parker was going through the formalities of checking that everybody accepted the pre-sentencing reports for each of the men, he stopped and exclaimed: "Mr Nogilana!
"What is the purpose of your sauntering in here at quarter to three on a day when you are supposed to be in court?"
Nogilana said he had been hijacked a few days earlier, his phone was stolen and he was on medication because of it.
"I am not well. I have just been hijacked," he explained.
He said he was no longer representing Solontsi and asked if he could formally withdraw from the case, which he did.
Parker called the developments "mind-boggling" and complained that Nogilana was not wearing his black lawyer's robe.
Outside the court, Nogilana said he had managed to escape an attempted hijacking in Khayelitsha a few days earlier. He could not provide the date. However, some of his belongings, including his phone had been stolen. He pointed to a scar on his head, saying he had also been stabbed.
Back in court, Parker continued taking evidence in mitigation of sentence.
He heard that all four men seemed to be well-groomed, and well raised, with no history of addiction or violence. He could not fathom what had happened to them.
He was told that Nomlozi Ninini had taken to drink after her daughter was killed, because she had already lost another child to a stabbing in Delft in 2004. Her family intervened to help her, but she would always live with the pain of losing another child.
He said the matter was serious, and he needed time to think about whether he should deviate from the life sentence the State asked for, given the brutality of the crime.
He postponed sentencing to February 9.