“She loved him.”
That was how an emotional Steph Leong, friend of the slain Karabo Mokoena, described the murder victim’s relationship with her alleged killer at Mokoena’s memorial on Wednesday.
Leong (25) was one of the first to tweet Mokoena’s picture when she went missing, with it garnering more than 11 000 retweets. Mokoena’s body was found burned beyond recognition on 29 April.
Her 27-year-old ex-boyfriend, Sandile Mantsoe, is alleged to have killed her before discarding her body in Lyndhurst, Johannesburg.
Following the incident, scores of stories have surfaced from women sharing their own experiences with abusive partners and relatives speaking out about family members who had gone missing, only to be found killed by the ones they trusted.
Leong described the relationship between Mokoena and Mantsoe as volatile, saying that Mokoena had loved her partner dearly.
“Karabo loved Sandile with all her being. She loved that man. She would do anything to make things work between the two of them, and even when friends spoke to her and told her to leave this guy, she always went back to him.
“She finally did leave him because the abuse obviously just got too much, but she loved him – she would do anything for him,” she said, shaking her head and fighting back tears.
Leong told News24 that she knew Mokoena to be a confident and determined young woman. She said they had shared clothes. Mokoena was also the one who introduced her to God.
Speaking at the memorial on Wednesday, another friend, Neo Mohlabane, said that she had seen Mokoena on the weekend before she was found dead.
READ MORE: Where are the men? – Karabo Mokoena’s family
She said that Mokoena was still sporting a few bruises, but told her: “I am testimony that there is a God. He tried to finish me, but I am still here.”
Mohlabane said that if Mokoena was alive, she would have said: “Nana, nna [me], I have forgiven him.” Mohlabana said she encouraged people to forgive and pray for Mantsoe and his family, saying there was hope for him.
Leong said that the family was devastated at losing Mokoena in such a violent manner.
“We are all still shocked – I don’t know if reality has sunk in yet. Dying young is one thing, but the way Karabo died is just completely devastating. Every time I think about it, I get goosebumps because I don’t believe it,” she said between sniffles.
“Her mum is shell-shocked. There’s obviously also the stress from having to deal with the court case; it’s not just dealing with grief – it’s a combination of all of that.”
Leong said that Mokoena had many aspirations and one of them was to help women and children in abusive situations.
“It’s not just us who have lost out on Karabo, because her plan was to help many people. It’s our duty to do what Karabo wanted to do and to help others,” said Leong.
Leong’s message was read out at the memorial while she sat with her head down in the front row, caressing a toddler, next to Mokoena’s father, Thabang Mokoena.
“I won’t say goodbye; you are with our Father in heaven,” her friend read out to community members, relatives and friends at Diepkloof Hall in Soweto.
“I’ll miss her a lot,” said Leong.
The funeral service is due to take place on Friday from 8am until 10am at the hall, before proceeding to Westpark Cemetery in Montgomery Park, Johannesburg.