Leatitia (South Africa)

“How can you ask forgiveness of others, if you can't forgive yourself?”

Photography by Brian Moody

In 1993 Leatitia van Loggerenberg planned and paid for the murder of her husband, who for years had been physically and mentally abusing her. She is now serving a life sentence for murder at Johannesburg Female Prison.

My husband was a real darling until he started drinking, then alcohol turned him into a monster. The physical and verbal attacks went on year after year. Eventually I started running to Dion, a male friend who became my protector.

On the Tuesday before he was killed I told my husband I was pregnant, and that I wanted a divorce. He went wild. He assumed it was Dion’s child and took a belt to both me and our son. By now I was breaking apart inside, so when Dion and his friend suggested gassing my husband in his car, I thought it was a good idea. I thought it would look like suicide. I was so numb and so hurt I would have agreed to anything. All I had to do was give him some sleeping tablets, then take two tablets myself and go to sleep beside him. He would be carried to the car in night, and everything would be taken care of.

But when I woke the next morning I knew something had gone wrong. My husband wasn’t dead in the garage. Then the Police rang to say they’d found a burnt-out car on the highway outside Pretoria with a body in the boot. It was my husband’s. Our plan had failed. Apparently my husband had come round as he was being carried to the garage. They’d had to hit him over the head with a baseball bat. While I was awaiting trial I visited my mother-in-law in an old people’s home. She said she didn’t blame me because she knew what her son was like. But when I was found guilty of murder my husband’s family turned its back on me.

It took me a long time to realise what I’d done was wrong. At that point I went to pieces; I just felt so sorry for hurting my family and my husband’s family. I was also so sorry for the horrendous way in which he had died.

I’ve only been able to face up to what I did by attending a 12-week personal growth course. It helped me to make peace with myself: to come to terms with my long prison sentence and deal with my anger and shame. At my graduation ceremony I asked forgiveness from all those I’d hurt. My husband’s family didn’t attend, but afterwards my mum sent them a video. As a result my sister-in-law got in touch to tell me she no longer blamed me. When she told me she still loved me I started to cry. It meant such a lot. Now I phone her every week. Even my husband’s brother sent me a message to say I’m still his sister-in-law.

My punishment is to be locked away from the world and from my children, but at least now I feel free inside because I’m learning to forgive myself. How can you ask for forgiveness from others, if you can’t forgive yourself?