The man convicted and jailed for 50 years for strangling to death a Polytechnic of Namibia student four years ago told New Era in an exclusive interview last week that he is now a changed man.
Gabriel Petrus, 35, was sentenced to 50 years in prison last year in June for the murder of his former girlfriend, Tuwilika Elizabeth Ekandjo in an incident that caused widespread public outrage.
“I am now born again,” he remarks with a tone of remorse from the Windhoek Correctional facility (formerly the Windhoek Central Prison) where he is serving his lengthy prison sentence.
New Era visited Petrus and other inmates last Thursday, where he and the other inmates sentenced to long-term imprisonment spent over four hours discussing their frustrations in prison and their aspirations.
Compared to his fellow inmates, Petrus only spoke when spoken to and spent much of his time nodding in agreement with some of the grievances raised by fellow inmates.
In June 2011, Petrus strangled the young Ekandjo, who was at the time a fourth-year Information Technology student. Media reports described their relationship as rocky and said the deceased was trying to end their rocky relationship at the time of her death.
Petrus allegedly entered his former lover’s flat through a window and ordered her roommate to hide in a wardrobe before he proceeded to strangle Tuwilika to death.
It was furthermore reported Petrus had tried to take his own life after killing Ekandjo. However, a relative whom he told of the heinous act he’d committed, convinced him not kill himself and encouraged him to report the matter to the police instead.
He, like most of his inmates was uncomfortable talking about the circumstances that led to him taking the life of the woman he once loved.
“I really don’t know how it happened. Everything happened so fast. We had problems in the relationship. But it’s not true that I went through the window to enter her room as was reported in the media,” he says.
Although he says he is not proud of his actions now, Petrus said he subsequently apologised to the deceased’s family. He adds that he does not like to think of the past, as it still pains him.
“If a person thinks about something too much it brings more problems. It is better to let the past go and look to the future to see what it holds,” he says. He feels his sentence is too harsh and is saddened by the fact his appeal to reduce the number of years he would spend behind bars was turned down.
“Those are many years that I will have to spend in prison. Only God knows if I will come out or not. I just pray to my God to have mercy on me. I want God to touch the hearts of our leaders to give us a second chance. God also gives a second chance,” the slightly-built man – who appears to be suffering from flu – remarked when he was asked if he has any hope of ever walking free again.
Although the notorious Unit Seven, which is for maximum security offenders, does not have many rehabilitation activities, Petrus said he has enrolled with NAMCOL [Namibia College of Open Learning] to keep busy.
Petrus says he is coping well with his studies. “I’ll be writing history on Monday,” he says as he fiddles with a motivational book that he clutches in his hands. Asked why he is still studying, considering that he would probably be an old man by the time he is released from prison, the former entrepreneur said: “Even if I get a chance to get out then I will have something (qualification)”.
“We don’t have a teacher here. We study on our own and it’s very difficult. It would have been nice if we had a teacher to help us to understand in instances where we don’t understand,” he comments.
Other then NAMCOL , Petrus has during his stay in prison attained a certificate in Bible Studies. “I am studying towards a diploma in Bible Studies,” he adds.
But, what keeps Petrus sane and hopeful as his chances of being a free man look bleak? “The church services that we have here are really helping. It doesn’t mean that when you have done wrong you should be left out,” the father of three comments.
This reporter then looks him in the eyes and asks what he misses about the outside world. “I miss my family and my children. I urge the government to really review some of our cases and give us the right to appeal the number of years that we have been sentenced,” said the soft-spoken convict.