The woman found guilty of murdering her four children in Klarinet in eMalahleni in Mpumalanga, has been sentenced to four life terms in prison by the Mpumalanga High Court in South Africa.

Delivering the sentence in Middelburg on Friday, Judge Sheila Mphahlele said Zinhle Maditla had the intention to kill the children by poisoning them, adding that her behaviour showed at all times that she lacked remorse.

"The children suffered the most gruesome acts at the hands of their mother, who was supposed to nurture and protect them," Mphahlele said.

"The accused betrayed her own children. Having consumed the poison, the children did not die immediately… they died long painful deaths. What is mostly disturbing is that these acts took place at their own home. This place was supposed to be their own heaven with their mother. As a result, I could not find exceptional reasons which justify a deviation from the prescribed minimum sentence."

Maditla, who appeared to be physically weak and walked with difficulty on Friday, sobbed and hugged her family members after she was sentenced.

She wept while she was escorted down to the holding cells. One relative said to her: "We will always love you."

Maditla, 25, was arrested on December 30 last year after she handed herself over to the Vosman police station.

This was shortly after the decomposed bodies of her four children – two girls, aged four and eight, and two boys, aged seven years and 11 months – were found in her rented room in Klarinet.

She was found guilty of four charges of premeditated murder on September 9 after she pleaded guilty.

While presenting factors in mitigation of sentence in the same court on Tuesday, Maditla's Legal Aid lawyer, Eugine Mathivhithivhi, asked the court to deviate from the prescribed minimum sentence and to take into account Maditla's age and the fact that she "did not waste the court's time", but pleaded guilty to all the charges.

"This is her first brush with the law at the age of 25," said Mathivhithivhi.

"She has been in custody since the 30th of December last year. This is a person who showed remorse."

But prosecutor Ntsika Mpolweni told the court on Tuesday that Mathivhithivi's mitigating factors were outweighed by the aggravating factors.

He said the children had a right to be cared for by Maditla – a right enshrined in Section 28 of the Constitution.

"These were painful deaths. The children experienced headaches but she did not seek help for them," said Mpolweni.

Speaking while under cross-examination on Tuesday, Maditla detailed what happened on December 27 when she killed them.

She told the court she had fed the children – two girls, aged four and eight, and two boys, aged seven years and 11 months – bread that she had laced with rat poison and said an hour later, after they had eaten the bread, one child collapsed while playing with other kids outside.

Another child complained about having a severe headache.

"I went to the shop to buy her Disprin [headache tablet] and found them all asleep in the room when I came back," said Maditla.

"I tried to wake them up but realised they were no longer breathing. I locked the room and went out to drink alcohol and came back in the early hours of the following day. I regretted what I had done. I sat with them, hoping that they would wake up. I saw a whitish liquid coming out of their mouths and cleaned them with a wet cloth."

Maditla told the court she had felt the children's bodies getting cold and decided to cover them with a blanket.