Cornelia De Wet of Caroline, Mpumalanga, South Africa is a political prisoner on trial for possession of explosives. The nightmare began in April 2010 when De Wet joined the Leeuwag group, an operation that offered protection to farmers or anybody who needed such services. Before joining the Leeuwag group, De Wet and her family suffered several farm attacks and traumatized by the ordeal found peace knowing that the Leeuwag group offered protection.
De Wet undertook administration work for the group and as a caring patriot became involved in a school feeding scheme. The good work attracted people who wanted to contribute and a donation of R40,000 was received to expand the feeding project. De Wet was mysteriously banished from the group, without explanations. The persecution began and members of the Leeuwag group continue to terrify her into believing that the farm attacks were not ‘black’ South African. It is a known fact that most farm attacks have created the phenomenon known as “White Genocide.”
Instead, De Wet came to believe that the members of the Leeuwag, Panzer Protection, and BBF were responsible for the farm attacks. The group carried out farm attacks in the event of securing contracts for protection. A despicable and ruthless business terrorizing farmers to obtain protection contracts. De Wet, Johan Lubbe, and others belonging to these groups admitted the theory of members attacking farms and offering protection for a fee was real. According the Jan De Wet, brother of Cornelia, the South African Police refused to investigate these farm attacks.
An assault on the De Wet farm occurred on April 27, 2012. During this time, De Wet was continually threatened by members of the BBF, Panzer Protection, and Leeuwag groups. On May 20, 2012, Larry Swart (a member of the Leeuwag), threatened to kill De Wet, harassed her with phone calls and said that the arrest was imminent. Swart told De Wet to expect being assaulted while in prison and that the case to remove her children from their home would be implemented.
The South African Police raided the De Wet Farm on May 29, 2012. The police produced a warrant stating that four officers had the right to search the home, but ten officers undertook the task. Several different police units were involved in the raid, including the Hawks, Dog Unit, Bomb Unit and Task team. The farm consists of five houses and storerooms, but the invasion was apparently undertaken at the home that De Wet occupied. De Wet’s father asked the officers if they wanted to search the entire property and that stated that it was not necessary to do so. Many goods were removed from the De Wet home. It took almost eight hours for the officers, a total of fifty heavily armed to arrest De Wet. Apparently, there were only two white officers from the dog unit. The police did not read De Wet the rights and did not mention on what charges the arrest was made.
De Wet spent six months in prison and secured the services of an attorney who informed the distress De Wet that a charge of high treason and incitement were the two main accusations. Over 40 charges were drawn up against De Wet but were later thrown out of court. The Captain of the Hawks told De Wet that the children would be taken by the welfare if there were no co-operation. After one year and three months, the only charge against De Wet was possession of ammunition and explosives. Accordingly, the police did not have enough evidence to proceed with all other charges.
A certain Lt-Colonel Vregdenburg, a member of the South African Police, questioned De Wet and during the conversation mentioned that all right-wingers will go to jail for a long time. Vregdenburg said that he controlled the power to do so. A harassing time for De Wet by the captain and six other officers who made sure that De Wet would co-operate and answer all the questions raised.
Strikingly enough, De Wet was the only one arrested on that day and the members of the BBF. Leeuwag and Panzer Protection were not contacted by the South African police. It was noted that Frik Steenberg a member of the group indicated that there were plans to kill De Wet. Johan Lubbe, also a member of the group, implied that Steenberg was the snitch who reported De Wet to the police.
Life In a South African Prison
De Wet was transferred to a maximum security prison in Bethal on December 27, 2012. De Wet was placed into an overcrowded cell occupied by 25 blacks and was the only white person in the cell. The cell was full of insects including the beds. The cell had one toilet, one shower only. According to De Wet, it was hell being locked up in a crowded, dirty cell. It is expected to place women wardens on duty in the women section, but male guards were on duty during the night time shift.
On January 28, 2013, De Wet appeared in court on a bail application but was unable to testify as her personal documents were removed by the police officers. Bail was denied. With her hands handcuffed behind the back the police, attacked De Wet until blood ran down her body. De Wet was told that they will shoot her and tell the courts that she had tried to escape. With severe injuries, De Wet was placed in Intensive care at a government hospital and comatose for three days.
On February 11, 2013, De Wet was transferred to Pretoria Central Prison. Her family was not informed of the transfer. That day was a total nightmare for De Wet, who was handcuffed, chained from arms to the entire body and feet put in irons for the transfer.
De Wet was placed in section one, an isolated cell measuring 2.5 square meters by 3 meters. Locked up in solitary confinement for 24 hours a day with no rights, even disallowed from attending the church services. There was nothing, not a radio or television set, which apparently was supplied to other prisoners. During the night, there was no light only total darkness as wardens refused to switch on the light. For several days at a time, De Wet was denied the right to bath.
Spending time alone without the comfort of even a bible, De Wet began a hunger strike, refusing even liquids. Eventually, the police contacted De Wet’s family and told them that death was imminent. De Wet refused the medical help of the police and eventually was unable to walk. After a grueling nine days, De Wet’s family were allowed to visit and were informed by a prison doctor that De Wet could become comatose and die if no medical treatment were accepted. It was the crying of De Wet’s eldest daughter that brought the jailed mother to end the hunger strike. Weak and desperately ill, De Wet managed to survive the ordeal. Prison wardens showed some compassion toward De Wet and allowed a radio in her isolated cell.
March 15, 2013 De Wet was transferred back to Middelburg Prison. In only three months, De Wet had been transferred to different prisons six times.
What happens if you are white and arrested in South Africa
De Wet experienced traumatic times in prison and early one morning two black policemen opened the tiny cell door and found De Wet sitting on a cold cement floor. Commanded to stand up, and keep quiet or suffer the consequences of not listening. De Wet stood up and the one officer grabbed her hands while the other undressed her. Forcing her to lie down on the cold floor while one was holding her arms, the other officer raped her. Taking turns to rape De Wet, who was unable to mutter a word, but kept on praying that the nightmare would end and hoping to die. After ending the rape, the officers warned De Wet not to say a word and left her stretched out on the cold floor in tears. For several hours, De Wet remained on the ground crying unable to move, utterly convinced that life would never be more than enduring eternal suffering. Eventually, De Wet got up but unable to have access to water was unable to bath. De Wet got dressed and traumatized sat motionless trying to come to terms with the distress of being raped.
Life in a South African prison is hell for most, with a definite trend on traumatizing white prisoners. Black prisons have more options than their white counterparts do. Being allowed to keep money and use cell phones, deal with drugs and allowed certain luxuries are all part of their prison life. However, whites are not permitted these bonuses.
The prisons are overrun with rats and all types of bugs. Food often had rat droppings and dead flies on the plates. Whites were forced to take on cleaning work while black prisons were allowed the luxury of staying in their cells, listening to radios, watching television or simply doing drug deals.
During one night in the jail, De Wet was given heart medication that caused her to slump and unable to stand or walk. Feeling as if death was approaching De Wet asked to see a doctor and was refused and beaten by the wardens.
June 19 De Wet had to reappear in court. It has been a traumatic two years. Most times a white prosecutor was assigned to the case but was replaced by a black prosecutor who had twenty people to testify on behalf of the state. The state is pushing for a twenty-year jail term. Twenty-three court appearances and each time the case was postponed.
De Wet is not the owner of the explosives and ammunition. Unknown to De Wet at the time, police informants planted these at her farm and then had her arrested. While a member of the Leeuwag, De Wet and Frik Steenberg (a prominent member of the group) started a relationship. De Wet fell pregnant and gave birth to a bonny little boy. The little baby was only five days old when the police raided the farm and arrested De Wet. Frik Steenberg has now become a state witness without having compassion on his own child.
Parted from a newborn baby was utter hell for De Wet. As De Wet said in her own words, “it was utter hell for me, as a mother, to be dragged away from my baby and children. I will never forget the suffering they had to endure for the two years I was in prison, fighting for my life.”
De Wet said the only consolation during her prison term was her children, spending nights crying and the trauma of visiting times. Seeing the children behind the glass, unable to hug them and pour out love was depressing. The children seeing their mother handcuffed at dragged as if a dog caused severe depressing and sadness within the family.
De Wet has endured two years of utter hell appeared in court during October and November 2014 with a trial date set for January 2015 and again in March 2015. This case has now taken almost four years to reach a trial date and uncertainty surrounds the actual trial proceeding. Several witnesses have stated that they want to case to continue indefinitely and perhaps the reason for this is to ensure the suffering of De Wet carries on. Police informants, members of the BBF, Panzer Protection, and Leeuwag groups continue to harass De Wet, who constantly lives in fear.
Media reports have been negative for De Wet, who describes the mother as a public seeker who craves attention. These reports do not warrant any truth and rather create the wrong impression about the accused. While the trial does not appear to have an absolute end date,
Support groups have been set up to help De Wet through this traumatic time and the love and assistance have remained overwhelming.
Cornelia De Wet remains a strong and determined person who wants to live a normal life with her children and family. As a mother, De Wet wants to close this depressing chapter of her life and forget the trauma. However, the uncertainty of closure and the time it has taken to set final dates casts a shadow of gloom. We ask the question of whether South Africa does indeed have a failing justice system.