May 22, 2018

Van Breda guilty

Following on the heels of the state’s successful appeals to firstly upgrade Oscar Pistorius’ conviction from culpable homicide to murder and then to increase his sentence and Christopher Panayiotou’s conviction of the murder of his wife, Jade, Henri van Breda was this week found guilty of murdering his parents and his brother, seriously injuring his sister and defeating the ends of justice.

These cases demonstrate that our criminal justice system works. And it works because we have dedicated detectives, forensic investigators, expert witnesses, state pathologists and prosecuting counsel who tirelessly work for justice for the victims and their families. I salute these people; they subject themselves to accusations of incompetence and wrongdoing by desperate defense counsel and they resist the lure of lucrative practice in the private sector in order to secure justice for the victims of crime.

Another murder case made the news this week: the so-called Krugersdorp murders, where 6 people are accused of murdering 11 people over a period of 4 years. 2 of the accused have pleaded guilty and one has turned state witness, so I expect that the allegations are plausible.

I enjoy crime fiction. I love a good murder mystery. But it is one thing to read a fictional story about murder. It is quite another to get your head around the fact that the guy who runs your local Spar paid someone to murder his wife. Or that the rather weird kid down the road in an upmarket estate is capable of hacking his parents and siblings to death with an axe.

I find it hard enough to believe that one person is capable of taking another’s life for personal benefit.  That there are 6 murderous people who manage to find each other, form a gang and kill 11 people is simply incomprehensible. It sounds like a plot for a cult movie.

But what these cases have demonstrated is that you can’t get away with murder in South Africa. Our criminal justice system is robust enough to bring those who try it to book.

As an aside, there is an interesting consequence to Henri van Breda’s conviction. In our law, if you cause someone’s death, you can’t inherit from them. That means that Marli van Breda will be the sole beneficiary of her parents’ estates. Not that that will be much compensation for the fact that she has lost her parents and one brother and her other brother is languishing in jail for their murder.

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