Epic Boeremag trial draws to a close
After eight years, the marathon treason trial of 21 so-called Boeremag members could enter the finishing straight in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria next month.
With the record of evidence standing at over 48 000 pages, the prosecution handed in written heads of argument of over 1 800 pages last week, summing up the State’s case.
Judge Eben Jordaan postponed the trial until May 23, but warned defence counsel to be ready to begin final legal argument.
The state has asked the court to convict all 21 of the accused of high treason, saying their alleged coup plot was still very much alive.
The trial began in Pretoria’s Palace of Justice in May 2003 under the glare of acute media interest, but the state only started presenting evidence five months later.
Beginning of the end
The state finally closed its case in June 2007 after calling 158 witnesses.
Numerous legal wrangles, including several applications about the conditions in jail and many dealing with Legal Aid Board disputes, have stretched the trial into one of the longest-running criminal trials in South African legal history.
Only 10 of the accused are currently out on bail.
The five men accused of planting a series of bombs in the early 2000s—brothers Herman, Johan and Kobus Pretorius, Herman van Rooyen and Rudi Gouws—remain in custody.
Van Rooyen and Gouws escaped from the court cells and eluded capture for eight months.
The state alleges they had planned to employ violent measures to free the others still in custody during that time so that they could carry on with their coup plot.
A team of heavily armed police officers have been guarding the trial for the past eight years and security measures include sniffer dogs and metal detectors at the door of the court room where the trial is heard.
Several of the accused fired and hired new legal representatives during the course of the trial.
By 2009, the Legal Aid Board had already confirmed that the trial was the most expensive it had ever funded.
One of the original 23 accused died several years ago and another has already on free foot again after pleading guilty to a charge of terrorism and being sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.
Judge Jordaan last year dismissed an application by the three Pretorius brothers to be declared prisoners of war so that they could be handed over to the South African National Defence Force.
The brothers insisted they should not be treated as ordinary criminals who committed crimes for gain.
They described themselves as “soldiers in a liberation struggle”, and were embroiled in an armed struggle aimed at self-determination for the “Boerevolk”.
The three brothers conceded their involvement in activities such as manufacturing home-made bombs, knowing these bombs were to be placed at strategic points.
But they argued that they had regarded themselves as soldiers of the South African Boere Republic engaged in a war situation.
Lead prosecutor Paul Fick SC, said the accused—first under the leadership of Andre du Toit and later under Tom Vorster—had used farm security and Boer prophet Siener van Rensburg’s visions as a smokescreen to drum up support for their coup plan.
He said the state had proved that targets had been identified and scouted, weapons and ammunition stockpiled, explosives manufactured and cars rented for car bombs when police first got wind of the coup plan.
After some of the accused had already been arrested, a small group went ahead and planted a series of bombs at various targets, he argued.
A woman was killed and her family injured when a railway line was blown up in Soweto.
The group allegedly also plotted to blow up former president Nelson Mandela.—Sapa. .