The outcome of a judicial inquiry into the death of 16-year-old Logan Klingenberg, a heroin addict, at Noupoort rehabilitation centre last year, was greeted with shock in the small Karoo town court on Wednesday.
Magistrate Francois Muller found no evidence to incriminate instructors Dave Barber and Fabian Grenz, the two men responsible for Klingenberg at the time of his death.
Klingenberg was found dead in a cell, with a chain around his neck, in the disciplinary barracks Midlandia on May 15 last year.
Despite testimony from four witnesses that Klingenberg had been assaulted and grossly maltreated, Muller dismissed the evidence as unreliable. Instead he relied on the testimonies of Barber and Grenz, who he believed were acting in the line of duty when they tied Klingenberg up in a cell for three days without food and water, as punishment for trying to escape from Noupoort and refusing to take part in physical training.
Muller, speaking Afrikaans, referred to the methods used at Midlandia as the same as those used in the army during the years of military conscription, and as “nothing strange”. He stated that these methods built community spirit and that it was part of every young man’s life during the old era, “creating an army that was once regarded as one of the finest in the world”.
He found the methods used at Midlandia to be acceptable as they taught self-discipline and were applicable because “heroin addicts lacked routine and self-discipline”.
With regard to the treatment Grenz and Barber meted out on Klingenberg, Muller found they had no option but to “lock the man up” because he was aggressive and unwilling to participate.
Muller accepted the evidence of the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Klingenberg, Dr Trompie Els of Bloemfontein, who found bruising all over Klingenberg’s body but could not establish when this had occurred. His evidence that Klingenberg caused his own death by twisting the iron chain around his neck, and thus injuring the carotid body in the neck, causing his heart to stop beating, was accepted.
The young man’s father, Richard Klingenberg, was visibly shocked on hearing the outcome. “I am devastated and disappointed at this injustice. That was my flesh and blood, that was my son. They called themselves Christians and they treated my son worse than a dog. I believe Noupoort is operating illegally as its licence expired at the end of August. The addicts at the centre are terrified as they are still being mistreated and abused. This inquiry has basically given the thumbs up to the violation of human rights. Addicts are human beings, not criminals. It is a tragedy that my son died this way.”