In bed with the Boeremag
The world knows them as the Boeremag, the rightwingers accused of wanting to assassinate Nelson Mandela and chase 30-million black people up the N1 to Zimbabwe. But they are also the husbands, sons, brothers and friends of people who believe in them and love them.
Some of their loved ones have sacrificed homes, friends and possessions to ensure they have the best possible legal counsel. Others have nothing to give but love and support.
Cornia van Wyk, wife of accused Adriaan van Wyk, never misses a day in court.
Her husband was in the news last month when he declared he was a card-carrying member of the Pan Africanist Congress and that he has never belonged to a right-wing organisation.
“I am struggling,” she told the Mail & Guardian this week. “The past year has been the most difficult of my life. But I will do anything for my husband.”
At the start of the trial the Palace of Justice was jam-packed with friends, supporters and family. But now, a few months later, only a handful of relatives and even fewer friends are present. “It is not that the novelty has worn off,” a family member told the M&G. “Most of us have jobs and, with the costs of this trial, we cannot afford to lose our jobs.”
Van Wyk took over her husbandâ€™s business, which handles credit problems for clients, after he was arrested in August last year. She says most of the clientele is black and admits that the bad publicity has caused problems. “People do not want to do business with us because of the stigma.”
The businessâ€™s income has not been enough to cover legal fees. “We have had to sell our house, our bakkie and other assets to survive. I have to pinch every cent to ensure I have enough at the end of the month.” Family, friends and even strangers deliver food to her home to help her survive.
Van Wyk says she has become a stronger person. “I have become independent and ready to fight, I am not that naive any more and, for better or worse, I do not trust people as easily as I used to.
“Adriaan has changed as well — jail will do that to you, I guess. Beforehand he was calm and relaxed; these days I find him to be much more emotionally erratic than before.”
The couple have been married for 16 years; they were high school sweethearts. “We share everything. We talk about everything and know everything about each other.”
Van Wyk tells of life before the arrest, when they regularly escaped to the outdoors: “Weâ€™d just throw our tents in the boot and off weâ€™d go to some remote place. We camped at the fence in Kruger because thatâ€™s where the action is.”
The day her husband was arrested, the couple had returned from a weekend in Mpumalanga. “We were just relaxing after unpacking when the police arrived and arrested Adriaan. I almost fainted when I heard it was for terrorism and treason. It was totally unexpected.”
Many friends have deserted them. “But now you know who your true friends are, I guess,” she said with an ironic smile.
“But, to tell you the truth, I first have to brief new friends on what they are in for if they want to go to court with me. We are constantly under scrutiny from the police and a new face in court will be investigated.”
Despite all the damning evidence heard in the courtroom, Van Wykâ€™s love for her husband remains unconditional. “Adriaan is my soulmate, my best friend, my everything. I am proud of my husband, not of what he is accused of, but for surviving these adverse conditions he has been placed in.”
Van Wyk says no contact visits are allowed at the jail, but some Fridays the police will allow the wives 15 minutes of contact with the accused in the courtroom. Mostly, though, the defendantsâ€™ loved ones can only visit for an hour on Sunday.
Thus tea breaks are social time for the prisoners. Under the close scrutiny of the police and the intruding eyes of the media, they try to have normal conversations that reveal nothing about the case.
Some try to reassure their families that police informer JC Smitâ€™s evidence is “bullshit”, as I heard one of the accused put it, and that they should not read the papers. Others simply take the opportunity to catch up on what is happening at home.
The trial is expected to last for up to three years, which has huge financial implications for the accused and their families.
Defendants such as Tom Vorster are relying on Legal Aid, because his family does not have the money to pay his legal costs. Another alleged Boeremag memberâ€™s mother said the family was pooling all resources to ensure her son gets the best legal representation. “We paid six months in advance, but who knows what will happen after that?”
Van Wyk hopes she and her husband can go on with their lives after the trial. “If he is found innocent, we will have to readapt to married life. He has now been imprisoned for almost a year and a half, but I have all the hope in my heart that we can once again be a normal, married couple.”