Kotzé: Child of God or '5-star, sadistic psychopath'?

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has come forward saying that Johan Kotzé, the man accused of murdering his stepson and instigating the rape of his ex-wife, may yet be rehabilitated.

In a letter to the Star newspaper, Tutu berated the media for dubbing Kotzé the “monster from Modimolle” and said: “He may indeed be guilty of inhuman, ghastly and monstrous deeds, but he is not a monster ... Kotzé remains a child of God with the capacity to become a saint,” he said.

But experts say Kotzé is a “five-star violent psychopath” who would have killed again and that he belongs in prison for life as he cannot be rehabilitated.

The case of the “Modimolle Murderer”, which involved murder, assault and rape in a sleepy Limpopo town, and led to a national manhunt, has gripped the nation since the new year began. It has also raised questions about the accused’s murky past and the inconsistent investigative work done by police.

Details that have emerged over the past two weeks paint a disturbing picture of a violent criminal who left a trail of murder and hurt in small towns, and slipped past police interventions before finally committing a crime so macabre that it gained national attention.

Kotzé is alleged to have murdered his 19-year-old stepson, Conrad Bonnette, and ordered three labourers to rape and mutilate his estranged wife, Ina Bonnette, on January 4.

Chilling details
One of the more chilling details revealed so far shows that, when questioned about the assault on Bonnette, Kotzé told police he had only wanted to “hurt her a little bit”.
Bonnette said that after she was assaulted, Kotzé lay down beside her and said she had no idea how much he loved her.

Kotze fled the scene and, for over a week, lived in his car in a wooded area just outside of town, while authorities searched for him. Police pulled out all the stops in their search—K9 units, the neighbourhood watch, and a high-tech cellphone trace—but in the end he was spotted at a supermarket by a woman who happened to drive past.

By the beginning of this week, Kotzé and his three co-accused were all in custody. The case has been postponed to February 10.

A number of people who have known Kotzé have come forward, providing some details about the man now known as the Modimolle Murderer.

Born in the Namibian town of Gobabis, Kotzé moved to the Northern Cape town of Prieska at an early age. He farmed sheep and buck on a small farm, and served as the town’s sheriff, a task made easier by his imposing and intimidating demeanor. He has been married four times, and became estranged from Bonnette, his current wife, after only four months of marriage.

Profile of a psychopath
Psychologists say that although it is difficult to diagnose someone without having assessed them personally, it would appear that Kotzé fits the profile of a psychopath, the key characteristics of which are high intelligence, manipulativeness and the complete absence of a conscience and a pattern of antisocial behaviour.

Psychopathy is not as uncommon as it seems. In the US, about one person in a thousand is said to suffer from psychopathy. It’s a bit more difficult to say how common the disorder is in South Africa because it’s difficult to diagnose and in some cultures psychological conditions such as psychopathy are not recognised.

But, as pointed out by Christiaan Bezuidenhout, a professor of criminology at the University of Pretoria, not all psychopaths are dangerous or criminal. In fact, many people with psychopathic tendencies are constructive members of society, who often find success in the business world.

“They’re often good at business. They like being in control of others, they’re able to manipulate people and negotiate, they can hire and fire people without blinking because they’ve got no remorse, no regret and they’re callous.”

What we know of Kotzé shows that he did have violent tendencies.

According to various sources:

  • In 1990, he shot and killed a 60-year-old woman on a farm, while looking for her son;

  • In 1993, he was charged with the murder of Bet Botha, aged 64, but was acquitted; the case was closed; and

  • In 2010, a Bloemfontein woman named Sarita Venter committed suicide after Kotzé allegedly “destroyed her financially and emotionally”.
It’s difficult to see how Kotzé managed to escape incarceration despite his history of violence. But Bezuidenhout said this too fits the profile of a psychopath. “They have an uncanny ability to cause a lot of trouble and then to remove themselves from those situations,” he said.

‘Slippery’ character
This is borne out by descriptions of Kotzé put forward by people who knew him in Prieska. He was described as a “slippery” character, who could get himself out out all sorts of trouble easily. Because of this, he was given the nickname “McGuyver”, after the 80s television character with the knack for escaping from dangerous situations at the last minute.

Professor Dap Louw, head of the Centre for Psychology and Law at the University of the Free State, said Kotzé fit the profile not just of a psychopath but of a “five-star, violent and sadistic psychopath” and that his life was “characterised by manipulation”.

“I’ve been in the field almost 40 years and I’ve dealt with cases—bad cases, like Welkom where people were skinned—but this is among the top 10%,” he said. Louw said: ” If I were to testify in a case like this, with the facts [currently] at my disposal I would definitely recommend that he should be there [in prison] for life.”

Bezuidenhout agreed. “An individual like this will do it again,” he said. “There’s no programme [of rehabilitation] that will help this individual.”

It’s unlikely that Kotzé‘s lawyers would be able to use a plea of insanity to get a more lenient sentence for him. This is, as Bezuidenhout says, because it’s classified as a personality disorder rather than a mental illness.

“Psychopathy is not a mental illness so the courts will not take that into consideration as a mitigating factor,” said Bezuidenhout. “He still has the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. He knew what he was doing.”

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live. Read more from Faranaaz Parker

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