Durban - New Germany father Leon van Rensburg has finally admitted that his dramatic tale of being hijacked and kidnapped had been a pack of lies and he was ashamed of what he had done.
Van Rensburg, 52, pleaded guilty in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court to charges of perjury and defeating the course of justice.
In his plea, read out by his lawyer John Batchelor, Van Rensburg admitted that he had opened a false case of armed robbery and kidnapping in October.
Van Rensburg disappeared on October 9. A wide search was launched after he sent his daughter a message that read: “Help. Hijacked!”
He was found in Howick two days later.
It subsequently emerged that Van Rensburg had not been hijacked. Instead he had driven to Underberg and stayed at a backpackers’ lodge.
In his false affidavit to the police, Van Rensburg claimed he had been hijacked at gunpoint and held hostage. He said he had been forced to give his PIN to the hijackers, who had threatened to harm him and his family.
Clinical psychologist Beatrix Coetzee, who testified for the defence, said she believed that Van Rensburg had suffered a mental and psychological breakdown.
“The accused had a breakdown prior to, and during, his disappearance,” she said.
“None of the acts were planned, his rational mind was not intact and he thought about suicide.”
Coetzee said Van Rensburg was extremely ashamed of what he had done. “He told me that on the day of the incident he wanted to get away and no longer wanted to live.”
Batchelor said his client’s actions had been brought on by stress and anxiety.
“Prior to the crimes he was under tremendous work and family-related stress and had suffered episodes of anxiety,” he said. “The SMS was tantamount to a suicide note. He was unable to face the truth, so he continued the charade, which resulted in the false statements to the police.”
He added that Van Rensburg should not be sent to jail.
“He got no benefit from his action, although we concede that he caused inconvenience to the police. He has only brought upon himself shame and ridicule, and has embarrassed his family. It would not serve any purpose to send him to jail.”
State advocate Neville Loubser said he agreed that Van Rensburg should not be given a lengthy jail term.
“He has showed some remorse, but this is a serious and prevalent offence,” said Loubser. “This case is also unique in that it received a lot of media attention and it creates a platform for the court to send a message to like-minded people not to commit these crimes.”
Loubser said that state resources, which were already strained, had been used to launch a provincial and nationwide search for Van Rensburg.
“The police’s time and effort could have been spent on legitimate cases. On some level his actions were premeditated and border on fraud.”
The case was adjourned to January for sentencing.