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Judgment is expected to start on Monday in SA’s longest and most expensive criminal trial. After more than nine years and more than R33.5 million forked out by the taxpayer in defence fees, Boeremag members will be in the dock of the Pretoria High Court to hear their fate.
This amount was confirmed on Friday by Legal Aid SA that is funding the defence.
Some might already have forgotten the details of the Boeremag trial – SA’s first post-apartheid high treason trial – but they will be reminded during Judge Eben Jordaan’s judgment, the abbreviated version of which is expected to last about three weeks.
The accused are facing a main charge of high treason, which carries an ultimate penalty of life imprisonment.
They face more than 40 alternative charges under the treason charge, ranging from terrorism to arms and explosive-related charges.
It is understood that if they are convicted on the main charge (treason) the alternative charges fall away. They are also facing a charge of murder and one of attempted murder.
The trial started at the Palace of Justice on May 19, 2003, amid tight security. The streets around Church Square were cordoned off and a police helicopter circled above, while a convoy of police vehicles with sirens and flashing blue lights brought the bulk of the then-22 accused who were not granted bail to court.
The streets thronged with onlookers and the courtroom was so packed that the media had to sit in the old jury box.
But following various delays – especially to sort out the State-funded legal aid for the cash-strapped accused – the trial only officially started a few months later.
By then the venue moved to the high court building across the road, because of bad lighting and sound in the old Palace of Justice.
But as the years went by, the only reminder that the trial was still going on was the high-speed and noisy delivery of the accused to the court from jail in the mornings.
Many walking to court would ask, “What is that?” and were told, “Oh, it is only the Boeremag.”
During the nine years the police did not ease on security, with a police dog checking the courtroom every morning before Judge Jordaan and his two assessors took their seats on the Bench.
About 20 SAPS members guarded the inside and outside of the courtroom, while the public was not allowed to come close to the then-13 accused who remained in custody.
The trial has been marked by tears, laughter, frustration, flared tempers and drama.
A dramatic escape from court, followed five years later by another equally dramatic escape attempt, made headlines.
While one of the accused got married during the trial, only to get divorced again, others got divorced over the years.
Judgment will commence with fewer accused – two have died and two are in hospital, one following a spine operation and the other after suffering a stroke.
The marathon trial was marked by many delays caused, among other things, by failed bail applications and applications when some of the accused felt their human rights were being abused.
These included an application complaining about “loud music blaring from the prison loudspeakers”, which the accused said drove them crazy.
The ever-patient Judge Jordaan found a sound solution to this problem – he asked the prison authorities to disconnect the loudspeakers closest to the cells of the accused.
This was followed by complaints of “blinding light” shining from the prison’s passage into the cells of some of the accused.
Judge Pierre Rabie heard the urgent application in this regard. The accused complained bitterly as they could not sleep at night in C-Max Prison owing to the “bright lights”. The judge went to jail that night, lay on a bed and closed his eyes. He reported the next day that he was not bothered at all by the “dim lights” and turned down the complaints of the accused.
The trial was all in all marked by about 40 interlocutory applications – ranging from complaints about prison food to other gripes.
While the trial was mostly taken up with State witnesses who gave lengthy accounts of how the Boeremag was established, what its aims were and how it operated, some bizarre events also occurred.
One was when the police left a hole in the newly renovated floor of the Palace of Justice, and when a coffee flask belonging to accused DR Lets Pretorius was blown up. He asked one of the other elderly accused, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, to fetch his flask after a break. That accused forgot and the police suspected the lonesome flask to be a bomb and blew it up.
Although the accused have a range of academic degrees and years of hands-on experience as career military officers between them, their plan to allegedly overthrow the government has often come across as surreal.
From evidence it emerged that they planned to chase 30 million blacks along the N1 to Zimbabwe, while Asians had to make their way along the N3 to Durban. A well-wisher was going to donate 40ha of sunflowers and another 200 sheep to fund the “coup”.
The Boeremag accused are:
Mike du Toit, his brother André du Toit, Rooikoos du Plessis, Adriaan van Wyk, Herman Scheepers (dead), Deon van den Heever, Giel Burger, Jacques Olivier, Pieter van Deventer, Fritz Naude, Tom Vorster, Dirk Hanekom, Lets Pretorius, Frik Boltman (dead), Jurie Vermeulen, Vis Visagie, Herman van Rooyen, brothers Johan, Kobus and Wilhelm Pretorius, Rudi Gouws and Jacques Jordaan.