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Pretoria - He appeared tough throughout the trial. Muscles bulging from exercising in jail for the past decade and sporting leg irons following his second escape attempt. But on Tuesday, tears shimmered in bomber Rudi Gouws’s eyes when he heard he had to serve a further 25 years in jail.
He went pale as he hugged his family before returning to jail where the man he had followed like a shadow, Herman van Rooyen, waited to hear his fate. Van Rooyen has been excused from the trial because he gets anxiety attacks while being transported in a police armoured vehicle.
Gouws was not the only Boeremag member in shock after Pretoria High Court Judge Eben Jordaan’s sentencing.
There were gasps from the crowded public gallery as the sentences were read out. Loud sobs broke out from relatives as one by one their loved ones were handed lengthy jail terms.
Dr Lets Pretorius, who minutes earlier had said he was not nervous and would face whatever came his way, stood for several minutes at the top of the stairs leading to the holding cells, before going down to start serving his effective 20-year term.
His wife Minnie started crying at the start of proceedings, but broke down and sobbed when she heard her husband and three sons would not be coming home for a very long time.
While her son Kobus will also serve an effective 20 years, her two other sons, Johan and Wilhelm, will have to remain behind bars for another 25 years. Her sons had already been behind bars for more than a decade while on trial.
She was too distraught to speak to the media and was shielded from photographers by friends and family.
André du Toit, who has also been in custody, took a R100 note from his pocket and handed it to a relative to give to his daughter who was just three months old when he was arrested. He will spend another 10 years behind bars.
Most of the men who 12 years ago planned to overthrow the ANC government by violent means, appeared stunned by their sentences.
Boeremag leader Tom Vorster, one of the masterminds behind the coup plot, said his sentence was more than he thought it would be.
Judge Jordaan said he had seriously considered sentencing the ringleaders to life, but took into account the time they had spent awaiting trial in jail.
One of the lucky ones, Giel Burger, who got a suspended sentence, walked into court on Tuesday with his bag packed with clothes, ready for jail. “I expected 25 years,” a relieved Burger said afterwards.
Ester du Toit, estranged wife of Mike du Toit – jailed for high treason – was in tears. She said she had no idea what she was going to tell their daughter. “How do you tell your child her dad is now gone for another 25 years and that she must grow up without a father?”
She said she was terribly shocked by the sentence: “He has already spent 10 years in jail, so all in all he will be in jail for 35 years.”
Sonja Jordaan, the woman who accepted Kobus Pretorius as her son after he broke away from his family, said the sentence was harsher than they expected. “I won’t say it is inappropriate in light of the terrible things they did. But we’ll stand by Kobus and wait for his return home.”
Advocate Piet Pistorius, who represented a number of accused, said they will bring an application for the release of Dr Pretorius on bail, pending a possible application for leave to appeal. “We will study the judgment and then decide on the way forward for the other men.”
The end of the Boeremag trial was a relief for the prosecution team leader, advocate Paul Fick. “I’m quite happy with the sentences. It was fair. They got what they deserved. I am just happy the trial has come to an end. It was a difficult trial. I have put in long hours of preparation and often had to neglect my family. I’m happy it’s now over.”
Fick said he also had to endure threats made on his life during the trial. He did not elaborate, but said this was often difficult to deal with.
Fick is retiring in January.