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Johannesburg - “I told (the court) that as a family we were prepared to forgive them. It will help give us closure,” said Anchen Jooste about the two men who had been sentenced for the brutal murder of her brother, Barney van Heerden.
Van Heerden was found strangled in his home in September 2011, his head wrapped in tape and his body beaten. This was after he had invited into his home three men who were later accused of robbing and murdering him.
Earlier this month, one of the men responsible for the crime, Maxwell Nyathi, turned State witness. He told the Johannesburg High Court sitting in Palm Ridge how he, Mthokozisi Ndlovu and Bheki Maseko had wangled their way into Van Heerden’s home before robbing him. They allegedly left him bound with duct tape around his face and head, causing his death.
Last week, Jooste, who had attended the entire trial, saw Ndlovu and Maseko each sentenced to 20 years for the murder and another 10 years - to be served concurrently - for the robbery. She said it was a cathartic experience, but that she would fight if the pair tried to apply for parole.
“They deserve at least 20 years for what they did,” she said.
Jooste said she approached the men after the sentencing, specifically to speak to Maseko, who had told the court that he had known Van Heerden for some time before the murder.
She asked him about how he had met her brother and what their relationship had been like. Apparently, Van Heerden had wanted to help Maseko to pay for his university tuition.
“His facial expression showed he had cared for Barney,” said Jooste, who said the emotion after this confrontation was overwhelming.
Judge George Maluleke’s judgment had upset Jooste.
The judge had said that an almost middle-aged man associating sexually with 22-year-olds was playing “a dangerous game”.
He also suggested the three men were prostitutes being solicited by Van Heerden, which Jooste said was unlikely.
But the grieving sister said she wanted the senseless murder to have meaning. She wants to donate one of Van Heerden’s properties to a gay rights organisation for use as a safe house for teenagers kicked out of their homes after coming out of the closet.
Van Heerden’s murder was the first case identified by The Star in what police believe is a series of killings of gay men in Gauteng and the Western Cape.
In November last year, police told the media about their theory that the killings were perpetrated by a gang targeting gay men.
But after a year of investigations, police have been unable to forensically link the trio to any of the other crimes.