Freedom Day anguish for Martins’ family

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iol pic sa SS_andre balluto0 Independent Newspapers Andre Balutto, the father of murder victim Tracey-Lee Martins, looks shocked after his daughters killer were found guilty in the Palm Ridge Magistrate court. He maintains the sentences were too lenient. Pictures: Bongiwe Mchunu

Like many South Africans, Andre Balutto grew up under the dark shadow of apartheid. The child of an Italian father, and a coloured mother, he and his family spent their lives running from the Group Areas Act.

If they travelled by train, the lighter-skinned Balutto and his father would sit in first-class. His mother and siblings would be relegated to the back: third-class citizens.

So when democracy was born on April 27 1994, a new brighter future lay ahead and an end to running. Freedom Day was a time of celebration.

Until Balutto’s daughter was murdered by unrepentant drug addicts on April 27 last year. They broke into her house in Klipspruit West at midnight; by Freedom Day she was dead: beaten, raped and strangled.

In the dark of a power outage, her three-year-old son, Tristan, bore silent witness to his mother’s terrifying ordeal.

A year later, these horrific memories of Freedom Day are too hard for Martins’ family to bear.

“South Africa will commemorate its 20 years of democracy tomorrow,” says Balutto. “But I will be at a cemetery in Bosmont not far from where old ANC stalwarts Albertina and Walter Sisulu were laid to rest… Tracey-Lee was so cruelly and senselessly taken away from me by unrepentant thugs who showed absolutely no feeling of remorse on this day exactly a year ago.

“My grandson… will never understand the significance of this (Freedom) day and the hard-fought freedom by the Sisulus,” he says. He worries that although Shinawaaz Ahmento and Kyle Fredericks have been sentenced to jail terms for the attack in Martins’s home, others who have been implicated in the crime are still free.

“How can I ever get closure knowing that justice has not been served on the others that took part in this crime? How do I start commemorating this day with thugs knowing they don’t deserve the freedom they have? Is this shoddy detective work or overloaded and under-resourced detectives?” he wonders, his voice pained.

Last month, Ahmento, 21, received an effective 15 years for raping the Martins as well as robbing and assaulting her grandmother. Fredericks, his accomplice, who is also 21, received an effective 23 years for raping, robbing and murdering her.

The pair had just finished smoking methamphetamine and wanted more when they broke into her home, intending to steal her handbag. Martins’s family still insist the duo should have received life sentences.

For Balutto, it’s the lingering hurt in his grandson’s eyes that moves him to tears. During the attack, the child shouted to his frail grandmother, Rookeya van der Westhuizen: “Ouma! Come see, they are killing my mother. They cut her neck and broke her bones.” She was also badly beaten, but survived.

Balutto says he and Tristan had “loads of therapy” together.

“He is coping and living with his father now as they get on well. He’s going through the same sort of situation as his mom went through. She was 18-months-old when her own mother, Belinda, was killed in a hit-and-run, also on a holiday – December 16. We were about to get married.”

But the hurt runs deep. “We hope that further down the line he isn’t scarred. He keeps mentioning how they cut his mother’s throat because of the marks made by the stocking they used to choke her. You can see the trauma in his eyes as you try to explain what happened.”

Balutto misses his daughter’s strong character. A few hours before her murder, Martins told her father how excited she was that she had bought a new car, which she planned to pick up that morning. She also intended buying the house she shared with her grandmother.

“She was my pillar of strength,” says Balutto. “After I lost my business in 2008, she would tell me: ‘Daddy it’s no good feeling sorry for yourself. You’ve got to be alert, the person I know you are.’ She was quiet and reserved but very sincere and honest.”

Balutto deliberately avoided the court case. “It’s been hell, especially this last month with the trial. It’s not something you can forget. Their mothers have come to me and asked for forgiveness… I cannot comprehend forgiving the sons, who have not even begun to acknowledge what they have done.”

Now after 20 years of democracy, he regrets that the so-called “coloured areas”, such as Eldorado Park and Klipspruit, are without “a moral fibre” – their inhabitants neglected and largely unemployed.

“Immediately after my daughter’s death, President Zuma and his entourage came here and a lot of promises were made. But nothing has changed. They started parking police vehicles in the area but that has all stopped - their vehicles are gone.

“Naturally the problem is back. In the very week my daughter’s murderers were sentenced, another woman, Christell Pienaar, was killed in the same area in a very brutal way.

“It’s something that’s not going to end until the mindsets of people change and they become employed… and have a sense of self-worth. You will never find an end to all the lollyhouses and the drug dens.”

Saturday Star


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