Durban - Twenty-one years after the sexual abuse started, two Durban sisters have bravely gone public with their story after their stepfather was convicted of the crimes.

Durban High Court Acting Judge A Mfayela found Larry du Plessis Zweigerlaar guilty of indecently assaulting sisters Candice Bowman and Jackie Toms.

He was also found guilty of raping Bowman in 1998 and allowing children access to pornographic material.

He had been married to the sisters’ mother from 1991 to 2000, when they divorced.

The sisters were first indecently assaulted when they were seven and eight and the abuse went on for nine years.

Zweigerlaar was only charged with the crimes in 2010 when he returned to SA from England. He pleaded guilty to some incidents of indecent assault but denied the rape charge.

Judge Mfayela found that the sisters had given credible evidence.

“They were impressive, credible and reliable. Candice was in the witness box for two days and she was not shaken by cross-examination. She was better than most witnesses in these cases and gave her evidence in chronological order. These memories are etched in her mind,” he said.

Referring to why the sisters had taken several years to come forward, Judge Mfayela said they had been scared they would break up their family.

“It was first reported to their mother, but she did not take it seriously.

“Then they were asked not to break up the family, which has indeed happened.”

Speaking outside court, the sisters said they wanted to go public to help other victims of abuse.

“We spoke to our families and decided that it was time. We remained silent for far too long, but decided now that we would not run and we would not be quiet,” said Bowman.

One of the biggest motivations to come forward was that they would be helping others.

“That was a big influence on us. We want other victims of child and women abuse to know that justice can be done,” said Toms.

“We wanted to show that 21 years down the line, it is still possible to come forward and have a voice,” she added.

The sisters were relieved that Zweigerlaar had been found guilty.

“We had every confidence in the State advocate [Melanie Naicker] and she has not disappointed us. The investigating officer, Captain Sanette Buckthorpe, was also wonderful, and her colleagues at the Westville police station,” said Bowman.

Toms said the two weeks of the trial had helped her deal with what had happened.

“It makes it easier to move forward now and deal with all the issues. It has also bought our family closer together.”

The judge labelled Zweigerlaar’s evidence as bizarre and incredible.

“He wanted the court to believe that all that happened was because he was spurred on by the girls. In other words, he is saying they asked for it; it borders on the ridiculous. He does not want to take full responsibility for his actions.”

Judge Mfayela also found that Zweigerlaar was a flight risk and denied him bail.

He was remanded and will be sentenced in January.

The Mercury