Family members of the Steenkamp's hold the hand of the murder- accused. Photo: Danie Van der Lith
Family members of the Steenkamp's hold the hand of the murder- accused. Photo: Danie Van der Lith

Griquatown family torn apart after murders

By Sandi Kwon Hoo Time of article published May 14, 2014

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Kimberley - The surviving members of the Steenkamp family have been torn apart in the aftermath of the cold-blooded killings that occurred on their farm Naauwhoek near Griquatown.

Conflict is also dividing the family over the supposed guilt of the accused, with some relatives believing that the real killer has yet to be caught.

Many family members are still suffering from extreme depression and anxiety two years after the incident took place, according to victim impact studies that were presented in the Northern Cape High Court on Tuesday.

The 17-year-old accused was found guilty of the murders of Deon Steenkamp, 44, his wife Christel, 43 and 14-year-old Marthella as well as the rape of Marthella and defeating the ends of justice.

Heidrun Buhrow, a probation officer from the Department Social Development in Gauteng, said Deon’s sister, Elizabeth Vermaak, was unable to forgive the accused.

“She urges for the accused to be given a term of life imprisonment because her family and the community needed to be protected from his (the accused’s) violent behaviour. Sentencing will help to bring closure.”

Buhrow also stated that the emotional rollercoaster that the family was subjected to could be compared to that of living in a war zone.

“There was no way of preparing for their deaths. Vermaak fears what the accused will do if he is released because he still denies any wrongdoing.”

She indicated that Vermaak had not accepted the death of her brother because there were still many unanswered questions.

Buhrow added that Vermaak was treated for severe depression while her family life and work suffered.

“She fears that the accused will take revenge on her and her family. She also has recurring images of her brother’s bloodied body in the morgue. She suffered feelings of guilt as she was asked to testify in court but believed that she had to do what was right. Her late father, Don Steenkamp senior, rejected her, became depressed and threatened to commit suicide. Her father died after he suffered a stroke in 2013, although their relationship had stabilised before his death.”

She added that not only had Vermaak lost three members of the Steenkamp family but that her parents had also suffered.

“Her late father (who is also Deon’s father) stopped taking his medication, which could have contributed to him suffering a stroke. Her mother was also affected by the trauma. The relationship between her mother and husband was affected, while her daughter, Marilize, concealed her divorce for a year because of what happened. Her daughter was in America where there was no one to support her, when she heard of the sudden loss.”

Buhrow stated that Vermaak believed that the accused needed help.

“The family is willing to pay for his treatment at a rehabilitation facility.”

A social worker from the Northern Cape Department of Social Development, Tenjhiswa Adonisi, who is stationed in De Aar, added that Christel’s mother Martha Massyn, was at home, reading the Bible and praying after she learnt of the brutal murders.

“She never received any counselling and has drawn comfort from friends and her faith. She does grieve because she becomes sad, cries and feels empty, as any parent would. However, her deep relationship with God has kept her going.”

Adonisi indicated that Massyn and her daughter Maretha Matthee (Christel’s sister), believed in the innocence of the accused and were convinced that the real killer would still be found.

She said that Elizabeth “Bettie” Steenkamp did not cry at her son’s (Deon) or her husband’s (Don Steenkamp) funeral.

“She said that she will be able to mourn properly one day. For now she is coping with the support from her church, which has helped her to deal with the incident. She also believes in the accused’s innocence.

“The murders had a negative impact on the farming community. The relationship between Bettie’s daughters and the accused deteriorated, as did her husband’s health. He was diagnosed with depression and had to receive counselling in Kimberley after the traumatic incident.”

She stated that it appeared as if the family was torn apart where some family members maintained the innocence of the accused.

“I think that it is difficult for them to accept, especially since the accused is close to both families.”

Adonisi indicated that Bettie’s daughter, Marianna Smith, ceased going to the psychologist after two sessions because it was too overwhelming to deal with.

“She still suffers from depression and had to resume taking antidepressant medication after she became very ill when she stopped.”

Adonisi said Smith also had experienced conflict in her marriage due to differing opinions with her husband over the murders.

Adonisi also indicated that she was unable to contact farm workers Abraham van Rooi and Martha Watermond because they were now unemployed and moving from farm to farm.

“Van Rooi said he was moody and grumpy and has been robbed of a stable job. He cannot emphasise the difficulties he is faced with. He is struggling financially and has not managed to find alternative employment due to having to attend court.

“This case has brought nothing but bad luck to him and his family.”

She said that Van Rooi knew the accused and did not wish to take sides.

“He finds it difficult to accept and forgive him for what he has done but recognises that he needs emotional assistance after what happened.”

Adonisi stated that for restorative justice to take place, the accused had to accept responsibility for his actions.

“It appears as if the accused has not taken any responsibility.”

She explained that the offender’s perceived lack of grief did not necessarily mean that he did not have any remorse.

“Trauma is subjective and not displaying symptoms of grief or anger may be the method in which a person is coping with loss. It is not abnormal for a person to appear calm on the outside.”

Legal representative for the accused, Riaan Bode, stated that a criminologist would testify that there were times that the accused did show signs of grief as a result of death of the Steenkamp family.

He pointed out that individuals went through the grieving process in a different manner.

The case continues on Wednesday before Judge President Frans Kgomo.

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