Cape Town -
On the eve of the sixth anniversary of the death of Bergvliet resident Jane van Zyl, shot dead in the driveway of her home in a botched hijacking, the damages action her widower instituted against the government has been settled.
Now Smiley van Zyl wants to start a campaign aimed at ensuring that police and prosecutors are held accountable for negligent actions.
“To me, it was never really about the money. It was about the promise I made to my wife on her death bed,” he said this week.
He was referring to the vow he made to his wife in her final moments that he would not see her become just another murder statistic, but would turn her “senseless murder” into something meaningful.
“It was not my fight. It was a fight for everyone,” Van Zyl said, adding that he hoped, at the very least, his action had inspired others to take a stand.
Van Zyl’s wife was shot in the head in a botched hijacking on April 13, 2008, as she arrived home after taking him to the Constantiaberg Medi-Clinic.
She was attacked in her car in their driveway, while waiting for the remote-controlled gate to open.
At the time her killer, Gershwin Hartzenberg, committed the murder, he was out on bail for robbery.
Convicting him in September 2010, Judge Siraj Desai sentenced Hartzenberg to life behind bars.
Months later, Van Zyl lodged an action against the justice and police ministers, charging that they should be held accountable for his wife’s murder.
According to his papers, Hartzenberg had been arrested on March 28, 2008, in connection with an armed robbery. Three days later he was formally charged, but could not appear in court because the docket was missing.
He was released on bail the following day because he could not be detained for longer than 48 hours.
About two weeks later, he killed Van Zyl’s wife.
Van Zyl’s action was supposed to be heard in the Western Cape High Court this week, but was settled, with costs, for an undisclosed sum.
Van Zyl said this week that taking the case further had not been an easy task, but that he was convinced his wife heard him when he made the promise as she died.
“It stuck with me,” he said, adding that continuing with the matter took “nerves of steel” because he opened himself up to heavy criticism.
“I could have packed my bags and run away, but I decided to stand up and fight.”
Van Zyl said he would now take time to sit back and consider what had happened.
“It is too big for me to consume in just one go,” he said.
However, he pointed out that the problems South Africans experienced in criminal cases, particularly the issue of missing case dockets, was something he would continue to fight.