Who really killed Anene Booysen?

2014-04-13 15:00

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Johannes Kana wears size five shoes and weighs 50kg. He looks like a boy, but he’s a 22-year-old convicted rapist and murderer wearing powder-blue prison garb and a knitted beanie to keep his shaved head warm.

Grinning widely, Johannes walks into his uncle Pieter’s arms. The older man’s eyes are wet.

Johannes offers me a soft hand to shake, then plonks himself down on a hard plastic chair. Pieter is Johannes’ first visitor since he was sentenced to life imprisonment in October.

He’s a long way from home. There are more than 1?000km between Bredasdorp and Bloemfontein.

An ominous-looking guard is watching us, a Taser, baton and other instruments designed to incapacitate are displayed on his hip.

In the corner of the visitor’s hall is a bulletproof chamber from which more guards scrutinise every inmate and visitor’s move on CCTV.

Many of the almost 3?000 prisoners incarcerated in Mangaung maximum security prison are deadly and are kept behind layers of barbed wire and steel because they have unlawfully snuffed out a life.

They are locked up in their cells for 23 hours every day. They are let out for one hour to exercise and wash before being taken back to their concrete chambers. Dinner is at three in the afternoon, after which they are locked away for the night.

Last October, as Kana was being sentenced, Mangaung prison was exposed in the Mail & Guardian as a living hell where inmates were allegedly being forcibly injected with antipsychotic medication.

Wardens allegedly used electroshock treatment to subdue and control their charges. The prison was run by multinational private security company G4S, but after the exposé, the department of correctional services took over again.

“We are four in a cell. They are all murderers and robbers. One killed his whole family,” says Johannes.

“We sit the whole day doing nothing. I don’t belong here.”

Most South Africans would disagree.

Last February, Johannes raped and disembowelled a 17-year-old girl in Bredasdorp in the Western Cape.

She was Anene Booysen and her name will forever be a symbol of the crack in the psyche of South African men who rape an estimated 50?000 women every year.

He showed no remorse in court, and his two life sentences mean he will serve a minimum of 25 years behind bars.

Very little is known about Johannes Kana. He has never spoken to a journalist before. Some newspapers have described him as a school dropout; others as a violent man from a broken home.

Pieter Kana leans forward in an attempt to evade the guard’s ears.

“I want you to listen carefully, son. If you are innocent, we want to get you out of here. I’ll raise more money, but I need to know: did you do it?”

Johannes lifts his hands and grasps his head.

Each forearm sports a tattoo: that of the dreaded 28s prison gang. One of the inked emblems reads 1824, which is the birth date of the 28s.

The 28s are the “blood line” of the prison gangs. They are divided into two lines – the gold and the silver.

The gold line makes you a warrior and the silver line makes you a sex slave.

The only way to get out of the silver line and into the gold line is by killing or maiming enemies.

I don’t know which one Johannes is.

“I’m innocent, uncle,” says Johannes. “I didn’t do it.”

“What then happened, son?” asks 51-year-old Pieter.

On that night, Johannes says, he and Anene left the pub where they had been drinking to go and “make out” at a nearby building site.

They started undressing one another, but then Anene didn’t want sex.

They had an argument and she slapped him. He slapped her back. He wanted to take her home. At that point, six men descended on them. It was dark and he couldn’t see their faces. He says he ran away and two of the men followed him. He evaded them and went home.

“And what about Anene?” I ask him. “Did you just leave her behind?”

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you call the police once you got home?”

“I don’t trust them.”

Pieter wants to know: “Is it true what you’ve told me? You didn’t do it?”

“I speak to the heavenly father every day, uncle. He is my witness.”

Pieter nods. “I’m satisfied,” he says. “Johannes is innocent.”

Johannes says there is another reason he must get out: he has become a father. A few months before his arrest, a girlfriend of his became pregnant.

“The boy has been born in the meantime,” he explains. “I’m waiting for a ­photograph.”

In his original confession, Johannes said he and Anene went to the building site and that he wanted sex with her. When she refused, he hit, kicked and raped her.

“Why did you make the original confession if it was not true,” I ask him?

“Police pressured me. I was confused and tired, and didn’t know what was going on. I wanted this thing to go away.”

“Did the police torture you?”

“No, but they harassed me.”

“Are you taking the fall for the 28s?”

He doesn’t answer.

Johannes says he has no doubt that he is coming out soon. He finds inspiration in a John Grisham nonfiction book called The Innocent Man.

It tells the story of small-town justice gone terribly awry, of two innocent men who were convicted for the 1982 rape and murder of a cocktail waitress. One was sentenced to death and the other to life in prison.

After serving 11 years on death row and in a maximum security prison, ­respectively, the two were exonerated by DNA evidence and released.

Hours later, we cross the Orange River on our way back to Bredasdorp. Pieter Kana has phoned every member of his family to tell them he’s seen Johannes and the young man is innocent.

The family is holding a meeting this weekend to raise more money.

Pieter says he will also buy Johannes a new pair of Nike takkies, which he will post to Mangaung. “Our boy didn’t do it and deserves new shoes,” he reckons.

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