Newsmaker – Retha Meintjes: The woman who?slays monsters

2013-07-21 14:00

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Kotzé the latest in a string of bad men Meintjes has sent to jail

Prosecutor Retha Meintjes’ office was almost destroyed by fire two days after she secured a life sentence for Johan Kotzé.

The man known as the “Modimolle Monster” masterminded the kidnapping, gang rape, and brutal assault of his ex-wife Ina Bonnette and the murder of her son, Conrad. His workers – Andries Sithole, Pieta Mohlake and Sello Mphaka – helped him.

On Friday morning, the burnt smell in Meintjes’ office on the second floor of Pretoria’s department of public prosecutions prevented her from working in it. But the soft-spoken Meintjes, who has water aerobics to thank for her slender frame, is not shaken.

Instead, she jokes about it as we settle in one of the smaller offices two doors down. A cleaner keeps guard at her office door with a fire extinguisher.

The Kotzé case was the biggest in the 60-year-old’s career. She was born in Rustenburg and grew up in Westonaria, where her father worked as a metallurgist on the mines.

At the time, career options for a little girl on the platteland were limited to nursing or teaching. But a visit to an educational psychologist pointed her in a different direction and she studied law at the University of Pretoria.

Her career as a prosecutor began in 1977 in the district courts.

She is now a rock star in the world of prosecutors – counting the country’s most prolific serial killer, Moses Sithole, as one of many she has sent to prison.

She’s not quite a pit bull with lipstick and worries her voice may sometimes be too soft. But she warns: “I’m rather tough. I will put up a good fight when I need to.”

This she displayed in her pursuit of Kotzé’s conviction.

“I had a very good feeling, especially with my experience, when I looked at the evidence. And yes, having a witness to say what happened was quite an advantage. When you have a deceased person you have to make up what you gather from the scene and present some kind of version to the court,” she says.

She believes Kotzé’s conviction will send a message to men that “women and children are not their possessions to do with as they please”.

Meintjes, the mother of Monica, a graphic designer based in Australia; Henk, an actuary in Cape Town; and Orpa, a student in Pretoria, hopes there will be a restored confidence in the justice system.

“Especially in light of this case, it would really be great if witnesses and victims would have less fear of the criminal justice system. We did quite a bit in this matter to look at what special measures were available, such as testifying from a different room, in-camera proceedings and limiting the number of media. We canvassed this fully with Ina,” she said.

“One of the most shocking things is I had to lead an expert in this case on what kind of injuries are to be expected when a woman has been raped, because everybody thinks there will be lots of injuries, which is a myth. You need to educate people who make decisions on these matters that they know these things and not base their decisions on the absence of injuries.”

She says Bonnette was very brave. “I think perhaps she appears to be stronger than she is; but really, for being strong to testify and endure the cross-examination?.?.?.?she was quite an impressive person to deal with. I told her that.”

As for Kotzé, all Meintjes had to say was that she agreed with Judge Bert Bam’s view that he was “inherently bad”.

“I prefer not to speak to the accused person. I think he said something about me rolling my eyes once when I was cross-examining him, and he didn’t

like that. The closest I got to speaking to him was during cross-examination.”

Meintjes is a founding member of the International Association of Prosecutors, for which she served on the executive and was vice-president until recently.

She is a founding member and current president of the SA Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, which trains those who deal with child abuse cases.

“It’s horrific when you deal with the number of cases I deal with. I don’t know if there is an increase or if there’s more reporting.”

To relax, she tends to her roses and her vegetable garden. “I find refuge in my garden and I appreciate everything that grows and blooms. I take it from my father. He had beautiful gardens.”

Unsurprisingly, her favourite TV show is US legal drama, The Good Wife. She also plays the piano “but no one should be around” when she does.

Any chance of being a judge? “They don’t appoint judges from our ranks. They think you are contaminated.” She winks. “They believe you have been too much on the other side and there are many objections. So no.”

So what’s next?

A retirement in which she would like to write critiques of criminal law judgments.

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