They gave up everything to wage their Boer war

2010-10-31 13:21

When the Boeremag treason trial started in the Pretoria High Court in May 2003, the wives of the 22 men on trial were allowed to bring food and have a leisurely lunch with their husbands after court was ­adjourned on Fridays.

In the beginning almost all the wives came to these gatherings, some dressed to kill, with shopping bags filled with delicacies.

Now you seldom see them in the courtroom. And nine of the wives have divorced their husbands.

“Their wives left them because they are in prison and cannot provide for their families,” says one of the men on trial, Lets Pretorius.

Earlier this month the Boeremag defence closed its case in what has turned out to be one of the country’s longest-running criminal ­trials.

The state closed its case more than two years ago.

And the table is set for the final round of arguments before Judge Eben Jordaan will decide whether these men are guilty of plotting the overthrow of South Africa’s first democratic government.

They face 42 charges – high treason, sabotage, murder, and terrorism included.

Court will resume for the last stretch of the trial after problems with the Legal Aid Board are cleared up.

The board, says Pretorius, was not keen to pay the “1?000 hour preparation time” ­demanded by the legal aid lawyers.

The case has cost the country’s taxpayers almost R40 million.

Pretorius says they calculated that the case would take another year and a half to be completed.

The prisoners are transported to court and back to C?Max prison in Pretoria under heavy guard. The escort is enlivened by a deafening collection of sirens.

Strangers jump when the ­convoy comes racing through the streets. “Aw, that’s just the ­Boeremag,” residents mutter.

Those jailed in C Max prison are not allowed out during court breaks. But those out on bail sit around in court corridors and chat with whomever passes.

Some of them have extensive knowledge of World War Two literature.

One or two of them are partial to books pertaining to Adolf Hitler and SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler’s actions.

Some of them are often seen in second-hand bookshops where they often browse to pass the hours between court appearances.

Two of them, Machiel Burger and Fritz Naude, shared a flat during the early years of the case and they could often be seen hanging out in Hatfield’s restaurants, ogling university girls.

Two of the Boeremag-soldiers in custody, Herman van Rooyen and Rudi Gouws, turned out to be budding poets.

A few of their poems were published in a book of cartoons and court document snippets ­authored by Pretorius, entitled “Die Boeremagsage”.

It sells for R100.

The Boeremag trial was originally scheduled to take place in the Palace of Justice court where ­Nelson Mandela and nine others were tried in 1963 for acts of sabotage designed to overthrow the apartheid system.

But the old courtroom was too small and the trial was moved to the new high court building in Vermeulen Street.

Exactly 40 years after the Rivonia trial, the Boeremag had an easier time than those in the Rivonia Trial.

None of the Rivonia trialists were granted bail; seven of the ­Boeremag crowd, including Pretorius, sleep at home.

He may be on trial for treason, including plans for “taking out” the ANC president, but Pretorius has been the guest of the very same president on two occasions during the trial.

Both events were meetings with President Jacob Zuma, one in Sandton and one at the state guest house last year.

And on both occasions, Pretorius admitted, the president listened courteously to what he had to say.

Pretorius also runs his anti-ANC Boerevryheid website without interference from the state.

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