PODCAST | My Only Story Episode 4: 'Willem Breytenbach will no longer bother us and I find peace in that'

2019-11-28 06:01
My Only Story illustration.

My Only Story illustration.

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In this much-anticipated finale of a series of podcasts co-published by News24, Deon Wiggett recounts a chilling story of how he and other boys were allegedly sexually molested more than 20 years ago by Willem Breytenbach, who used to be a teacher at a prestigious school and later became an executive at Media24.


Willem Breytenbach, a former teacher-turned-journalist who became an executive at Media24 before he left the company in 2014, is accused of raping a schoolboy more than 20 years ago when he headed up a school newspaper project for the company.

He is also accused of sexually abusing and/or raping a number of schoolboys when he was a teacher at Grey College in Bloemfontein in 1989 and 1990, a now-defunct high school in Willowmore in the Eastern Cape in 1991 and 1992, and Langenhoven High School in Riversdale in 1993 and 1994. 

Breytenbach has gone to ground since the first episode of My Only Story flighted on News24 on November 7. He abandoned his house in Cape Town and told most of his almost 30 colleagues at his digital marketing firm Lightspeed Digital Media to resign. He switched off his cellphone and closed all his social media accounts.

News24 tracked him to his mother's house in Reebok near George in the Southern Cape on November 21. He had just been discharged from hospital after reportedly attempting suicide a week before. 

***

In the final episode of My Only Story, Wiggett tries to find more information on Breytenbach's "seven missing years", of which he spent two at Grey and another two at Willowmore High School, about three hours' drive from George. 

But the school no longer exists, Wiggett finds, having closed its doors in 1995.

"I honestly don't know if it closed because Willem broke its spirit," Wiggett muses. "After everything I've learnt about him, I'd say it's definitely possible." 

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According to Wiggett, Breytenbach moved into the school's dormitory and "started helping himself to the children of the region". 

"They had no way of knowing what their little town was in for..." 

Wiggett is approached by Robert* - now in his 40s - following the publication of Episode 2 of My Only Story. "The most deceitful things we knew in Willowmore were wildcats and jackals," Robert tells Wiggett. 

Robert tells Wiggett that Breytenbach allegedly used a trick to get him alone one night in the school's dormitory. 

"And then Willem helped himself to the young penis of Robert, for no reason other than the fact that Willem Breytenbach does what Willem Breytenbach does..." 

***

The next two years, Breytenbach spent at Langenhoven High School, Riversdale, as an Afrikaans teacher and housemaster of the school's dormitory. "He has a passion for school newspapers," Wiggett remarks. 

Wiggett describes a 14-year-old pupil at the school called Ivor* as "a smart and curious guy", but says he will not have guessed how well he would get to know Breytenbach, whom the pupils had nicknamed "Obelix". 

"Nothing in his life would have prepared him for Mister Breytenbach's cunning. By the time the teacher left the school two years later, he had raped Ivor more than a dozen times, including in the house of Willem's mother near Hartenbos..."

Wiggett describes how Breytenbach allegedly groomed the heterosexual Ivor by earning his and his parents' trust before taking him on an "educational weekend". 

"And that's when you pounce - when the kid has nowhere to turn." 

Ivor's classmate Ridge* was also raped multiple times by Breytenbach, Wiggett alleges. 

Both have laid charges with the police and have signed affidavits detailing their experiences. 

According to Wiggett, a further four former pupils of Langenhoven in Riversdale have since confessed their alleged abuse at the hands of Breytenbach. 

Gerrit Visser, who was the principal of the school at the time, described Breytenbach as "one of the best teachers I have ever seen". 

He refused to discuss the matter further. 

***

By 1995, the "seven missing years" are over and, according to Wiggett, Breytenbach is settling into his new job at Die Burger, an Afrikaans-language daily newspaper distributed mainly in the Western Cape, where he is appointed as education reporter. 

"He knows his way around schools, he knows how to talk to children, and he knows how to teach them too - about newspapers." 

At all three schools he taught at before, Breytenbach used school newspapers as a "conveyor belt" for potential targets, says Wiggett. 

At Die Burger, Breytenbach had managed to successfully bring back the Nasionale Skoolkoerantprojek (national school newspaper project), which saw him visiting schools throughout the Western and Eastern Cape.  

This is where he and Wiggett crossed paths in the summer of 1996, in Stellenbosch. "I am 16 years old and it is the day I meet Willem Breytenbach. I couldn't believe my luck. Here I was, an aspiring journalist, and here is this real journalist, who is attentive and smart, and lets me in on secrets, and takes me under his wing - he became my hero..." 

Wiggett then describes how Breytenbach allegedly groomed him. "He always wanted to get his penis in my mouth and wanted my teenage penis in his. His plan did not go wrong. Not for a second.

"Until 22 years later. Until three weeks ago. Until I laid a trap. And in fell Willem Breytenbach."

Wiggett recounts how he had used new media, the field of journalism Breytenbach professed to be an expert at, to expose him. 

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Wiggett says Breytenbach was shocked and tense following the publication of his first podcast on News24 on November 7.

At the time, Breytenbach was referred to only as "Jimmy", but the podcast left him "paralysed" and "impotent", says Wiggett. 

The next day, Breytenbach does not go to the offices of his company, Lightspeed Digital Media, but instead consults with lawyers. 

He closes his social media profiles one by one. 

By the following Monday, almost 30 employees arrive at Lightspeed Digital Media in Cape Town. "It will be their final day under the boss from hell...

"By Tuesday, News24 was looking for him...everyone was instructed to clear out the premises. By Wednesday morning, it was like there never was a company..."

Breytenbach had become unreachable. His phone had been switched off. He drives to Reebok, a four-hour drive from Cape Town, "to the arms of his extremely ill mother".

This is where News24 ultimately located Breytenbach on the evening of November 21 - on the day his identity was revealed in Wiggett's third podcast. 

"Please respect me. I respect you, but unfortunately, I can't speak to you," Breytenbach told News24. 

The next day, it was revealed that Breytenbach had attempted suicide on November 15. He had since been discharged from hospital. 

Wiggett travels to Cape Town where he meets with Jake*, a creative type who is "unrealistically beautiful". 

"He used to work for Willem until things got out of hand... I ask, 'How many times did Willem help himself to you?' Jake says, 'Six times at the most'. 

"Jake was raped at least six times while employed by Willem Breytenbach in 2017 and 2018. Jake was not yet 20."

Jake has since also laid charges against Breytenbach. 

Wiggett ends off the podcast by saying he did it for three reasons: justice, activism and art. He would like to see Breytenbach in prison; he wants those who were complicit in protecting Breytenbach for years exposed, and has turned his pain "into a flower". 

With his therapist, he also discovered a fourth reason: revenge. He wanted Breytenbach to taste some of his own medicine, exposing him through the media and a new, creative form of storytelling. 

During his last visit to Cape Town, to register a criminal complaint against Breytenbach and interview more survivors, Wiggett says he felt safe in the city for the first time since he was raped. "Willem isn't destroying boys in Cape Town any more; the ground zero for his criminal empire... I wanted to warn people's sons and I have. He won't be bothering us any more and I find peace in that."

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Wiggett has opened a case with the police who are investigating his and other complaints.

Warrant Officer Rowan Andrews is the investigating officer in the case. He has confirmed to News24 that the criminal investigation into Breytenbach is ongoing and has asked members of the public with information that can assist the case to contact him on 082 729 8155 or 021 590 1001.

News24 is continuing its investigation into Breytenbach.

If you have information, send an email to tips@24.com.

*Names are not real. 

Read more on:    willem breytenbach  |  deon wiggett  |  media  |  my only story  |  crime  |  rape  |  sexual assault
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