More than just her retirement fund

By admin
22 August 2013

Hannetjie Jansen van Rensburg’s lets us look through her unique window on the happenings in the dark corridors of the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court building.

Her "piece of London" is located just inside the entrance to the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court building. "Cafe Caught, as in caught," Hannatjie Jansen van Rensburg explains the irony in her cosy restaurant’s name.

The delicate, grey-haired 68-year-old laughs easily. “I love travelling and go overseas at least twice a year. Doesn’t the place look like somewhere in Europe?” she asks, referring to the restaurant she’s owned for the past seven years.

Hannatjie’s place is where magistrates, public prosecutors and attorneys come for coffee, a Russian sausage and chips take-away or a chicken breast with salad.

But Cafe Caught is more than just Hannetjie’s retirement fund; it’s her unique window on the happenings in the dark corridors of the court building. And it’s not only the legal fraternity who patronise the place but also the accused and their families. Like the Pistorius family who came to support Paralympic hero Oscar Pistorius during his bail application in February this year.

We talked to Hannatjie shortly before Oscar’s latest court appearance when the official charge sheet in his trial for the alleged Valentine’s Day muder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was served on him.

“Boy, the lawyers worked from the café,” she recalls. “We had to bring in an extra table just for Oscar’s brother and his legal team. There,” she says, pointing to a corner. “They talked a lot on their cellphones and made a lot of calls. See, there wasn’t enough room for everyone in the court so they phoned the people outside for advice and to keep them up to date.

“Yes, the family was also here,” she says with an approving  nod. “They were a traumatised bunch. On the first morning my manager at the time went up to Oscar’s brother, Carl, and wished him good luck. 'Thank you, I need it,’ he replied. The brother was very friendly. Very soon after the court case the group was always in the restaurant."

Hannatjie doesn’t know what the legal people discussed with “the people outside”. “Look, I must honestly tell you, I’m focused on my business. I’m not interested in the court cases. There’s so much misery. The people who come in here are terribly dejected. What happened with the Oscar case is a total exception."

She bought the restaurant in 2006 with her son Stephanus, but has since bought him out.

“There’s seating for 50. This place was packed and rows of people stood here. See, the international media was also here. That’s because Oscar is so popular overseas.

“When I arrived here on the morning of Oscar’s bail application [hearing] there were lights and cameras everywhere. Blocks away. Boy, there was a crowd. Fortunately I park in the back, at security. There wasn’t room for even a mouse.”

Hannatjie didn’t chat to the people. She was at work at 7 am and when the first clients came in she was behind the cash register. “Everyone went to work. I just hit the till. There wasn’t time to talk to people.”

Her turnover shot up a good 30 per cent during Oscar’s bail application hearing. “I had to buy extra bread, Coke, bottled water, coffee and milk,” she says. “There were a lot of people here.”

She saw Oscar only once – fleetingly. “It was when the case was postponed in July. He came past the café, but his jacket was pulled over his head.”

She’s not really interested in the court cases. Sometimes she doesn’t even recognise the people who come in.

“The biggest cases go to the high court. But sometimes well-known people are here. Like those Waterkloof Four guys. I didn’t even recognise them. They came in and bought something. I asked them what they were here for.

“One of them said, 'We’re here for a light little case’," she says with a laugh.

But they didn’t really impress her. “They were very forward. Arrogant.”

Sometimes the accused are led into Cafe Caught in handcuffs. “Yes, look, they come in with handcuffs and fetters,” says Hannatjie with her thumb and forefinger around her wrist. “I sell these empty plastic bags. The people buy them and take them down to the holding cells with cigarettes and things.”

Hannatjie believes you get out what you put into life. That’s why she doesn’t want to listen to all the sad court cases and stories. “Oh, the people fight a lot about maintenance. A lot!

“This is a small set-up, a family affair. I have my regulars who come in every day. Oooh, and if you increase the prices they just about lose their pants. But the economy is down; everyone is struggling. I can see it.”

On Monday mornings she and her staff first have a Bible study session and pray together. “When I took over I told them you can’t work together unless you also pray together. And on Fridays when we close we have praise and worship and I dance with the bunch.”

“It’s a small set-up, this, but it’s my pension and I enjoy it. Where do you find such a nice job. I have a manager; I come in just twice a week and open at 9 am and close at 2 pm. By 2.30 pm I’m at home. But I’ll keep working until I keel over.”

It’s with those exceptional cases, such as Oscar’s, that Hannetjie doesn’t mind helping out. “When the opportunity’s there, make the most of it,” she says.

* Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial has been transferred to the North Gauteng High Court, where it will begin on 3 March next year.

-Danél Blaauw

Pictures: Luba Lesolle

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