EXCLUSIVE | Second man goes public with sex abuse allegations against Coenie Slabber

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Coenie Slabber, right, shortly before News24 interviewed him on 10 March 2020.
Coenie Slabber, right, shortly before News24 interviewed him on 10 March 2020.
Aljoscha Kohlstock, News24

Infuriated by former Rapport arts editor Coenie Slabber's "attempts to cast suspicion" on one of his sexual assault accusers, a second alleged victim has decided to make his name public. 

Afrikaans writer, journalist and former Voëlvry Movement anti-apartheid protest singer Theunis Engelbrecht has joined prominent writer and columnist Herman Lategan in accusing Slabber of sexually abusing him when he was a teenager.

News24 reported on Sunday that it was in possession of three affidavits from men who accuse 80-year-old Slabber, a well-known former arts editor who worked at Sunday newspaper Rapport between the 1970s and 1990s, of sexual abusing them while they were minors.

Slabber was a prominent Afrikaans media figure in the 1970s to 1990s and held various senior positions at Rapport and Die Republikein in Namibia. He was a celebrated arts critic and columnist. He was also at the centre of liberal Afrikaans writers' struggle against the apartheid government's censorship laws. 

Lategan is named in the report as one of the accusers, but the other two men were referred to by pseudonyms, Sam* and Dirk*.

Lategan says that, following several pleasant visits to Slabber's Bloubergstrand flat when his personal circumstances were dire, Slabber one night came up behind him when he was 15 years old, as he was brushing his teeth, and fondled his penis. He further alleges that Slabber came into his room that same night and performed oral sex on him. "From then on it became a regular occurrence," Lategan writes.

In addition to Dirk and Lategan, Sam alleges that, during the 1970s and 1980s, he was sexually abused by Slabber on several occasions. Sam's father was friends with Slabber.

Engelbrecht has now revealed that he is referred to as Dirk in the initial report. 

Slabber is the second former senior Media24 journalist who has been accused of sexually abusing boys while he held senior positions in the media.

In November last year, News24 and podcaster and writer Deon Wiggett alleged that former Media24 executive and businessman Willem Breytenbach sexually abused and raped several boys since his days as a teacher at Grey College in Bloemfontein in the early 1990s.

Breytenbach has since been arrested and is expected to appear in court again on 30 March. 

READ | Senior journalist 'sexually abused boys over decades'

After reading Slabber's comments about Lategan in the media, Engelbrecht decided to go public. He intends to lay a charge with the police. 

Lategan has also, since publication, indicated that he would initiate criminal proceedings against Slabber. 

'I am Dirk'

"I am 'Dirk' in the article that reported on the alleged sexual abuse of Herman Lategan and two other men. Slabber's pathetic attempts to cast suspicion on Lategan by suggesting that he is an emotional, unstable troublemaker have made me decide to come to the fore..." Engelbrecht said in a written submission to News24.

After News24 put the allegations to Slabber last week, he described Lategan as someone who was prone to gossip and telling stories and who could be malicious and fiercely critical of people who he felt had wronged him.

"I am not surprised that Herman is making these allegations given his temperament. What does surprise me, is that he is doing it now, towards the end of my life."

Slabber said on one occasion Lategan called to see him, but he wasn't feeling well. He suspects Lategan still holds a grudge because of his perception of having been snubbed. 

Lategan dismissed these assertions as "nonsense".   

In his affidavit, Lategan alleged that he was sexually abused by Slabber on many occasions from the age of 15. In one incident, Lategan says, Slabber sexually abused him in a car during a trip between Cape Town and Johannesburg while Slabber's son was asleep on the back seat. On another occasion, Lategan says that Slabber molested him at a house in Bezuidenhout Valley in Johannesburg where Slabber was staying with a fellow journalist. He was also allegedly sexually abused while on a holiday in Spain with Slabber and his son.

Engelbrecht says upon reading Slabber's response on News24, and in the Afrikaans daily newspaper Die Burger, as well as comments by retired journalists on social media, who expressed their sympathy for Slabber, he decided to go public.

"It seems that, when a gay boy or teenager is the victim of a paedophile, it is not considered serious. What can one expect from people who are taught by their churches and their schools that gay people's love is inferior?" Engelbrecht says. 

Engelbrecht: It felt like it was happening to someone else 

Engelbrecht, under the pseudonym Dirk, alleged that he was groomed by Slabber at the age of 17, in 1982, when he published his first book of poetry, the critically acclaimed ’n Gedig is so onskuldig soos ’n eier (A poem is as innocent as an egg).

Engelbrecht relates that he was impressed by Slabber's fame and influence and accepted an invitation to spend a weekend with Slabber at Sun City that year.

Slabber got into bed with him on the first night and allegedly performed oral sex on him, Engelbrecht writes.

"I was shocked, freaked out and disassociated from what was happening. It felt like it was happening to someone else."

The following year, Slabber allegedly invited Engelbrecht to Cape Town to meet a young friend of his, who turned out to be Lategan. Through Slabber, Engelbrecht and Lategan began corresponding with each other. Engelbrecht accepted the invitation because he wanted to meet Lategan and experience Cape Town.

Engelbrecht says Slabber again allegedly performed oral sex on him, against his will and "without asking". He again disassociated and returned home three days earlier than planned.

These alleged events had a profound psychological effect on Engelbrecht, who at one point, broke a bottle and cut his face in an attempt to make himself "less attractive to ooms (uncles)".

Outsider, bullied

Describing his experience, Engelbrecht says: "I was in the Standard 9 (Grade 11) at the time in the rural town of Bethlehem. When the book was published, Slabber called me. I was very flattered by his attention.

"I was an outsider because I was bullied at school by my schoolmates and teachers and called a "softie", "moffie" (faggot), "communist" and "k*****boetie" (derogatory term meaning friend of blacks). I had an absent father as well as an absent mother, and in retrospect, it is easy for me to understand why I fell for his attention and flattery. I didn't realise it at the time, but now it's clear to me that he groomed me," Engelbrecht alleges. "He made me feel like I was the best thing on earth.

"I told him in our phone conversations how isolated I found Bethlehem and how I desired to discover places such as Johannesburg, Cape Town and Sun City. Shortly after, he offered to take me to Sun City. And that's where he first sunk his claws into me," Engelbrecht alleges. 

Engelbrecht laid into people who shame survivors for taking such a long time to talk about their experiences.

"This question is used as a weapon to make the victims appear suspect. Anyone who has not been sexually assaulted or doesn't have children who have been molested, has no idea what they go through. Unfortunately, these uninformed people are always in the first to cast suspicion on the victims of abuse." 

Engelbrecht said he didn't depose to his affidavit because he was vengeful or wanted to see Slabber in jail. 

"I realise how important it is for victims to talk about [their experiences] and not keep it to themselves or keep it secret, because it is destructive - both emotionally and psychologically - to harbour all those feelings of guilt and shame for so long, and to live with the fear that one experiences by thinking there is no one to talk to."  

Slabber: I cannot remember anything

In reaction to Engelbrecht's allegations, Slabber said while he recalled writing a positive comment about Engelbrecht's poetry in his weekly column, he did not recall taking Engelbrecht to Sun City and denied that he ever sexually abused him. 

"I really can't remember anything. I do remember writing about his poetry. In all honesty, I cannot recall that I invited him to Sun City, of all places, or that I molested him. I firmly deny that."

Slabber described himself as a "physical being" who enjoys touching people and giving hugs, but said this should not be interpreted as sexual in nature. 

"I think that he (Engelbrecht) may have interpreted my kindness towards him as sexual. But a trip to Sun City - that, in my mind, never happened."

Engelbrecht said he found it "interesting" that Slabber could recall so many of Lategan's so-called personality flaws; yet, he could not remember the alleged abuse of Engelbrecht at all. 

Ishmet Davidson, CEO of Media24, said the company condemned in the strongest possible terms any form of violence and abuse.

"We do not have any personnel documents on record for Coenie Slabber as he left Media24's employ too long ago," Davidson said. 

Rapport and News24 are Media24 publications. 

* Not their real names. Their real identities are known to News24 and its lawyer, but the survivors have requested to remain anonymous.

** News24 is continuing its investigation into Slabber. If you have information, send an email to riaan.grobler@24.com.

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