- The Hervormde church's change of heart on Babbel & Krabbel crèche has been both praised and panned.
- While some of the alleged victims' parents celebrate, others continue to fume.
- The church changed its 11-year stance in just eight days.
As owner Annet Pistorius started her first school week after suddenly being barred from her playschool's premises by the Hervormde church, the parents of four of her husband's alleged victims said they were not sure how to feel about the church's change of heart.
Annet's husband, Marius Pistorius, allegedly abducted at least seven girls and boys from Babbel & Krabbel crèche in Melkbosstrand, Cape Town to perform sexual acts on them.
At the local Hervormde church, its long-time landlord told Annet over the weekend that the playschool could stay, but she had to go. Neither her nor Marius may enter the school grounds or have contact with the children.
They both strenuously deny any wrongdoing.
For the parents of Marius' alleged victims, the church's decision sparked elation and anger in varying degrees.
"We could say it's too little too late, but finally someone has stood up for the children," one of the fathers told News24.
"Nobody ever took the allegations seriously. The [National Prosecuting Authority] would not stand up for the children when they decided not to prosecute, and we say thank you to the Hervormde church, who made a decision for the children."
Another alleged victim's mother said: "This church thing is a huge step in the right direction. It's a massive win. Just to get them off the bloody premises is enough. Not enough as in this is the end, but flipping hell, it's further than we've ever gotten before.
"I'll never stop fighting, but I will take this as a huge win, getting him and her away from the children. I've lost faith in justice ever happening. I just wanted the school gone and want to get him away from children."
The Hervormde church's decision to boot out Annet constituted an extraordinary U-turn. The church was aware of allegations in both 2011 and 2018, it told News24 in May 2022, but it had been impossible to get to the truth.
"The whole situation was contaminated by gossip, envy and jealousy between different role players in the community of Melkbosstrand. It was difficult to come to any positive conclusion and the church relied on the integrity of the prosecutor and the legal system," said church scribe Johann Smith of the Hervormde church's Cape Town parish, which includes the Melkbosstrand congregation.
Eight days after publication, the church reversed its 11-year stance.
Children first, says church
"Our decision serves the children's interest above that of Ms Pistorius, any journalist, activist, pressure group, or whichever other person or persons who may have financial or other interests in the matter," the church's scribe wrote in a letter announcing the decision.
"The sexual abuse of children cannot be tolerated and must be fought and avoided in every manner imaginable. Perpetrators cannot be protected against possible justice in any way. We must do everything in our power to give cooperation in the investigation of the applicable matter or matters in a way that matters are not complicated further by our actions or that may influence or discredit any possible evidence that may serve."
The church's language irked him, said another alleged victim's father. "You can see the press release was very carefully drafted. I think it's more of a face-saving mission from the church's side. After everything we went through, after we engaged with the church, why didn't they do the same things then? It's frankly preposterous. It's clever lawyering, that's all."
A fourth alleged victim's mother told News24: "I have very mixed feelings. It's good that they made that decision, but it's a bit late. For me, first prize would have been if they closed the school, but on the other hand that then actually just punishes the children who are there already. I'm rambling. Yes, I have mixed feelings. But I suppose it's better than nothing."
On Monday, when asked how the church's members had received its decision, church scribe Smith said: "As far as we can establish, the church council's decision was received well in the parish. We also get the impression that other role players in the matter have received it well. We are grateful that this is the case. It can possibly contribute to defusing the tension and division in the community of Melkbosstrand.
"How our decision is received is not as important to us. What is of greater importance, is that we ourselves must be convinced that it's the best possible decision we could reach in the children's interest under the set of circumstances."
For at least one current mother from Babbel & Krabbel, the church's decision does bring comfort.
"Now that someone else has taken over, I feel things can only get better," she told News24 on Tuesday.
"The people there are incredibly good with children, so I'm leaving him there. But should Annet and her husband come back, I'm taking him out and rather home-schooling him. Or borrowing money from the bank to pay R4 000 more. But move we'll have to move."
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