Cape Town – A promising athlete, who Wellington author Winnie Rust took under her wing, has denied murdering her but admitted that he helped his uncle to rob her for drug money, the Western Cape High Court has heard.
He claims that he was torn between and his eagerness to help his uncle and his affection for Rust.
Nigel Plaatjies, 19, and his uncle, Johannes Plaatjies, are accused of Rust’s murder.
The teen has pleaded guilty to charges of theft, but not guilty to charges of murder, attempted murder, and attempted arson.
His Legal Aid lawyer, Yasmine Rajap, read a statement in court in which the teen claimed that his uncle had arrived in Wellington a week before Rust was killed and confessed to being in big trouble because he owed money to a drug lord in Montagu.
Johannes was his maternal uncle, who worked for the Rusts' daughter in Stellenbosch since he was a small boy.
The 19-year-old claimed that his uncle proposed robbing Rust and selling her possessions to raise the money to pay off his drug debt.
He wanted his nephew to help him because the teen knew the house and what was in it.
The 19-year-old claimed that his uncle told him nobody would be hurt and that all he had to do was remove the Rusts’ dog from the property.
The court heard that they also tried to blow up the Rusts' house by switching on the gas stove and putting a burning candle next to it. In his statement, Nigel Plaatjies said his uncle tried twice to convince him to get involved in the robbery.
The first time the issue was raised, he refused.
"At the time, I was outraged by his suggestion as Mrs Rust meant the world to me and I would never steal from her," he said.
She knew him since primary school and bought him clothes, gave him money, made sure he attended the best schools and encouraged his long-distance running.
However, he added that his uncle had been particularly attentive towards him because he grew up without a father.
He was upset by the idea of robbing Rust but also worried about his uncle's predicament.
On Tuesday, May 10, he visited Rust because she was going to help him get a driver's licence. However, she had visitors.
That evening Rust went to his house to apologise for the fact that she couldn’t help him.
She asked him to come to her house the next day and he agreed.
His uncle overheard the conversation and told him it would be the perfect opportunity to pounce because he was already expected there, the teen alleged.
"He begged me saying that the drug dealers is [sic] going to hurt him if cannot pay the money he owed," said Nigel.
Early the next morning, his uncle sent him a "Please Call Me" message while he was at the gym.
When they spoke, he asked the teen for money for transport to Montagu and they agreed to meet behind the local Pick n Pay.
When Nigel got there, his uncle had a gun and convinced him that it would only be used to scare 77-year-old Rust into doing what she was told during the robbery.
The alleged plan was that Johannes would arrive unexpectedly at her house when they met and he would instruct Nigel to fetch valuables.
"He assured me that no harm would come to her," the teen said in his statement.
Nigel went to Rust's house and brought the dog inside.
They had been discussing his future career possibilities when Johannes arrived, held Rust at gunpoint and demanded her handbag.
Johannes Plaatjies allegedly ordered his nephew to fetch the handbag upstairs.
He said he wanted to minimise the loss to Rust and decided to also take two laptops, hoping it would appease his uncle.
When he arrived downstairs about 15 to 20 minutes later, he saw Rust lying on the ground with her eyes closed.
His uncle was binding her hands and feet and taping her mouth so that she could not scream.
The uncle allegedly took her cellphone, cash and bank cards out of her bag, the teen claimed.
He said he saw his uncle carrying a piece of paper with Rust’s pin number written on it.
He said he agreed to withdraw R5 000 for his uncle, using one of the stolen bank cards.
He knew he was committing theft, the court heard.
That afternoon, he told staff at Game, Tiffany and Sportscene that Rust had given him permission to use her card. He bought clothes, boots, and jewellery which his uncle could sell.
He said he tried to withdraw from the situation, but added that his uncle told him he was already involved.
"I was never really good at saying no to him because I still wanted his approval. I went along with him," said Nigel.
His uncle insisted that he buy something for himself and he chose a pair of takkies and boots.
Before they parted, his uncle gave him R1 200. The teen was arrested on May 13.
In his statement, he said he was really sorry for his actions and that Rust had died.
"She was the one person in this whole world I could count on and I played a role in her death. I am truly remorseful of this act."
Johannes Plaatjies has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him, which also include theft or fraud, murder, attempted murder, and attempted arson.
He has admitted pawning two rings at Cash for Gold, saying that someone on the street gave them to him. The trial continued with Rust's 85-year-old husband, Manie, taking the witness stand.
The couple had been married for 53 years.