Love in the time of murder and trials: Why do we find it difficult to stomach Danielle standing by Henri?


When the Van Breda axe murder trial started 2 years ago, an acquaintance of mine who works at the High Court in Cape Town said she spotted Henri van Breda, then just 21 years of age, outside court on a bench, sitting with his girlfriend, then 20 years old, Danielle Janse van Rensburg. 

She told me how shocked, and almost sickened she felt seeing them together. It's not entirely surprising.

READ MORE: Here's what we know about femicide in SA - numbers may be decreasing but the reality is still very grim 

Questioning the relationship between an alleged or convicted murderer and the woman he is involved with, is nothing new. 

But it's usually the woman's involvement in the relationship that is seen as very problematic. 

If you go to Twitter, you'll see this: 

The narrative goes like this...

Throughout the 2 year trial, Danielle has maintained Henri's innocence, even telling YOU Magazine in 2016 that he was the love of her life. 

But what have we as a public come to know about her? Really very little. As our minds were already semi made-up from the start.

A lot of people see women who fall in love with accused killers and convicts as sad or delusional. We question why they 'stand by their man'. What they are really after. Because their decision to continue a relationship aware of the charges or convictions against their partner, doesn't seem logical or safe.

In some cases, people may speculate about hybristophilia. What is it? Wikipedia notes this as a paraphilia in which "sexual arousal, facilitation, and attainment of orgasm are responsive to and contingent upon being with a partner known to have committed an outrage, cheating, lying, known infidelities, or crime—such as rape, murder, or armed robbery." 

Psychology Today notes that some women either feel their love can transform the convict, have motherly empathy for the person they see as the victim, trying to save or protect the killer's 'inner innocent child' or they hope to revel in the killer’s media spotlight. 

READ MORE: Babes Wodumo – why the narrative of abuse survivors doesn’t belong to us 

Local clinical and forensic psychologist, Giada Del Fabbro says, "I would say that for some of these women there is a need to rescue the criminal in question in a co-dependent scenario where she simultaneously enables him to transgress so that she can rescue him. There may be thrill-seeking traits in these women where the element of danger or risk with these individuals is exciting to them. There also may be a part of them which rebels against the laws or rules and which they find attractive in these individuals." 

The physical effects on her body

Like a disease, the stress of the trial has taken it's toll on Danielle and Henri, whose appearances have changed drastically since its start. And this week, it was written on Danielle's face and body, when she entered and exited court after judgment.

When the trial started, Danielle looked very different. In Henri and Danielle are taking strain, Kim Abrahams of YOU Magazine writes that Danielle’s curves, sported at the beginning of the trial have since vanished.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the criminal trial had left overwhelming physical and emotional stress to the couple," says registered psychologist and social worker, Mochabo Moerane. 

Why we see women who stand by their man as problematic

"...romantic relationships in general are extremely complex in nature. What may be reasonable and acceptable to one person may be totally different to the other," adds psychologist, Moerane. 

After being released on parole for murder, local rapper Molemo ‘Jub Jub’ Maaronhanye revealed he was, in fact, married. His alleged wife, Zenith 'Zee' Mia, according to MOVE!, stood by him while in prison. 

Similarly, Camille Cosby, long-time spouse of Bill Cosby, convicted of aggravated indecent assault on three counts, has always stood by her husband, come rain or shine. A NBC article quotes her as calling out those against him as seeking unjustified 'mob justice'. She has always defended him as a good husband and father.

Then there is the case of local serial killer, Moses Sithole, who met his wife, Martha Ndlovu after he was convicted of murdering 37 women.

Other wives and girlfriends, leave. 

Which one is 'right'? The woman who leaves immediately is often considered less problematic, and for most, her choice is easier to understand.

Speaking generally, clinical psychologist, Samuel Waumsley says, "I think when someone is in the public spotlight as a partner of someone charged with criminal behaviour or accused of problematic behaviour we as the public find it difficult to imagine someone can remain with this person, supportive of them. In some cases as with the recent Hollywood scandal with Harvey Weinstein's sexual abuse allegations, these partners do leave their partners if they find this person's guilt too clear.

"What is important to remember, though, is in close relationships and marriages it is a bond of solidarity and trust, which for some extends even into times when guilt is suggested but undetermined, or when guilt may be clearer sometimes one can be in denial. I think we can all appreciate it would be difficult to accept someone we love and are close to act in problematic or criminal ways or has, as it can mean the end of our marriages for example and sometimes our 'go-to' may be fierce protection and loyalty to that person, instead of more careful scrutiny. 

"Stress in any form, but especially when intense and prolonged is deeply toxic to us psychologically but also physically some research is showing, impacting our immune systems and physical health. Our romantic relationships and partnerships are, apart from our family of origin, the most potent psychological forces in our lives most of the time, and trouble in these affects us immediately and immensely. Relationships then make it complicated for us sometimes to know what to do and where to draw the line."

Images: Gallo

Sign up to W24’s newsletters so you don't miss out on any of our hot stories and giveaways.   

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Do you think it's important to get married in this day and age?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes, it's important in order to create a family unit and for companionship
22% - 674 votes
Not at all. Being single is far more liberating
9% - 279 votes
There is no general answer to this, it's each to their own
50% - 1546 votes
Yes, society still frowns on unmarried people, especially women
1% - 40 votes
It depends on whether you are able to find a compatible partner
18% - 556 votes