- This article was first published in the 11 August 2016 edition of YOU
Shattered doesn’t begin to describe how his friends felt when they heard the news. He was the honourable one among them, the deeply religious guy who had always gone out of his way to help others. The best friend anyone could have asked for, in fact.
Now he was dead – and compounding their grief was the fact that he’d been burnt so badly in a fiery car accident in his beloved Mercedes that he was beyond recognition. And he was so young too, only 31.
Before his death he’d stipulated he didn’t want a funeral when he passed away so they couldn’t even get closure. Instead they had to comfort themselves by paying tribute to him on social media and at gatherings of friends.
But then, seven months after the tragedy, something happened that left them stunned: Zak Valentine wasn’t dead at all. He was, in fact, appearing in the flesh in the Krugersdorp Magistrate’s Court facing a fraud charge involving millions of rands.
It’s alleged that he’s been lying low at a Christian shelter in Magaliesburg this whole time. And the identity of the person who died in the blaze is yet to be determined. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, another shock revelation: two women were taken into custody with Zak on fraud charges.
One of them is Cecilia Steyn (35), the beneficiary of a life insurance policy Zak took out shortly before his “death”. The other is Marinda Steyn (50), mother of two suspects taken into custody in June with regards to the spate of murders in Krugersdorp.
“People don’t know what to believe,” says Madelene Barnard (30), who’s friends with Zak’s family. “It’s a huge shock for all of us. We thought we’d said farewell to him, then we heard that he’s alive.”
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Zak, a broker who worked at Absa and Discovery before starting his own financial services company, was described by friends as God-fearing and responsible. But court documents paint an entirely different picture.
According to court documents, in December last year after his presumed death, Zak lived for a while under the alias Jacques de Villiers, complete with a falsified ID. He stayed in a hotel and even tried to open a cellphone contract under the name, but when his money eventually ran out he went to stay at a shelter for the homeless in Magaliesburg.
The last time Krugersdorp was in the news was in June when three people in the area were invited to appointments on separate occasions and then murdered. The bodies of the victims – Anthony Scholefield (64), Kevin McAlpine (29) and Hanle Lategan (52) – were found weeks apart. Their cellphones and bank cards had been stolen.
Four suspects were taken into custody in connection with the murders: siblings Marcel (18)and Le Roux Steyn (20), as well as Christiaan “Tiaan” Kruger (29) and Fabian Luff (32). Marinda, who’s allegedly involved in Zak’s fraudulent activity, is Marcel and Le Roux Steyn’s mother.
Marinda and Cecilia have already appeared in court in connection with the case against Zak. The two women showed up in camouflage jackets and nearly identical cropped haircuts.
According to a police source a close family member of Marinda’s handed in the paperwork for the life insurance claim, which was to pay out R3,57 million to Cecilia in the event of Zak’s death. How Zak and Marinda came to be involved with each other is not clear at this stage – but he was apparently in a romantic relationship with Cecilia.
According to those close to the investigation Zak and Cecilia lived together before the car accident in which he “died” and Zak told people God wanted him to marry her. But this isn’t the end of the drama surrounding Zak.
In October 2012 his wife, Mikeila (25), was murdered in their home in Ruimsig, northwest of Johannesburg. Her throat was slit while she was in bed and home alone and Zak discovered her body when he arrived home from work that afternoon. Her cellphone was the only thing missing and no one was ever arrested for her murder.
Mikeila was a former student of the Rhema Bible College. She and Zak were “a cute couple”, Madelene recalls.
“They kept a little bit to themselves after they got married, but it happens to some couples. I always felt safe when I visited with them. Everything that’s happened is so shocking to me.”
The Zak she knew was “a very relaxed and friendly person”, she says. “We can’t believe this. He’s a deep sort of person. I can’t believe he would do something like this.”
That Zak was popular with his friends is clear.
After his “death” one post on his Facebook page read, “Ai, Zakkie...you stood by me in the most difficult time of my life, my trusted companion, the best friend I could ever have asked for.”
Another friend, Marike Kruger (31), a manager in Midrand, describes him as an open and honest person who always listened to his friends’ problems. She and Zak went to school together, she adds, and both enrolled at The North-West University where Zak studied business mathematics and informatics.
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“He was always the responsible one at varsity,” Marike says. “He made sure the girls didn’t get too drunk.” She too says things changed when he married Mikeila in 2010.
“He distanced himself from his friends. Everyone was talking about it. None of us were even invited to his wedding.
”After the recent news that Zak had been found alive Marike made contact with his mother.
“She said they were just as shocked as we were that he was still alive.” Marike says before his “death” Zak told everyone he didn’t want a funeral when he passed away.
“Everyone thought that was strange because why would you think of your funeral at his age?” The allegations of fraud have hit her and Zak’s other friends hard.
“I’m struggling to believe Zak was capable of something like this. When we were students he drove a skedonk and he was so happy with that car,” she says, adding that money wasn’t important to him.
“Something terrible must have happened for him to go through with something like this. I can’t wrap my head around it.”
- Zak, Cecilia and Marinda were being held in the Krugersdorp Police Station cells at the time of going to print, awaiting their bail application hearing in the Krugersdorp Magistrate’s Court.