Cornelia De Wet, a South African political prisoner since 2010, shares riveting details of prison life in the true story of the conviction of explosives and ammunition. The De Wet family ordeal continues with harassment, after appearing in court 23 times. Securing the services of a prominent advocate Eckard Rosemann and an instructing attorney for the defense, a trial date has been set for January 2015 and March 2015.
The De We family experienced many attacks against their farm, and members of the Leeuweg group offered protection. Afraid and concerned for the family welfare, Cornelia De Wet joined the Leeuweg, Panzer Protection and BBF group during 2010, and assisted with administration work. De Wet then led a feeding scheme on behalf of the group. A mysterious donation of ZAR40,000 was received for the feeding scheme that later caused a rift among members of the group. Cornelia De Wet was banished from the group. The donation was the beginning of a traumatic experience.
As part of the group, Cornelia De Wet discovered unsavory dealings undertaken by the group. The phenomenon known as “White Genocide” stemmed from the belief that black perpetrators were responsible for these farm attacks. However, the group revealed that the farm attacks were undertaken to offer protection to farmers and advance the business operation. The South African police at that time refused to investigate the farm attacks, and it was assumed that the group was connected with the police.
The attacks against Cornelia De Wet continued and during April 2012 Larry Swart, a member of the Leeuweg group, threatened to kill De Wet and harassing phone calls continued. During the term of being a member of the group, De Wet began a relationship with a member Frik Steenberg and became pregnant with a child. The baby was five days old when the South African police, together with units of the Hawks, Dog Unit, Bomb Squad and Task team raided the De Wet Farm. After a grueling eight hours, Cornelia De Wet was arrested without being charged.
Spending almost six months in prison and incriminated with over 40 charges that were eventually withdrawn as the police did not produce enough evidence to proceed. The charge of possession of explosives and ammunition caused Cornelia De Wet to remain in prison, appearing in court a number of times and bail denied. Cornelia De Wet experienced the humiliation of being searched in front of the public while attending court.
Between December 2012, and March 2013, Cornelia was transferred to over six different prisons and experienced the humiliation of being chained like an animal for each transfer. Her hands and feet were placed in chains and irons, and De Wet’s Body was chained to ensure that it would be impossible to escape.
During the entire prison term, De Wet lived in fear for her life. De Wet experienced the wrath of the South African Prison Wardens, who tormented and humiliated De Wet continually. The cells were small, dirty and overridden with rats, bugs, and unusual insects. The food served in prisons often came with rats’ droppings and dead flies. In more than one instance, De Wet was not given food or liquids. Bathing and toilet facilities remained a luxury and often prisoners did not have the use of these amenities. Prison life in South Africa is hell, and there is a clear indication that white prisoners are adversely affected. The use of cell phones, radios, televisions are allowed for black prisoners. Drugs are a prominent feature in prisons with gang leaders initiating deals with police and the outside world.
During one of the court appearances, De Wet was allegedly assaulted by the police who threatened to shoot her and inform the court of an attempted escape. Cornelia De Wet sustained severe injuries including strangulation marks around her neck and placed in an Intensive Care facility at a government hospital. Cornelia De Wet remained in a comatose state for three days. De Wet and opened a assault case against the police. A file was opened, and documents revealed the injuries sustained during the attack on De Wet. However, there was no investigation into the charge made by Cornelia De Wet. Without any indication, the case of assault and files disappeared.
In another incident during the prison term, De Wet began a hunger strike and refused to eat for up to nine days. The hunger strike caused De Wet serious health implications, and the family was called to comfort and end the hunger strike. The doctors informed the De Wet family that if no medical intervention was undertaken Cornelia would die. De Wet upon hearing the crying and pleading of the eldest daughter agreed to medical treatment. During this time, there was no compassion by the prison wardens who continued to treat De Wet with coldness.
Cornelia De Wet experienced the humiliation of being beaten by guards, terrorized at every opportunity and forced to take medication that caused severe complications. De Wet was refused the right to get medical attention and beaten for making a request.
Perhaps the most distressing experience for Cornelia De Wet was a rape ordeal while in prison. De Wet was in a single cell when two black police officers entered and grabbed De Wet. De Wet was forced to co-operate and had no choice but to endure the harrowing experience of rape. The police officers left the cell, and De Wet remained on the cold concrete floor for several hours.
Cornelia De Wet finally was allowed bail until the trial hearing. Cornelia De Wet remains determined to prove that the charges filed are false and without conviction. With the trial date set for early 2015, and after a grueling four years Cornelia De Wet hopes to get closure on this nightmare.
The failing justice system of South Africa, coupled with corruption indeed sparks a fear of unfairness and discrimination. The Leeuweg, Panzer Protection, and BBF groups have not stopped the harassment against Cornelia De Wet, creating doubt in a fair trial. Cornelia De Wet is hoping that the ending to the distress will stop. The state wants to convict Cornelia De Wet and hand down a prison term of 15 to 20 years if found guilty. Cornelia De Wet wants a fair trial and justice to prove that this debacle was a framed charge to humiliate the family.
Opinion by Laura Oneale