Henri van Breda’s court stress

As he stands trial for the mur­der of his fam­ily, Henri van Breda hasn’t given much away. We asked ex­perts how he might be cop­ing


DAY af­ter day he sits in court, star­ing ahead poker-faced. His ex­pres­sion gives lit­tle away but as he lis­tens to pro­ceed­ings he fid­gets with a sil­ver ring, rolling it over and over. When he sees pho­to­graphs of his brother’s mu­ti­lated body in a pool of blood in the bed­room they once shared, the ring moves faster.

And when pic­tures are shown of his mother with her head cut open, ly­ing in the pas­sage of his for­mer fam­ily home, the piece of jew­ellery al­most takes on a life of its own, whirling faster and faster be­tween his fingers.

This ring is prac­ti­cally the only sign of emo­tion Henri van Breda has be­trayed in the long weeks of his mur­der trial.

Is he wor­ried Judge Si­raj De­sai will find him guilty?

Or does he be­lieve that when all the ev­i­dence is weighed up the court will be­lieve his ver­sion of events: that on the morn­ing of 27 Jan­uary 2015 some­one en­tered their home on the De Zalze es­tate out­side Stel­len­bosch and axed his fa­ther, Martin (54), mother, Teresa (55), and broth- er, Rudi (22), to death?

From his ex­pres­sion, which is un­read­able as stone, it’s im­pos­si­ble to say.

Henri (22) and his sis­ter, Marli, were the only two sur­vivors of the mas­sacre. Marli, who was 16 at the time, was also at­tacked and is un­able to tes­tify as a re­sult of the ret­ro­grade am­ne­sia she still suf­fers.

So all the court has to go on is the tes­ti­mony of the ac­cused and the ex­perts who’ve been brought in to ex­am­ine the foren­sic ev­i­dence for tell­tale clues.

For weeks wit­nesses have of­fered their take – yet while Henri looks im­pas­sively on it’s fair to say the pro­ceed­ings in the high court in Cape Town have taken their toll.

The dark cir­cles un­der his eyes are now more pro­nounced than ever and he’s put on a fair amount of weight.

Yet through­out the trial his body lan­guage sel­dom re­veals any clue as to what might be go­ing on in his head.

When pho­tos of his mur­dered fam­ily mem­bers and the grue­some house of hor­rors are handed out in court, Henri pages through them as if look­ing through a sto­ry­book.

Only at one point does he lose a sem­blance of con­trol – as he stares at the blood­ied axe and the knife used to kill his fam­ily the ring he’s been rolling sud­denly slips from his fingers.

The tin­kling sound as it hits the wooden floor res­onates in the court and can be heard even in the back of the gallery.

His le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tive, ad­vo­cate Pi­eter Botha, stops talk­ing and in the hush of the court­room you can hear the

ring rolling un­til it hits some­thing and comes to a halt.

Botha turns and looks over his spec­ta­cles to meet his client’s gaze. Henri smiles slightly and bends down, feel­ing un­der the bench for his ring. He puts it back on and re­turns his at­ten­tion to the pho­tos ly­ing in front of him.

ON DAY 38 of the trial, be­fore tak­ing his usual place in the dock, Henri turns to greet an un­known man in the pub­lic gallery with a smile. “I’ve known Henri since he was lit­tle when they lived in Pre­to­ria, when his mother and fa­ther worked in prop­erty. That was be­fore the fam­ily moved to Aus­tralia,” the grey-haired man tells us later dur­ing the lunch break.

He doesn’t want to dis­close his name be­cause it’s not his place to speak, he says. But he to­tally stands be­hind Henri and be­lieves in his in­no­cence.

The man de­scribes Henri’s child­hood as happy and says that un­der the cir­cum­stances things have been go­ing well in court.

“Yes, he strug­gles to sleep at night but he stands strong and is try­ing to stay pos­i­tive. He be­lieves that his in­no­cence will be proven.”

The man says Henri’s girl­friend, Daniellé Janse van Rens­burg (21), whom he met at chef school in Cape Town, has been a pil­lar of strength.

“She’s a won­der­ful, soft-hearted girl. She of­fers him so much sup­port.”

A day later in court you can no­tice a sub­tle change in Henri. He seems to be sit­ting up a bit straighter in the dock and lis­ten­ing more at­ten­tively.

As he does so he makes notes on the pa­per in front of him. Some­times he even greets a few of the reg­u­lar court­room pho­tog­ra­phers be­fore they start tak­ing his pic­ture. What’s changed? His le­gal team is fight­ing back. The state has closed its case against him and now it’s his team’s turn to present his ver­sion of what took place on that fate­ful night.

Henri main­tains there was a hit on his fam­ily and hopes the court sees it that way, the man out­side the court says.

“Hope,” he adds. “That’s all Henri has at this stage.”


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