Henri’s un­cle: why we for­give him

Henri van Breda’s un­cle still can’t make sense of what hap­pened on the night of the mur­ders but be­lieves forgiveness is the only way for­ward


HE LONGS for the days when he could wake up in the morn­ing feel­ing rested and re­freshed. But for the past three years it’s been the same pat­tern: al­most every night, like clock­work, he wakes with a jolt at around 3am. Then he tries to make sense of the tragic event that’s been part of his life for so long – the grue­some axe mur­der at the ex­clu­sive De Zalze es­tate out­side Stel­len­bosch which left his brother, sis­ter-in-law and nephew dead.

An­dré van Breda ad­mits he’s ag­o­nised a lot since 27 Jan­uary 2015, when he re­ceived the news of the hor­rific triple mur­der of Martin (54), Teresa (55) and their son Rudi (22). But these days it’s thoughts about their younger son, Henri (23), who was re­cently sen­tenced to three life terms for the crime, that keep him awake.

“I start think­ing about Henri be­ing in prison, won­der­ing if the child has enough blan­kets to keep him warm in bed,” An­dré (64) says.

An­dré gave ev­i­dence in the gru­elling trial which con­cluded re­cently with Judge Si­raj De­sai de­liv­er­ing a damning ver­dict in which he de­scribed Henri as a “cold-blooded mur­derer” who had no re­morse for his ac­tions. Henri’s younger sis­ter, Marli (then 16), was the only sur­vivor of the at­tack but was left with ex­ten­sive in­juries.

For An­dré the past few years have pre­sented end­less wor­ries and yet de­spite ev­ery­thing his ex­pres­sion soft­ens at the men­tion of Henri’s name. He tells us how his nephew seemed “up­beat and happy” when he and a few other fam­ily mem­bers to­gether with Henri’s girl­friend, Daniellé Janse van Rens­burg (23), vis­ited him at Drak­en­stein Cor­rec­tional Cen­tre be­tween Paarl and Franschhoek in the Western Cape just days af­ter his sen­tenc­ing.

“He was in a good mood and was mak­ing jokes,” An­dré says. “He was the old Henri we used to know.

“We had a lovely fam­ily dis­cus­sion. It was light and nice and we didn’t talk about the de­tails [of the case]. It was an open con­ver­sa­tion about the go­ings-on there [in prison].”

Al­though things are

look­ing bad for Henri right now, An­dré says they’re by no means dire. “Not at all. To be moved from Pollsmoor [near Cape Town] to Drak­en­stein was ab­so­lutely the right thing for this child. He was peace­ful, calm and spon­ta­neous. He laughed.”

An­dré says the prison re­minds him of the army.

“It was a pleas­ant sur­prise and I was im­pressed. The pris­on­ers are clean and shaven with neatly cropped hair. It was quite pleas­ant and Henri was him­self again – the op­po­site of what we’d seen in court.”

An­dré says Henri told the fam­ily the food is an im­prove­ment on what is served at Pollsmoor, where he was held be­fore sen­tenc­ing.

He says Daniellé was happy to be re­united with her boyfriend. “She’s also very happy about the en­vi­ron­ment he’s in now.”

They took him toi­letries such as de­odor­ant and soap.

An­dré says it was eas­ier see­ing Henri this time than it was a few days ear­lier. Af­ter sen­tenc­ing, Martin’s brothers, a hand­ful of other rel­a­tives and Daniellé were al­lowed to see Henri briefly near the court’s hold­ing cells as he pre­pared to start his new life be­hind bars.

“We told him to be strong and he said he would – he’s a Van Breda. We said we hoped he’d use this op­por­tu­nity to re­flect,” An­dré con­tin­ues. “And that he’d fur­ther his ed­u­ca­tion.”

He says Daniellé has since told them that both she and Henri in­tend study­ing law.

Right now more than any­thing An­dré is just re­lieved the court case is over.

“We’re much calmer now,” he says. “We have clo­sure.”

AN­DRÉ says the fam­ily is grate­ful to Daniellé for sup­port­ing Henri so well. But he’s wor­ried about how painfully thin she’s be­come in the past months as the trial drew to a close.

“Some­thing’s wrong. We took her out for a meal, but she would only or­der wa­ter and a cooldrink,” he says.

Daniellé had been liv­ing in Wyn­berg, Cape Town, dur­ing the last stretch of the trial. An­dré says when the fam­ily asked her where she was plan­ning to move to now she said time would tell.

“That child is go­ing through a tough time,” he says.

As he talks to us in the tran­quil Salem Bib­li­cal Gar­den out­side Paarl, An­dré’s gaze sweeps over the Boland scenery. He lives in Pretoria where he runs a busi­ness that op­er­ates pay­ment sys­tems but as the trial reached its close he put work on hold to sup­port his nephew.

He and his wife, An­toinette (63), have been stay­ing with a cousin as they waited for the court to hand down its sen­tence. It’s been a tu­mul­tuous time for the fam­ily.

Shortly be­fore our in­ter­view An­dré bade farewell to Bai­ley, his twin brother whom he de­scribes as his clos­est con­fi­dant. With the trial fi­nally con­cluded, Bai­ley had to re­turn to Mbombela in Mpumalanga where he’s a prop­erty devel­oper.

But we’ve hardly sat down when the phone rings. It’s Bai­ley just say­ing a quick hello af­ter his plane had landed.

An­dré smiles rue­fully as he re­calls anec­dotes from their child­hood in Paarl nearly 50 years ago. Their par­ents, Bai­ley and Mar­tie, moved the fam­ily from Kaka­mas in the North­ern Cape to Paarl when the twins were about to en­ter high school.

He still has fond rec­ol­lec­tions of them pop­ping their baby brother, Martin, who was seven years their ju­nior, in the boot of their Bee­tle when they went ex­plor­ing around the town. Ac­cord­ing to An­dré his kid brother showed ge­nius qual­i­ties early in life. “He was a top stu­dent from Sub A [Grade 1] to ma­tric. Bai­ley and I had to study hard but he didn’t.”

He says years later when they were in busi­ness to­gether it be­came ev­i­dent to him that Martin had a pho­to­graphic mem­ory.

“We’d sit in board meet­ings and read through a doc­u­ment. I’d be half­way through a page but Martin would al­ready be on the next page.

“I’d tell him, ‘Martin you have to read the stuff ’, then he’d say, ‘Test me!’”

Martin stud­ied civil en­gi­neer­ing at the Univer­sity of Stel­len­bosch, then moved to Pretoria where he met Teresa through mu­tual friends.

Years later An­dré stayed with Martin and his fam­ily for work pur­poses for four months, be­fore they moved to Aus­tralia. “There wasn’t any ten­sion in their home. None. The kids were re­laxed. They all had du­ties. Henri had to feed the dogs, Teresa washed the dishes, Marli dried, Rudi looked af­ter the swim­ming pool.”

Then his thoughts turn to Henri again and his eyes well up. “He was such a friendly child, al­ways. He was small and scrawny then, and when­ever I vis­ited he’d be first to meet me at the car. Then he’d carry up my lug­gage.

“None of us can be­lieve it. That child . . . When I look at pho­tos of him at home it doesn’t make sense. Some­where some­thing went ter­ri­bly wrong.”

Even though Henri hasn’t ad­mit­ted to the mur­ders to any­one in the fam­ily, they’ve had to for­give him, An­dré says. “If you can’t for­give, you won’t live very long.”

He and Bai­ley in­tend sup­port­ing Henri just as Teresa’s fam­ily did and will visit him when­ever they can. But An­dré is painfully aware that when he re­turns home all he’ll have left of his lit­tle brother are me­mories.

He thinks of his sib­ling every time he switches on his lap­top be­cause it’s the same com­puter Martin used to use.

Af­ter all that’s hap­pened, does he re­ally still love his nephew? An­dré doesn’t hes­i­tate for a sec­ond. “Blood is thicker than wa­ter,” he replies. “That’s what fam­ily is about.”

An­dré van Breda is re­lieved the trial that fol­lowed the mur­der of his younger brother, Martin, is over and says the fam­ily ac­cept the judge’s ver­dict. BE­LOW: He and his twin brother, Bai­ley (left), have al­ways been close and sup­ported each other dur­ing this dif­fi­cult time.



FAR LEFT: Henri van Breda greets his un­cle An­dré dur­ing the trial in which Bai­ley ap­peared as a state wit­ness. LEFT: Henri just af­ter he’d re­ceived three life sen­tences. BE­LOW: His girl­friend, Daniellé Janse van Rens­burg, chats to An­dré and Bai­ley at court.

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