SI­MONE HAYSOM

Sunday Times - - Review - Jacket Notes

To­wards the end of 2013 a friend came to me and said: “I’ve just re­turned from Cape Town, and the cra­zi­est things have been hap­pen­ing to a friend of mine.” I had re­cently moved back to SA af­ter sev­eral years study­ing and work­ing abroad and I was look­ing for a story, some­thing that could help me un­der­stand the baf­fling, vi­o­lent coun­try I loved. This turned out to be it.

The woman he was talk­ing about was Angy Peter, and she was ac­cused of neck­lac­ing a young man, Rowan du Preez, who she had been try­ing to re­ha­bil­i­tate from a life of crime. Angy, a crim­i­nal jus­tice ac­tivist in­volved in a cam­paign to fix the dire state of polic­ing in Khayelitsa, claimed she was in­no­cent. She had been set up, she said, by a po­lice­man she had ac­cused of cor­rup­tion, and a po­lice force that con­sid­ered her an en­emy had gone along with it. But the state had, on the face of things, a strong case: eye­wit­nesses to the as­sault, and a dec­la­ra­tion sup­pos­edly made by Rowan him­self — to three po­lice­men — as he lay dy­ing.

I spent the next five years re­search­ing and writ­ing the story: at­tend­ing the Khayelitsa Com­mis­sion of In­quiry, Angy Peter’s trial, and ask­ing ques­tions in Mfu­leni, where the mur­der took place, por­ing over tran­scripts and chas­ing leads that of­ten didn’t work out. The story turned out to be as much about the toll that im­punity — at high lev­els and low — has taken on our so­ci­ety, as it was about these spe­cific events.

Some­times the de­gree to which the truth re­fused to be pinned down was so ex­treme it be­came ab­surd. At one point in the trial, dur­ing a cross-ex­am­i­na­tion of a wit­ness who was be­ing in­fu­ri­at­ingly eva­sive, the de­fence ad­vo­cate asked him: “What do you think the mo­tive for the mur­der was?”

So in­tent on dodg­ing ques­tions was he, he replied: “Which mur­der?”

“This one!” bel­lowed the ad­vo­cate, and I thought for a sec­ond he might be about to com­mit an­other.

If I had known what I was get­ting my­self into, I would prob­a­bly never have be­gun. In a story like this, your head can get done in, both by what you don’t find out and what you do. Work­ing through hun­dreds of pages of eye­wit­ness and med­i­cal tes­ti­mony on a neck­lac­ing be­gins to take a toll. You tell your­self it’ll be worth it when you find the truth, but that’s elu­sive. Though I was able to find out far more than the of­fi­cial story, my lim­i­ta­tions to get­ting to the heart of what hap­pened caused me angst. You can’t get all the ac­cess you need: the story is shaped by the gaps you get through.

The Last Words of Rowan du Preez: Mur­der and Con­spir­acy on the Cape Flats by Si­mone Haysom, Jonathan Ball Pub­lish­ers, R275

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