In December 2001, Christoff Becker, Frikkie du Preez, Gert van Schalkwyk and Reinach Tiedt were on their way home from a nightclub. While driving, they came across black people in a park and assumed that they were burglars. The four youngsters remembered the words of a policeman who had spoken at their school a while before.
The policeman had asked the pupils to become more actively involved in crime-fighting efforts. The boys wanted to help the police by making a citizen’s arrest of at least one of the black burglars they had seen at the park. They did more than help; they killed a homeless man. This was the testimony of Christoff Becker at the trial where the four friends were found guilty of assault and murder in 2005.
In a case that fuelled seemingly dormant racial tensions in South Africa, the media dubbed the accused boys the “Waterkloof Four”. The court heard how the unidentified man was punched, kicked, stabbed and beaten with a hammer by the four youngsters. The “Waterkloof Four” assaulted the man until they were not sure if he was dead or alive so, they decided that throwing stones at the man’s body would be a good way to see if he would move. He didn’t.
The “Waterkloof Four” lost their appeal in 2008 and were ordered to begin serving their twelve-year sentences. Christoff Becker and Frikkie du Preez accepted their fate while Gert van Schalkwyk and Reinach Tiedt were relentless in their mission to get out of jail. Their efforts paid off in December 2011 when a magistrate decided that it would better serve the interests of justice to convert their sentences to correctional supervision.
The Department of Correctional Services did not accept defeat and appealed the magistrate’s decision. During the appeal, Tiedt and van Schalkwyk were subjected to house arrest which their social worker says is a severe punishment on its own. The High Court decided that the magistrate’s decision allowing the accused men to get out of prison was erroneous. Tiedt and van Schalkwyk had to face to the music behind bars but the two men still had their fighting spirit. They appealed yet again.
On Monday, the North Gauteng High Court upheld the recent decision and dismissed the latest appeal. The three judges who agreed on this decision are Ephraim Makgoba, Wendy Hughes and Hans Fabricius. Fabricius clearly explained the aspect of the Criminal Procedure Act which helped him and his colleagues come to the conclusion that the men had no choice but to go back to prison.
According to the Criminal Procedure Act, “a prisoner is not lawfully entitled to parole if more than five years of his or her sentence remains”. Media reports quoted Fabricius: “We must apply the law and the respondents must know, if they read our judgment, that our reasoning is based on that fact.” The judge further explained that there was absolutely nothing stopping the two men from seeking a different judgement at the Supreme Court of Appeal or the Constitutional Court, as long as they did so from within the walls of the Zonderwater Prison. The two were ordered to start acquainting themselves with the prison no later than midday on 23 September.