Another attempted rape suspect has been released by Knysna Magistrate’s Court, despite being positively identified by his victim. This is the second time this year that Sedgefielders who are victims of violent attacks have had to suffer the double trauma of knowing their attackers are out and about. The first attempted rape took place on 1 January of this year. The accused, who was caught red-handed, is still on local streets after being released. However, there is reportedly a warrant out for his arrest as he has missed a court appearance.The suspect in the second attempted rape was released after his first court case on 30 March. Both he and the suspect in the 1 January incident were set free ‘on warning’ as neither could afford to pay any bail.
The most recent victim, Debbie Whyman, who was attacked on 22 March, said that she is battling to come to terms with the perpetrator’s release – which she only learned about on Tuesday, 5 April. She said the attack was so traumatic that it had kept her at home behind closed doors for some time – and just when she had grown brave enough to venture out, she was told at the police station that the court had released the man who attacked her.
“I am traumatised all over again and very angry,” she told us. She still shakes when talking about her terrible experience.
Debbie (58) had been walking along Cola Beach with her dogs when she first noticed the man. “I was ¾ of the way to Platbank when I saw him sitting near the dune,” she said, “One of my dogs went over to him to say hello.”
She described how the man had got up and approached her, asking if he could walk with her. She was already sensing something wasn’t right and replied that she would prefer to walk alone.
Ignoring this, he walked alongside her for a while, trying to make conversation.
“His English was very good,” she reflected when telling us about the ordeal. However, the man, who she describes as coloured and of medium height and build, kept moving into her personal space, and she became more and more uncomfortable.
It was when she politely requested that he didn’t walk so close that he stepped in front of her and stopped so that they were suddenly face to face.
To her abject horror, he pushed her and swept her feet from under her. She tried to fight him off but ended up face-down in the sand. Next, he pulled off her clothing and attempted to rape her, but to her relief, he seemed physically unable to perform the deed. He tried repeatedly for what she believes to be more than twenty minutes but eventually released her and got to his feet.
He simply said to her, “I am not an evil person,” and walked off.
Grabbing her clothes, she quickly dressed and ran until she saw a man – Mark Klinkert – who was making his way down to the beach.
She blurted out the story of what had happened and, after helping her into her car with her dogs, he followed her to the police station and then kindly offered to fetch her husband whilst she sat with the police.
“I cannot say enough how very impressed I am with the service at Sedgefield Police Station,” Debbie said. After helping her to calm down, the members on duty called Marti Rooi to sit with her as she made her statement. A while later, a Knysna detective arrived and asked her if she would look at a series of photos on his phone. When her attacker’s face came up, she immediately recognised him and informed the detective.
To her relief, he informed her that the suspect she had identified had already been apprehended and was in the police van.
His swift arrest had been a combined effort by SAPS and Sedgefield’s Community Orientated Policing (COP). After SAPS had raised the alarm and sent out a description of the suspect, members of COP had joined SAPS personnel on the beach to search for him. Wayne Lurner of COP had been walking towards Platbank when he saw someone scampering down the dune towards him. Strangely, this man was on all fours.
Realising the clothing of the man approaching him matched the description given by the police, Wayne told him to stop where he was.
“He kept coming, so I told him to stop again, more assertively,” he said. The man stopped and seemed quite resigned, so Wayne then began to escort him back towards Cola Beach.
“He was strange – gabbling, talking to the ocean, then using some weird sign language,” the COP member later told us.
Whilst walking back, the suspect seemed to suddenly notice Wayne’s handcuffs because he looked at him and held up his hands, wrists together. Wayne asked if he could put the handcuffs on him, and the man agreed.
Wayne had spoken to another COP member, informing him that he was on his way back with a suspect. They met with the SAPS and COP entourage about 300m from the Cola stairs, and the SAPS members took the suspect into custody. At least some closure on a terrible incident it seemed.
But only twelve days later, to Debbie’s abject horror, she learned that the man she had positively identified as her attacker had been released from custody. She hadn’t even been consulted in the process.
She has since made several calls to the hierarchy of Knysna Police to find out why this happened, but is yet to be provided with an answer.
Meanwhile, The EDGE has approached the National Prosecuting Authority to ask how this seemingly dangerous man could be put back into the community. We were given the following answer by spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila.
“I can confirm that the accused was released on warning after it became clear that he cannot afford bail money. This is despite the State insisting that bail must be set for the accused.
“Initially, the State opposed bail when the accused appeared in court on 30 March 2022, but the investigating officer, Sergeant Magoqwana, who was called as a witness, told the court that he is not opposing the release of the accused on bail if the accused had an address. The State requested the matter to be postponed to confirm the address, but Magistrate Mrs Balleng refused and ordered that the investigating officer must book out the accused so that he could go and point out the address.
“Sergeant Magoqwana, from FCS, came back and confirmed that the accused pointed out the address. He told the court that the accused could go and stay at that address and that he, as the investigating officer, did not have a problem with that. He did not oppose bail.”
The case has been postponed until 25 April 2022 for further investigation.
Mike Hofhuis of COP is totally incensed by yet another release of a potentially dangerous suspect. Asked for comment, he sent the following statement:
The release of both of these accused is unacceptable, to say the least. Not only the victims but the entire community of Sedgefield feels let down by the justice system.
On a daily basis, one of the accused walks the streets of our local communities and continues to harass and beg from people, especially women.
The accused in the most recent incident walks the streets of Knysna, where he apparently resides. He too, poses a great threat to the Knysna community, besides the fact that he could quite easily make his way back to Sedgefield.
What does this say about the ongoing fight against gender-based violence in South Africa? If the officials were serious about the fight against GBV, they would then ensure that those accused of these heinous crimes remain behind bars or, at the very least, place stricter bail conditions upon them until the conclusion of the court cases.
This is definitely not the first or last time victims and women from our local communities will be let down by a failing justice system.