A Boeremag terrorist with great bomb-making skills faced trials at a South African court following his alleged involvement in crime, including an attempt to overthrow the government. The accused person, however, expressed admiration and admitted loyalty to officials at Leeuwkop Prison, who he said, rehabilitated him from his previously “wicked soul.”
The year is 2002 and a group of 22 extremists dubbed “The Boeremag” are in the dock of the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria for the first, highly publicized post-apartheid treason trial – a trial that will drag on for years.
The group, led by Mike du Toit, Dirk Hanekom and Dr Lets Pretorius, had been found with more than 1,000kg of explosives. They claimed responsibility for bombings in Soweto and an attempt to assassinate former president Nelson Mandela.
Among the men who testified was “master bomb maker” and son of Dr Lets Pretorius, Kobus Pretorius. In 2013, Kobus was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, of which 10 years were suspended.
On Tuesday, five years into his sentence, Pretorius blamed his conservative upbringing for leading him to join the Afrikaner right-wing militia group and hailed Leeuwkop Prison in Johannesburg for rehabilitating him.
“Since then, I questioned many things about my upbringing. I have completely changed as a person and I see everybody as the same,” he told media at Unit D of the maximum prison.
“I was raised in an extremist home, politically and religiously extremist. Many things I learnt about black people was not true, so I had to unlearn those things to have a love for all people in South Africa, despite their race,” he added.
Talking about overcrowding at the prison, Pretorius told reporters during a media tour inside the slug that “it is a little bit cramped in there,” adding that prison life is what you make of it.
Pretorius, who has been to six correctional facilities, told the media as he administered an engineering exam that he loved Leeuwkop prison because it is an open camp.
“The other ones were in passages,” he noted. “I was previously a farmer, so I like being out in the open and the fresh air.”
Leeuwkop faces several challenges. The Department of Correctional Services said it ended the 2017/18 financial year with 46,260 awaiting-trial inmates while the infrastructure continued to deteriorate.
“We are currently overcrowded by 38%. To be precise, our approved bed space is 118 723: Yet the inmate population is 164,129,” correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said.