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FOLLOW-UP: Murders still haunt Sonia

Sonia van der Merwe still misses her family everyday.

“You learn to live with it, but you never forget it, and you never fill the hole their absence makes. In this instance, it is harder due to the violent nature of their passing. No person, let alone four, should have to suffer like they did before they passed. That is the hardest part for me, even after all this time.”

These are the words of former Farrarmere resident Sonia van der Merwe, whose family – her parents, brother and sister-in-law – were murdered near Loskop Dam in Mpumalanga 20 years ago (February 9, 2004).

One of the killers (Vincent Khubeka) was a trusted employee at the family business Legion Lock and Cable.

Van der Merwe explained that her brother, Darryl, and his wife, Melissa, were held at gunpoint in their Farrarmere home that Sunday morning and forced to call her parents, Frans and Gina, to the house.

The criminals held the family hostage, and hours of torture followed.

The criminals poisoned them and raped Gina and Melissa, too. At midnight, they loaded the family into two vehicles and drove to Loskop Dam in Mpumalanga, where the criminals shot and dumped them.

The police in Alexandra in Johannesburg found the company vehicle abandoned and covered in blood and later found the bodies at Loskop Dam.

Darryl’s gold necklace found in possession of Khubeka was the one clue police needed to make a breakthrough with the case, the Benoni City Times previously reported.

The killers – Khubeka, Themba Radebe, Lucky Mbalati and Clement Makua – were sentenced to life terms on each of the four murder charges at the Circuit High Court in Secunda.

They were also given two 20-year sentences on the two armed robbery charges, four 10-year sentences on four attempted murder charges, four 12-year terms for kidnapping, two four-year sentences for theft and three years and one year for two contraventions of the Arms and Ammunition Act.

Radebe and Mbalati were also sentenced to 15 years for rape.

Khubeka died in jail.

Sonia van der Merwe (centre) with her parents, Gina and Frans.

Tight-knit family

Van der Merwe said she remembers her family, who was described to the Benoni City Times at the time as a nice family who supported many charity organisations like the SPCA, with many happy memories and love.

“We were not a perfect family, far from it. We argued and disagreed, but we resolved it and moved on without holding grudges. Love is eternal.

“I am very fortunate in that I don’t have any regrets about things left unsaid. We all knew how much we meant to each other at all times. I do miss them every day, however, and I miss all the life events they never got to be a part of with me or do in their own lives,” she added.

What kept her going through this difficult time?

“Tenacity and a will to honour my family through my life. I refuse to be a victim.

“My son has been a godsend as well as my beloved life partner, Ian van der Westhuizen, before he passed.

“There are only two choices each of us has – we can live, or we can die. And if we choose to live, again, there are only two choices – we can live a full life and do our absolute best, or we can live a miserable life filled with negativity and hate. If we choose the latter, go back to the first option.”

Darryl, Gina, Melissa and Frans van der Merwe.

Justice

Regarding the judicial system in SA, Van der Merwe said: “I think that in my case, the judicial system was phenomenal. I still have a special place in my heart for all those dedicated policemen and women, the prosecuting authority, the forensics team, the courts and all the others I have not mentioned.

“I will be eternally grateful to them all for what they did to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“It is a consolation to know they are behind bars and can never do this to another person’s family.

“I don’t think crime victims get enough support. However, I think it is very difficult to support the enormous amount of victims who are unfortunately out there.

“Each person will need specific support, which is hard to provide on a broad scale. It would be good to get yearly updates on the perpetrators to get a measure of comfort that they are still behind bars.”

The Benoni City Times reported on the sentencing. In the photo Lucky Mabalati and Clement Makuka were photographed by Arisja Jacobs from Ridge Times. In the background Themba Radebe and Vincent Khubeka hide their faces from the media.

New beginnings

Seven years after the tragedy, in 2011, Van der Merwe decided to make a new start in Australia after an attempted robbery outside her son’s nursery school and sold the family business.

In the meantime, Van der Merwe took the buyer, Jaco Fourie, then a businessman from Boksburg, to court because he did not pay her the entire amount for the business. In 2018, the Pretoria High Court ruled in Van der Merwe’s favour, ordering Fourie to pay all the money with interest.

Furthermore, the death of her partner is another tragic loss that impacted her tremendously.

“I never thought that after going through the family I would lose my love to illness very suddenly. I am in the position that I have lost both violently and naturally. Both have impacted me beyond measure. However, with Ian’s passing, I had our son, who was 11 at the time, to be there for and give him the best possible life. As I am sure many know, single parenting is not an easy gig. But my boy is my earth angel, and every day his dad lives on through him, and we manage as best we can.”

When asked if she would return to SA, Van der Merwe explained: “No. My life is here now. I feel safe and feel my son is safe. I weep for the crime that continues to affect each South African. I could not return to that,” Van der Merwe pointed out.

What are Van der Merwe’s hopes and plans for the future?

“To live my best life possible and show people that your attitude determines your altitude. One of my mum’s favourite sayings. It is so very true. None of us know what is in store for us. But we do have the choice to relish each day as far as possible and do our best.

“Of course, I am not always happy and positive and have my down days, but for the most part, I love life and want to make the most of it. Life is not easy all the time. It cycles between ups and downs. It is how you approach things that make a difference.”

Darryl van der Merwe and his wife, Melissa.

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