Child abuse: A tale of two courts


Child abuse: A tale of two courts

Luke Lamprecht, from Women and Men Against Child Abuse, has been advocating the rights of children for more than three decades. ANNELIESE BURGESS speaks to him about the horrors he sees in his work and how magistrates' courts are failing the most vulnerable in our society.

CHANÉ Bezuidenhout was three when she died at the hands of her parents, who had beaten her, hit her against a wall, smeared her with faeces, force-fed her to the point of vomiting then forced her to eat her vomit. They had closed her mouth and nose and pushed on her stomach to force her to defecate. A penis and other objects had penetrated her vagina and anus.

Her six-year-old brother had boiling water poured over him. He had been beaten with electrical cords and made to hold his sister's legs while they force-fed her.

Chané had been removed from her parents but then inexplicably placed back with them by a social worker. She was throttled to death by her mother shortly after being returned.

The couple confessed to using drugs, including crystal meth, before killing Chané.

Seven days ago, Belinda and Stefanus Benjamin Bezuidenhout were convicted of child abuse, rape and murder in the Gauteng High Court. 

Tale of two courts

“The high court handles cases relating to children well," says Luke Lamprecht. 

“When we go to these courts, they run smoothly. There is order. The defence and the prosecutors are super-efficient and very well prepared. We have excellent forensic pathologists doing incredible post-mortems that speak for children who no longer can. There are excellent police investigations and incredibly well-prepared prosecutions. The approach is victim-centric. The judges are wise and produce beautifully written judgments. And hand down appropriate sentences. It always strikes me, at least in the jurisdiction of the South Gauteng High Court where we work, that the system of justice can work. And it does.

“But there are two systems in South Africa," says Lamprecht. 

“One that treats these children with the utmost dignity, care and respect and puts enormous work into ensuring justice. On the other hand, there is a system where children are disregarded to the point where the courts can't even get essential maintenance done so that children can testify."

He is referring to magistrates' courts. Women and Men Against Child Abuse is monitoring five cases involving children (and is aware of many more) that have been dragging on for years.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

“I have one little girl who has been in and out of the magistrate's court in Soweto for half her life. She was seven when the abuse took place. She is now 14.

“Either the intermediary room is not ready, or the cleaner has the key and didn't come to work, or the person who is to act as an intermediary is sick, or the camera is not working, or the computer and the recording equipment are out of order, or the photostat machine is broken. It is always something. And in the process, these children become victims of a broken system, and they are just caught in a loop of being retraumatised over and over again."

He tells me about another case. A five-year-old boy was repeatedly assaulted and sexually assaulted by his school's transport driver in Alexandra in 2021. 

“This little boy was so traumatised by what happened to him that at seven, he was threatening to shoot people at school. Dragging out a court case causes unbelievable secondary trauma. This boy has to live in the same community as the man who did terrible things to him. He has to see him regularly. It causes enormous distress, which then manifests as aggression. In his case, he was expelled from school at seven because of the level of aggression he was showing, and yet there is no end in sight for this case to be resolved.

“People and organisations working in child protection worked very hard for a system that allows a child witness to give evidence in court. The vehicle for this is the so-called intermediary system, where the child can sit in a different room with someone like me who acts as an intermediary. I have headphones and hear the questions. I then put it to the child in a child-friendly way. There is a camera, and the child has a microphone. The evidence is presented and cross-examined via CCTV. The whole point of this system is to protect children from the secondary trauma of being involved in systems where they have to talk about really difficult things.

“But because this system is not working, we are denying children justice. 

“Cases are postponed for weeks or months, only for the process to be repeated. Again and again. We don’t think the general public — or the court officials — understand the immense stress and disruption caused to these families and the impact it has on a child's psyche. When you're living under that amount of anxiety, when you don't feel safe and when you are stressed, it affects your whole life. It's an assault on the dignity of child witnesses.

“These children are serving a life sentence while the perpetrators and their defence attorneys are playing the system. The system is not protecting them.”

Look the horror in the eye.

To understand how important it is to stand up for the rights of children, you have to look the evil that is perpetrated against them in the eye, says Lamprecht. We dare not look away. 

He tells me of another successful case where the high court held a mother and her boyfriend to account, handing down two life sentences plus 20 years.

“A young mom and an older boyfriend systematically tortured a child to death. She had in excess of 70 individual injuries on her body and was completely emaciated. One of the things about that case which haunts me, and which I will never get out of my head, is that the man, who had Batman's Joker tattooed on his arm, burnt this beautiful little two-year-old girl's lips with a crack pipe so that her mouth resembled the smile of the Joker. He got joy out of hurting those children."

How does he make sense of this kind of torture of children, I ask.

“The tragedy for me is that these are always children whose births have never been celebrated. When a child comes into the world, it usually happens with fanfare and joy — gender-reveal parties and birth parties — but not in these cases. These children's births were never celebrated. And even more tragic, when these children die I have yet to see any of these perpetrators cry. The last time I saw a mother cry in court, it was because she got sentenced to 20 years and wanted to appeal it.

“What I have learned over time is that the greatest threat to children in any family is if they are unplanned and unwanted, because the parents see the child through another lens of meaning. It's not the meaning of ‘this is my baby and I've gotta love them'. Rather, it is through the lens of now having to deal with something they do not want, a child that is an irritant in their lives. And then it becomes an excuse for their behaviour, not a reason — let's just be very clear about that distinction."


“But I have great difficulty answering the ‘why?' question. There is a fine line between holding people accountable and making them victims. My basic philosophy is the minute you victimise somebody else, you give up your right to your victimhood.

“Something that comes up often in the version by an accused woman is that they inevitably say there was domestic violence. In other words, the man was the bad guy. The child was terrified of him, and she was too. He killed the baby, etcetera. But that hasn't been true in the last two cases because the mothers were very much involved. They choose their role as partners over their role as parents. And they seem to derive pleasure from sort of torturing children. So there's an element of sadism that is quite profound.

“If we look at how personality is organised, their backgrounds certainly contribute to this. Many people have complex and difficult childhoods and backgrounds, but they don't torture their children to death. So, on a certain level they are sick, of course, but the problem is that we cannot create a justification for their behaviour. As a society, we want reasons for evil so that we can understand it. 

“But my answer to why people do these terrible things is simply, I don't know.  And anything else will be an excuse because they should not have done it. We have to be careful not to traverse that line where we are creating justification for their behaviour based on their childhood. Is it a factor? No doubt."

Broken system

Back to the tale of two courts. I want to know what lies behind the dysfunction.

“Well, sadly, there is a level of incompetence. Some prosecutors don't know what they're doing, and there is no investment in serving justice. But many of the prosecutors are passionate and knowledgeable. When you have to work in a messed-up system where nothing works, it leads to quiet resignation, burnout and extreme frustration at not being able to do the job.

“But whatever it is, it has to be fixed, because we cannot let children down like this. The little girl who has been in court for seven years … this stress has been with her through her pubertal developmental stage. It's going to impact her relationships, her mental health, her school performance. 

“Trauma creates memory. It's well established in brain biology. So the more you delay a case, the more difficult it is to give evidence. The mind of a seven-year-old and the mind of a 14-year-old are very different things. And so is the language they use. So you start getting into quite complicated technical issues as well.

“I mean, it's hectic. And inexcusable. And I will continue to work my fingers to the bone to advocate for the rights and the voice of child victims. What is happening should not be happening. And the greatest travesty is that it is actually not a very complex problem to fix."

♦ VWB ♦

BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION: Go to the bottom of this page to share your opinion. We look forward to hearing from you.

Speech Bubbles

To comment on this article, register (it's fast and free) or log in.

First read Vrye Weekblad's Comment Policy before commenting.