It was love, only love, and nothing but love, that made her pledge unswerving loyalty to the Skierlik murderer.
Maryna Naudé (18), the very young bride of a young man that had been sentenced to 169 years imprisonment, looked me straight in the eye and declared unequivocally that there was no hidden agenda in this controversial marriage. A marriage that had stunned a lot of people.
It was only ten days after Maryna’s marriage to Johan Nel (23) in the Rustenburg Youth Prison had leaked out. Johan was serving four life sentences after having shot dead four people in the Skierlik squatter camp near Swartruggens in North-West in 2008, and having injured 11 more.
It was generally accepted that he would spend the rest of his life in jail – without any hope of parole.
The wedding ceremony in February 2012 had led to a lot of speculation. Why on earth would the girl do something like that and why hadn’t anybody stopped her?
What would make any teenager that was supposed to enjoy a carefree existence take such a fateful decision, or, put another way, make such a misguided choice?
But Maryna didn’t hesitate for a moment about whether she had made the right decision.
She and Johan had met each other during an open day at the prison, they were soul mates and there was no reason to wait, she said.
We were sitting in the tastefully decorated offices of Frikkie Pretorius, Johan’s legal representative, at the firm Van Velden-Duffey Inc. in Rustenburg.
The interview had initially been planned to take place inside the prison, with Johan present as well, but after long negotiations and reflection we all realised that it would be better – and less intimidating – to meet Maryna in the friendlier surroundings of Frikkie’s office.
Frikkie, who had a daughter the same age as Maryna, was present throughout the interview – almost like a reassuring father figure for the young girl. Like a good lawyer, he kept a watchful eye on the happenings around his client.
Maryna arrived at Frikkie’s office in the company of two friendly, middle-aged people. I assumed that they were her parents, but I soon realised that they were Johan’s parents, Corrie and Hennie Nel, and therefore her in-laws.
Initially, none of them had been prepared to grant interviews to the media about the marriage, and the little information available about the wedding was the result of enquiries by newspapers to the DCS that had been answered by Sarie Peens, its mouthpiece.
Ever since, the DCS, Frikkie and Johan’s parents had been overwhelmed with requests for them to tell the story of the wedding to the media. Maryna, however, had been warned by Frikkie what to expect and had prepared herself for it.
A decision was reached to speak to a single big magazine, as the alternative could lead to conjecture. At least everyone could then openly discuss the motive behind this strange decision, and not just speculate about it.
And so it happened that I got the story exclusively for rooi rose – without in any way making use of cheque-book journalism or compensating anyone for it, either.
Frikkie had indeed told me that money was not a concern, and any compensation, as certain magazines had offered to provide, would be placed in a trust for Johan’s victims. Johan’s family was not after the money, Frikkie added.
It soon became clear that Maryna had a strong bond with Corrie (52), while her relationship with Johan’s father, Hennie (48), could also be described as genial.
During our interview, which lasted two hours, she sat next to Corrie and touched her arm every now and then. They cracked jokes and she had learnt to call them ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ instead of ‘Oom’ and ‘Tannie’. She appeared relaxed in the company of the two older people.
Maryna was an attractive girl in a very innocent and natural way. She was thin and had long, curly, light brown hair that had been caught up with a slide at the back. Polyanna style. She wore a purple T-shirt with motifs, and a slender diamond heart hung around her neck.
Maryna was completely different to what I had expected her to be. Not at all the wallflower type. Not exactly a cheerleader, but definitely not shy. She talked openly and answered the questions I asked her with confidence. Surrounded by her ‘support group’ and people who obviously loved her, she didn’t seem nervous at all.
She made it clear that she knew exactly what she had let herself in for by marrying a young man who might never step outside the prison walls, and that the chances were good that she would never have children.
But, she told me quite a few times, Johan was the love of her life. And he loved her very much.
That was enough for her.
Johan’s parents could be described as ordinary farming stock – ‘the salt of the earth’ type. One would have expected them to be nervous wrecks, but at the time of our interview five years had passed since the murders that were splashed all over the front pages of many newspapers.
And yes, they had been to hell and back, but you learn to live with your circumstances, they told me.
Hennie seemed like a typical Afrikaner macho man – he was a farmer, after all – and Corrie looked like the motherly type. It wasn’t difficult to talk to them.
To be honest, they were really the kind of people you could imagine yourself socialising with at the church bazaar or around a braai. People who read the newspaper every day, ordinary people to whom extraordinary things had happened. Why it had happened, they would never know, in spite of extensive reports.
‘I don’t think even Johan knows why,’ Corrie said and added that she had read my story in rooi rose about children that committed murders. It had been splashed on the cover of the March issue with the words: ‘Are you raising a murderer?’ Such topics interested her, Corrie – a trained teacher – said.
You didn’t get the impression that there was anything strange about the couple. They did not look like the parents of a murderer. Rather like the parents of a head boy.
But then, you would have to ask: what does a murderer and his family look like?
Frikkie initially expressed his misgivings about the media and referred to some newspaper journalists as ‘vultures’, but he also voiced appreciation for the journalists, especially those working for Beeld and Sunday Times, who had attended the court case at the time and had done their job well. They had stuck to the facts of the matter and behaved politely towards the family.
All this had happened long before Maryna became conscious of Johan, for she had only met him a year earlier.
That day in Frikkie’s office, the interview wasn’t about Johan and the traumatic events the victims as well as Johan’s parents had had to experience. No, it was about the reasons why women fell in love with convicted perpetrators of violent crimes and why some even married these men ‘without a future’.
Maryna didn’t give much away about her childhood, but it became clear that she had had to stand on her own two feet quite early in her life and had definitely not been pampered. She seemed more independent and ‘older’ than other girls her age.
As if she had quite a lot of life experience. At the time, she was living with her parents in Pretoria West and told me that she was studying communication and tourism and wanted to become a journalist!
She also loved birds and bred dwarf parrots and canaries – an interest she shared with her father-in-law.
How did it happen that the lovely Maryna had fallen head over heels with, and married, such an improbable candidate for marriage as Johan?
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This extract was published with permission from Lapa publishers.
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