The family of murdered Wellington writer Winnie Rust will continue her legacy through a foundation in her name, her grieving son-in-law said after Nigel Plaatjies and his uncle Johannes Plaatjies were led out of the Western Cape High Court on Wednesday to begin their life sentences

“Although our natural inclination after this tragedy was to close up and batten down the hatches, we elected to do the opposite, not allow this tragic story to stop other possible stories of hope being realised,” said Gordon Reid, who is married to one of Rust’s daughters, Helena.

Rust was murdered and robbed in her home in Uitsig, Wellington, on 11 May 2016.

Judge Elize Steyn in December found Nigel, whom Rust had mentored since he was a child, and his uncle Johannes, guilty.

On Wednesday, she sentenced them both to life in prison for Rust’s murder, and a further 15 years each for robbing her.

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Nigel claimed in his plea explanation that his uncle had convinced him to participate in a robbery at her house, to pay off a drug debt his uncle supposedly owed. He said he did not expect her to die.

Leading up to sentencing, Steyn said Rust had been paying for Nigel’s sports activities, arranged extra maths to improve his school marks, paid his school fees, and had been a constant mentor to him.

She had known him since he was a child because his mother Lien had been a house cleaner for Rust’s daughter Wendy. Nigel visited Rust’s house regularly, they ate together, and Rust was helping him get a driver’s license at the time of her death. He was a promising athlete and she had helped him apply for further study. She was also helping Nigel’s mother with the construction of a house.

“Biggest mistake of his life”

Steyn said that, although Nigel Plaatjies said that getting involved in the robbery was the “biggest mistake of his life”, he did not express remorse, to the point of being expressionless during his trial. She could also not find evidence of the supposed drug debt being paid off.

Rust was smothered and strangled to death in “the sanctity of her own home”, said Steyn.

Nigel then went around the house and collected computer equipment and jewellery, and later “calmly” used her bank card to withdraw R5 000 at an ATM, and then ran up a bill of R13 500 on a shopping spree with his uncle.

“The accused had a total disrespect for human rights,” said Steyn.

‘We choose, as her family, to live as she did’

Reid said, after the two had been led away: “Though we will most likely as a family never fully discover the truth of exactly what happened and why it happened, we do believe in what Winnie Rust was trying to achieve at the time of her death.

“She was endeavouring to play a role, however small, involving the new South Africa, one where as many historically disadvantaged people as possible are given the opportunity to rise above their circumstances. We choose, as her family, to live as she did, with open arms, not closed doors and closed hearts.

“What she was doing for Nigel Plaatjies was a beautiful thing and it is this legacy that we as her family would like to perpetuate, in spite of what has happened.

“To this end, we are in the process of establishing the Winnie Rust Foundation which will perpetuate the work that she started, and which we as her family will use as a vehicle to present young disadvantaged South Africans with opportunities they would not otherwise have had, to become the best they can be.”

“Utmost professionalism”

On behalf of the family, Reid thanked the investigating and prosecuting team, and all the experts who testified for their “utmost professionalism”.

“Justice in this case did not just happen by accident. It is the result of the many hard-working individuals who were part of the investigative and prosecuting team.”

In addition to the life sentences for murder, and the sentences for robbery, Nigel also got four years for the theft of Rust’s card, and four years for using her card to withdraw money from an ATM. Johannes got an additional four years for selling a ring belonging to Rust.

Both were also given five years each for the spending spree on Rust’s card.

The sentences will run concurrently.

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