Willem Cornelius believes his family died with his daughter Hannah, and was buried when his wife “walked into the ocean a short time later and didn’t come back”, the former magistrate testified in the Western Cape High Court on Thursday
“Me and my son are not a family – we are the survivors who live in the ruins of what once was,” Cornelius said during sentencing proceedings of the three men who raped and murdered his daughter.
Cornelius’ body was found on the morning of 27 May 2017, outside Stellenbosch. She was last seen alive with her friend Cheslin Marsh hours earlier, when Eben van Niekerk, Geraldo Parsons, Vernon Witbooi and Nashville Julius accosted the two students in her car in Bird Street.
Marsh was stoned and left for dead near Kraaifontein, while Cornelius was raped and later stabbed at Groenhof farm.
Her VW Citi Golf was used in two armed robberies, before Witbooi and Parsons were apprehended after a high-speed chase.
Van Niekerk, Parsons and Witbooi were convicted on 10 charges, ranging from murder to rape.
Julius was found guilty of robbery and kidnapping, as he had fled before his accomplices drove off with the students that night.
Cornelius, before speaking of his daughter, apologised that he had not been at proceedings before, explaining that the investigating officer had taken him through the docket before the trial and he “did not feel up to going through the evidence again”.
‘Sense of fairness and compassion’
Wearing a white rose pinned to his suit jacket, Cornelius spoke proudly of his only daughter, of whom he was “immensely proud”.
“I suspect all parents believe their children are exceptional, and we were no different. Almost from birth, Hannah proved to be different from what we believed was the norm. There were no feeding problems, no terrible twos, no teething difficulties – in fact, the first time she cried without an obvious reason, we were so anxious we asked our family doctor to attend to her in the middle of the night.
“We were mortified when he informed us that she was having her first tantrum.”
After the birth of her autistic brother, Hannah became in a sense “part of management, with a share of duties and a say in decisions”.
— (@AJGMolyneaux) November 8, 2018
She never gave her parents any “drama and difficulties” and excelled in school, the proud father said.
His daughter was diligent, almost always cheerful and had a sense of fairness and compassion he envied, he reminisced.
“I recall an incident in her early teens when she gravely informed us that she did not want to attend our church anymore, as it did apparently not make provision for her Muslim friends to go to heaven,” Cornelius said.
‘A remarkable child on the cusp of growing into a remarkable young woman’
She declined a birthday party for her 16th birthday, because she “could not in good conscience spend money on herself while people around her were living in poverty”.
Instead, she made up gift packs for children for the children of the Red Hill informal settlement, and continued doing this on all her subsequent birthdays.
“When she enrolled at the University of Stellenbosch, Hannah informed us – somewhat to our dismay – that she had no interest in pursuing a career in law, but that she wanted to do something that would actually help people,” he said.
— Tammy Petersen (@TammyPetersen87) November 8, 2018
She wanted to major in languages, literature and philosophy and pursue post-graduate studies in France.
“The theme of helping people was a constant in her life and I understand this may have led indirectly to the reason why we are here today.
“Even so, both me and her mother were immensely proud of raising a child for the new South Africa, a child without the baggage of our generations, with little interest in money or material things, with no prejudice regarding race, religion or social standing. A remarkable child on the cusp of growing into a remarkable young woman.”
Sentencing proceedings continue.