June 1 2011
The presence of heavily armed members of the elite national intervention unit could not deter five determined Boeremag members from trying to make a dash for freedom during a tea break at their high court treason trial in Pretoria on Tuesday.
Chaos erupted shortly after 11.30am as the five tried to hot-foot it out of court after spraying ammonia into the faces of several police officers.
Amused pedestrians look on as Boeremag accused Herman van Rooyen is hustled back to jail
after car guards had helped catch him during a brazen escape. He was one of five members of the right-wing organisation who made a break for freedom during their treason trial in the High Court in Pretoria.
Three of the men only made it out of the courtroom door before they were apprehended.
The elderly Tom Vorster, said to be one of the leaders of the Boeremag, made it as far as the foyer before he was brought down by a female police officer.
Police screamed orders and bewildered members of the public trying to leave the building saw Herman van Rooyen jump through a glass panel.
Surprised security guard Steven Molokomme, who was guarding the door, dived towards Van Rooyen but he was sprayed in the eyes with ammonia.
Van Rooyen, who managed to escape from the same court five years ago, was chased by a group of policemen and security guards as he ran towards Church Square. Shouts of “Boeremag, Boeremag” alerted car guards, who joined the chase.
Van Rooyen was caught on Church Square by a member of the intervention unit. About five minutes after the drama began, he was cuffed and led back to court to cheers from onlookers.
By the time the Pretoria News arrived, Vorster was quietly lying in a foetal position on the floor. His hands were bound with a cable tie.
He lay there for more than a minute before a member of the elite intervention unit, part of the group who daily watch over the Boeremag accused at court, dragged him back into the court.
Some of the people claimed Vorster was stopped at the door by a policewoman, who shocked him with a stun stick, but this was denied by national police spokeswoman Sally de Beer.
A senior police official, who was at the scene, claimed Vorster punched a policewoman, who then knocked him down.
Accused Dr Lets Pretorius, who was awaiting trial in prison for several years before he was granted bail, just shook his head while observing Vorster lying on the ground. “You know, this is frustration. These men are extremely frustrated. They have been in jail for years now without being given bail and this trial is taking its toll on them,” he said.
The other three who tried to escape were Mike du Toit, and the first to be arrested more than eight years ago, Gerhardus (“Oom Vis”) Visagie and Rudi Gouws.
Oom Vis is deep in his 70s and the chaplain of the group. Early in the trial he often sat with his Bible on his lap. Gouws escaped with Van Rooyen in May 2006 during a lunch break. The pair were on the run for several months before they were apprehended in Lyttelton.
Since then Gouws and Van Rooyen have been sitting in the dock with leg-irons.
How it came about that they were without their leg-irons is still a mystery at this stage. According to the police, it is part of their investigation.
De Beer said: “We are going to make a request to the judge that all those on trial are placed in leg-irons for their next appearance.”
When the Pretoria News entered the courtroom shortly after their attempted dash for freedom, the only evidence of the escape was a pair of leg-irons in the dock and another next to the dock. Both pairs still had their locks attached.
Several bottles of nose spray, apparently filled with ammonia, were lined up against the wall of the courtroom.
The police confirmed that four members of the intervention unit and a security guard were taken to hospital for treatment after being sprayed with ammonia.
De Beer on Tuesday confirmed that all five had been apprehended and said that although there was “a strenuous struggle between the accused and the police”, minimum force was used under the circumstances.
The court resumed sometime later with the accused who are on bail in the dock. Prosecutor Paul Fick told Judge Eben Jordaan about the escape attempt. He also said that the dock was virtually empty as the 11 accused awaiting trial in jail were being kept in the court cells following the incident.
“Oh my goodness,” commented Judge Jordaan who postponed the trial to Wednesday.