The important testimony of the Van Breda family’s domestic worker, Precious Munyongani, who worked for the family three times a week, was divulged earlier today. Her testimony that the murder weapons were recognizable items from the Van Breda household is now important new evidence.

Overall, three witnesses took the stand today, providing insight into the Van Breda family rapport, including Henri’s uncle, Andre Van Breda (one of his father’s two identical twin brothers), Precious and Henri’s so-called girlfriend, Bianca van der Westhuizen, the girl whom Henri phoned on the night of the murders.

These three important testimonies are detailed for those wanting to dive into the details of the day with us, but the key points are these are:

Andre Van Breda – The Uncle

State witness Andre Van Breda gave an emotional testimony of the Van Bredas being a close-knit and happy family. He spoke admirably of his extremely successful brother along with his accomplishments, describing him as a highly respected, exceptional person with no enemies. This lays the groundwork for the state to argue later against any possibility that the murders were motivated by the family’s business dealings.

Andre told the court that he had visited the house after forensics had cleaned up to sign off the handover of a list of contents in the house. He said besides the computer, cellphones, handbag and purse – removed with his consent as part of the investigation – nothing had been taken from the house.

He also told the court that when they all went to remove personal possessions from the home, Henri requested a special bottle of Japanese whiskey which he (Henri) had bought for his dad, which was reportedly enjoyed with both his dad and Rudi in Australia. The defence made a point of noting the sentiment of this to the court.

Bianca van der Westhuizen – The Girlfriend

The most important point here is that Bianca van der Westhuizen wasn’t Henri’s girlfriend, as we learned in her testimony of their relationship, and revealed that her phone was on Airplane Mode when Henri was trying to reach her in the early hours of that fateful night.

Bianca was just 17 at the time of the murders. She had met Henri at a family braai in early 2014 and started seeing him more after he had returned from Australia at the end of 2015. Bianca told the court that they were just friends and they had been hanging out in the weeks preceding the murders, before returning to Somerset College to start her Matric year – the same college Marli attended – although Bianca didn’t know Marli very well. Bianca became emotional when asked about Henri’s relationship with Marli, saying in-between tears that they were the closest and that Henri admired his brother Rudi.

She testified that she enjoyed spending time with the Van Breda family and did so the weekend before the murders. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary to her that weekend. On that Monday before the murders, Bianca had seen Henri for ice cream before he dropped her off at her boarding college. She noted again that nothing was out of the ordinary and that night she whatsapped Henri until about 10pm before putting her phone on airplane mode to ensure that she wasn’t interrupted during the night, as she needed to get up for class early the next day.

Bianca saw two missed calls from Henri shortly before 8 am the next morning, a first logged at 04h24 am and another at 07h20 am. She then started receiving Henri’s WhatsApp messages, also sent during the night, when she took her phone off Airplane Mode. Soon she learned that there was an emergency from these messages and visited him at the police station later that day.

When asked why she thought Henri phoned her that morning, her response was that she assumed he didn’t have anybody else to call.

The defence did not ask Bianca any questions and as such her evidence shall be accepted in full.  Given that Henri phoned Bianca that night, he obviously valued the friendship and perhaps thought it was something more, but I think the defence made the right call for not pushing Bianca for anything more in her testimony. She was emotional and her testimony may have been damaging if they pushed her for any concessions on the nature of the relationship.

Precious Munyongani – The Domestic Worker

Beyond recognizing the murder weapons, which I will talk more about below, Precious told the court that she had never seen the family fight and that they spoke Afrikaans to each other. This is an interesting point, as in Henri’s plea explanation he said he wasn’t comfortable with officers speaking Afrikaans and preferred English. Henri’s uncle testified in Afrikaans today too. Judge Desai has also picked up on this point over the course of the trial, stopping proceedings to ask Advocate Botha if his client was following the discussion, as most of the evidence lead to date has been in Afrikaans. Advocate Botha has confirmed his client does follow.

The day before the murders took place, Precious worked at the house, and says she did not notice anything out of the ordinary. She also testified that she had cleaned 2 of the 3 upstairs bathrooms before leaving, but did not get a chance to clean Henri’s bathroom. The bathrooms being cleaned or not will obviously be raised in further evidence.

Precious also said that when she started working for the Van Bredas she was shown the emergency contact number on the fridge and told to phone it if there were an emergency.

Since a dog was introduced yesterday, it’s worth noting that Precious told the court the family did have a dog named Sasha. She says the dog walked around the home freely, didn’t bark much when Precious arrived for work and slept in Henri’s bed.

More about the murder weapons

As this will be essential in the days ahead, it’s important to delve further into Precious’ testimony.

Precious told the police (when seeing photographs of the murder weapons) that the axe looked like the same axe that she had seen many times before in the scullery near to where the ironing board which she uses is kept.

She recognized the knife in the picture which was shown to her, a part of a set of knives which were kept in a top drawer in the kitchen. The specific knife was normally in the set next to the bread knife. When shown a picture of the knife drawer, taken by police after the incident, Precious confirmed that the drawer looked slightly open in the picture, and in the picture of the open drawer she indicated the place where the knife would have been. It was missing.

In cross-examination, the defence questioned Precious’ evidence, and if the axe in court was the axe which she had seen in the scullery. Precious stated that she never said it was the same axe but that it looked similar, and noted she recognized it by its size, type and the stickers.

Judge Desai interjected here, asking Advocate Combrink if the weapon used in the commission of the crimes was in dispute. Advocate Combrink said it wasn’t. However, they were trying to show the court that the axe may have been brought into the house and was not necessarily the one that was kept in the scullery. Judge Desai then asked for a closer look at the axe and noted that the blade portion was dark green. Advocate Combrink commented that Judge Desai interpreted dark green differently from him. However, Advocate Galloway noted that the very top of the blade was black.

It’s believed that the defence will cross-examine Marli’s boyfriend, James, who is expected on the stand tomorrow, about the murder weapon (it’s understood that Marli stayed with her boyfriend’s family after the murders). Advocate Combrink suggested James will be questioned about the black-coloured axe that he saw in the Van Breda house. Judge Desai has indicated that, if the defence is not stating that there were two axes at the scene then it is not really important and that dark green could be mistaken for black at a distance.

 

CONCLUSION

In closing, I think it’s safe to say that the axe and knife used in the commission of the crime were the same items from the Van Breda home. Although the defence needn’t prove their version at this stage without hearing any further evidence, it is difficult to believe that these two intruders managed to bypass the security and enter the home with the intention of using weapons they found on the premises. The defence needs to sow the seeds of doubt but this must be reasonable doubt when considering the state’s version.

On that same note, we can’t ignore evidence from those close to the family that told the court this was a close-knit, happy family.

Follow me on Twitter for more updates from the courtroom tomorrow. 

 

Photography K-Leigh Siebritz

Article written by

Tracey Ann Stewart

Legal expert and counsel for Highbury Media