“I don’t know anything else, but trying to survive,” Lisa van der Merwe said during a press briefing, which was held at the Wynberg Regional Court yesterday.
Van der Merwe and her sister Claudine Sheils have come forward to report two cases of indecent assault, after the incidents reportedly took place in the 70s. The two sisters said they had barricaded themselves in their bedroom using furniture, and were so afraid to leave their room that they urinated on a folded towel.
“I had tried a number of times to bring it up with my dad,” van der Merwe said to News24. The sisters’ claims were brushed aside until her father allegedly caught one of the men in the act. “My father was so angry that he knocked his teeth right out of his mouth.”
The home of their father and stepmother was what the sisters described as a “party house” growing up, and their parents’ friends would regularly dance and drink the night away before passing out on the couches of the Zeekoevlei home. While the adults were all in their stupours, two of their parents’ friends would steal into the girls’ bedroom and sexually assault them.
At the time, van der Merwe was 11 years old and Sheils was 15 years old.
The experience of the continued assault affected the sisters’ relationship in later years, leaving the two estranged from one another.
Now, decades later, the two have come together to tell their story. They were initially hesitant to approach the National Prosecuting Authority, who have shown them support and will go ahead with a prosecution. According to van der Merwe, the charges originally laid against the men were rape, but lawyers have amended to indecent assault for it to successfully go forward.
A historical ruling made by the South Gauteng High Court in 2017, Section 18 of the Criminal Procedure Act was ruled as unconstitutional, as it had a 20-year “expiry date” on prosecuting sexual offenses. This ruling has made it possible for van der Merwe and Sheils to go forward with their cases.
Van der Merwe had called one of the men who had assaulted her sister and her, and was told that he was “just having a bit of fun” before the call was dropped. The sisters were later offered an apology and R10 000 to drop the charges, but turned it down.
“They must go to jail,” she said.