Chapter 2 (November 1990 – EXONERATION)
Brenda Blignaut brought the ice-tea halfway to her mouth, then stare into the blue heat as if she can see beyond the stratosphere.
Ten years nearly to the day nearly!
She got the news at Nora’s, just after ten, that terrible Sunday morning.
It was thirty-two degrees outside - like today - but Brenda felt ice-cold - like today.
Ten years ago they’ve found her beautiful Minke under some bushes near a weeping willow tree.
Raped and strangled.
The rapist and murderer was caught immediately, as he was found next to his victim with a feeble excuse for his presents. From subsequent eye-witnesses’ accounts, and the evidence in hand, he was charged that very same day and six months later he was found guilty of rape and murder. Got a life-sentence. But that was little consolation to Brenda Blignaut.
Her brain erased one whole year after that horrible day. A self-preservation manoeuvre the doctor called it. Although she can remember bits and piece, words and phrases and of course, remembered that Minke had died a horrible death, it was as if the last months of 1980 and whole of 1981 hadn’t exist in her memory at all. It was as if she had stood in the middle of a field in the Drakensberg on a cold winter’s morning – silvery, misty, with ghostly shadowy structures in the background. You know the mountain to be there, but it was cast in mist, barely visible. She grew thin, old and grey prematurely without noticing or caring. She lost her husband and daughter within two years and had basically nothing to live for. Her four oldest friends pulled her along time and tide, never leaving her side if it could be helped, and up to this day, she couldn’t decide if she was thankful or resentful towards them. In the last ten years she contemplated suicide seriously, and once nearly completed the task, just to be saved by her house-keeper.
She was just about, after ten years, coping with circumstances, when this sends her to the floor for the compulsory eight counts again. She felt someone should throw in the towel on her behalf.
Ten years and now this!
Her eyes went back to the paper lying on the table. The headline screamed at her once more.
13 November 1990
BURGER STEENKAMP - PARDONED
DNA CLEARS MAN OF RAPE AND MURDER
The whole terrible saga is going to be repeated and all speculations will begin again. The what, whys, hows, and the: “If not Burger Steenkamp, then who?” until the next best thing came along and she’ll end up holding the basket of broken eggs - again!
If Steenkamp wasn’t the rapist and murderer, it meant that this specific evil was still out there. Maybe leading a normal, full life with possible a wife, maybe children, whilst his past was strewn with destroyed lives. And now Burger Steenkamp could be added to his tally. How can anyone commit such a horrific crime and then just went on living as if nothing had happened?
According to the papers the police had no other persons of interest at present. They, at least, had a DNA sample – a recent development and apparently more powerful than fingerprints – except, there was no-one to compare it too. They could determine that Burger Steenkamp wasn’t the guilty one, but they couldn’t pin-point the real murderer, unless, by some miracle, they’ll stumble upon this specific DNA-owner somewhere along the line. As Brenda understood, it was worse than looking for a needle in a haystack.
Much good it did her!
Much good it did Burger Steenkamp back then!
Much good it did anybody!
Well, maybe, in the end, it did Burger Steenkamp some good.
Brenda looked up as Nora’s car drew to a halt in one big dust whirl. She dragged an enormous handbag behind her as she marched purposefully to the stoop.
‘Can you believe it?’ she said loudly and looked scornfully towards the paper as she dropped the handbag on the table, setting everything on it rattling.
Brenda didn’t ask what she’s supposed to believe or not. She knew well enough.
‘Ice-tea?’ She poured without waiting for an answer.
’How the hell did this happen? They were sure he did it, weren’t they? I mean, everyone pointed a finger towards him. And if this is really the truth, why did it take that bitch-lawyer so long get him out of jail? Something smells and it ain’t my feet.’ She plonked down on the nearest chair and put a hand out to take the glass.
‘I don’t know anything about anything. Nobody told me nothing. Read it this morning in the paper.’ Brenda again fixed her eyes on that far, faraway blue. ’Thought they’d kept the “nearest and dearest” informed – at least, that’s what I thought.’
Nora looked at her friend. She looked calm. Too calm.
‘What’s Joanna’s take on this, did you speak to her?’
Brenda shook her head slowly from side to side and took another sip from the glass. The phone on the table started to ring.
‘Brenda,’ she answered, eyes fixed on the blue beyond. ‘Oh, hi Jo, yes…I just read about it. No, no, nobody told me anything,’ she glanced at Nora, ‘Nora’s here…okay… I’ll tell her. See you later. Bye.’
‘She’s still at work. She says she’ll bring dinner for four.’
‘Yes, Delia’s coming along.’ She looked sadly at Nora, ‘Apparently I need some life-support – again.’ A lone tear got swept away in anger, but the rest came without asking. ‘I don’t want to cry anymore. I can’t cry anymore.’
Nora placed a sympathy hand on her friend’s arm. She was filled anger but said nothing.
‘You lot going to watch me like a hawk again?’ Brenda asked tearfully after a while, but with a little smile. ‘Not needed. I’ve survived the last ten years, I’ll survive this too, I guess.’
‘You guys must remember DNA coding in 1980 didn’t exist...or couldn’t be read as of yet’ Joanna said sombrely, ‘well, certainly not used in court-cases.’
Delia interrupted, ‘Only used for the first time in 1988 to convict Colin Pitchfork, a murderer of two young girls in England. I’ve researched it. After that a few convicted rapists and murderers got tested and some were found…’ her voice started to dwindle, ‘hmm…’
‘Innocent,’ Brenda said, looking at them in turn, ‘because if the DNA test is correct-’
‘It is’ Joanna interjected.
’Then Burger Steenkamp is innocent. Another life ruined. That means the BASTARD,’ she said it so loud that the African Grey fluttered on its perch, ‘is still out there - somewhere.’
The silence was dark and loaded.
‘What are we going to do about it?’ Jo asked softly.
They looked at each other.
‘What can be done?’ Brenda said as she stood up and leaned against the window.