Realities clash as slain woman’s mom and killer’s dad hear his fate
The family of Chantelle Barnard, and that of her murderer, sit metres apart, in starkly different worlds
A woman leaves courtroom 12 and stands with her back to the wall looking over the railings. There are no visible tears but a silent heaving of her body betrays her trauma.
She has an audience: the friends and family of Chantelle Barnard have arrived and are waiting for their turn in the room.
The woman composes herself and goes back inside to face her rape-accused.
Her case was just one of many the Benoni Magistrate’s Court was witness to on Monday, including the sentencing of Jurgen Vandekeere, 42, who had until this year been on the run after the rape and murder of Barnard, 20, in 2011.
Vandekeere received two life sentences and an additional five years for his crimes, but before his sentencing could go ahead the Barnard family and friends had to wait for an hour outside court while a separate matter involving a serial rapist was heard.
The mother of the serial rapist emerges from the room. Sitting on a the waiting bench, she opens a 2l bottle containing a cloudy homemade drink. As she decants some into a smaller bottle she mutters, “this son of mine, I don’t know”.
She and Suzette Barnard are so different, yet so alike. Both are mothers, and both victims of crime – but on different sides of the law.
The woman asks the guard outside to take her serial rape-accused son a bottle of Dawn beauty cream. A small reminder of a mother’s love.
Also outside courtroom 12, an elderly man sits. His chin is lowered, partially hidden by a light blue shirt. Under Roland Vandekeere’s dark-blue dress pants are dark-blue socks and smart Sunday slip-ons in black leather. Bespectacled with grey hair, the weight of his son’s deeds is heavy on his shoulders.
For it was he who encouraged his son, Jurgen, to go to the police station in February 2020 and hand himself over in connection with Chantelle’s rape and murder.
It’s uncertain how long Roland had been sitting on the wooden bench. The only thing with him was a Pick n Pay packet on the floor, filled with files.
Ten metres away from him were Chantelle’s mother Suzette and the slain woman’s brother, Jacques. It is Jacques’s first time at court. He is visibly uncomfortable and tries to make his more-than 6ft frame appear small as he slumps over his phone. Jacques and Barnard were born 11 months apart and were very close. Jacques has not read or watched any of the reports about his sister. His mother says it is too hard for him.
Suzette chats with friends – everyone is wearing a purple ribbon in Chantelle’s honour.
Then a court officer waves Roland into courtroom 12, saying: “Come, otherwise you won’t get a chance to speak to him.”
It’s a signal for witnesses to enter the courtroom.
Vandekeere was found guilty last Thursday after Barnard’s naked body was found in his home.
At the time of her death Barnard was living with her mother and boyfriend, Brandon Ackerman, at a property owned by Vandekeere and his father.
She went missing on April 1 2011 when she went to drop her house keys with Roland after the family had moved out.
But instead she found his son, Jurgen.
The exact details of the case are not known because Vandekeere refused to take the stand and did not respond to any allegations by the state during the trial.
In his defence, all he said was that he was not guilty, and intimated that a friend had committed the crime while he was at his father’s house fetching a bandage for a cut on his hand.
But a domestic worker at the house in Brentwood Park testified that she had – unusually – been given the afternoon off.
After an afternoon of searching, a party of concerned family and friends forced their way into the Vandekeere house where Chantelle’s naked body was discovered by her mother.
She had a number of cuts to the neck, and a laceration from the front of the neck to the back.
Lacerations and bruises to her hands and knees showed she had put up a fight.
Her body had been washed to get rid of evidence and her hair was still wet when she was found.
Next to her was a bottle of shaving cream and makeup and on a television was a paused image of a naked woman.
Speaking to Times Select on Friday, Benoni police station captain Peter Mbonani, the investigating officer, recalled that the scene was unusual.
“There was pornography found near the TV. The scene was strange and there were lots of unusual things about the house.”
A bread knife was his weapon of choice.
Vandekeere, a Belgian, was arrested for the crimes in April 2011 but while on R20,000 bail absconded and failed to appear before the high court for the start of the trial in September 2013.
After years on the run Vandekeere handed himself over at the Benoni police station on January 15 2020.
He had returned to the country the day before and was met by his father at the airport. Roland persuaded his son to hand himself over.
He hurt her that day. His intention was sexual. I could see from the way she was posed and how he displayed her underwear around her.
On Monday, Suzette intimated her daughter had been killed before she was violated. She said it gave her comfort to know her daughter fought hard, but that she couldn’t stop thinking about the hurt Vandekeere inflicted upon her.
“He hurt her that day. His intention was sexual. I could see from the way she was posed and how he displayed her underwear around her. He really hurt her.
“I want a double life charge so that we as a family can move on, and so she can move on.
“I’ve moved three times since [her murder] and in every home I keep her room just as it was. I like to go and have a look around and be with her. She is an angel now.”
She said she had lost faith in the police system.
“From the day the police were involved there have been problems with the case. I am upset with how they handled things. Even when [Vandekeere] arrived back in the country, they were apparently notified but nobody was there at the airport but his father.”
Judge Portia Phahlane used this case as an example that offenders of gender-based violence must receive the harshest punishment.
Throughout the trial Vandekeere showed no remorse.
Suzette had testified that he told her Barnard had “enjoyed it” and never pleaded for her life.
Phahlane said women in the country were especially disillusioned with what they believed was the state’s inability to protect them from gender-based violence.
It was the court’s duty to ensure their safety and that their rights and their dignity were upheld.
The judge said the court would fail in its duty if it did not send out a clear message that GBV was a serious scourge, sentencing him to more than two life terms.
Jurgen did not show any reaction to his sentencing, while his father looked happy when the judge gave him permission to speak to his son before he was led away to a lifetime in prison.