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Husband desperate for justice after stone hurled by robbers kills academic en route to CT International Airport

Husband desperate for justice after stone hurled by robbers kills academic en route to CT International Airport
Gert van der Westhuizen speaks at a memorial service for his wife Leonie. The Gauteng couple were en route to Cape Town International Airport when their car was ambushed and struck by a rock, which hit Leonie on the head. (Photo courtesy of the Van der Westhuizen family)

Leonie van der Westhuizen’s husband, also an academic, says he still hasn’t been interviewed by the police after they were ambushed en route to Cape Town International Airport on 26 March, and a stone shattered the car window.

It has been three weeks since Leonie van der Westhuizen (69) died after the attack – when the stone struck her in the head, triggering cardiac arrest – and her husband Gert is desperately looking for answers.

Talking to Daily Maverick, Gert described how the nightmare unfolded on 26 March.

The Centurion couple, who had been married for almost 50 years, were on their way to the Cape Town International Airport at about 4.50pm after having stayed in Kalk Bay. They drove down the M22, which turned into the M18 New Eisleben Road, and stopped on the corner of New Eisleben and Sithandatu roads in Nyanga, according to a Cape Town Central Police Station report. A group of young men attacked the car by shattering the car window with the stone.

Gert told Daily Maverick: “The stone hit our car on Leonie’s side… The stone hit her on the head and then I saw an arm reach in and grab her cellphone. I tried to hold the cellphone, but then I just let it go and had to find medical emergency service immediately.”

The attack occurred just more than 3km from the airport and mere blocks from the notorious crime stretch of road known as “Hell’s Run” on the N2 highway. The couple were directed by Google Maps because their planned route via the M5 was closed. There were no warnings of a higher crime risk.

Once Gert let go of the phone, his only objective was to get away from the scene and to a hospital. 

“I held Leonie up with my left arm and I left, nearly bumping into several cars. I had to get to a doctor or hospital so she could be treated,” he said.

After yelling out the window for help, “I drove another kilometre and turned around. I saw hospital signs and people telling me ‘follow us’. So I followed them and they took me right to the Gugulethu Health Centre.”

The stone shattered the car window before hitting Leonie van der Westhuizen on the head. (Photo courtesy of the Van der Westhuizen family)

In the hysteria of the moment, Gert was led by passenger cars on two separate occasions to navigate unfamiliar roads to the health centre. When he lost track of the first guiding car, another emerged instantly to guide him. The entire drive took 10 to 15 minutes.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cape Town communities are at war – what will it take to stop the senseless shootings?

The impact from the stone led to immediate loss of consciousness and Leonie suffered cardiac arrest. She was resuscitated at the health centre and taken by ambulance to Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town, where she remained in ICU after scans revealed a massive, inoperable haemorrhage.

The Van der Westhuizen family emphasised that the staff, in particular Professor Mark Nicol from the University of Cape Town Medical School, were vital in keeping hope alive for Leonie. 

However, she died in the hospital two days later.

Leonie was a senior lecturer at Centurion Akademie, specialising in early childhood development, and had also been working towards her PhD. Gert is professor emeritus of education at the University of Johannesburg. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Spate of shootings in Cape Town linked to political, gang and construction mafia elements

A police report was filed at the SAPS Cape Town Central Station on 28 March, the day his wife died. Gert said that weeks after the initial statement he had to request an investigation progress report over the phone.

“I’ve not been interviewed about what happened. An investigating officer has now been appointed and he is in communication with the family. We are hopeful that the perpetrators will be identified, captured and brought to justice. This is a murder case.”

Road violence ‘common’

Underreported road violence is common in Cape Town, according to Marc Volker of the Safe N2 Project

“Whether the statistics actually get compiled on the South African Police Service side, that is where the major issue is,” he explained. 

The Safe N2 Project’s goal is to accumulate all instances of largely underreported street crime in the Western Cape and warn project members of potential road threats. An area of particular interest is “Hell’s Run”, the stretch of N2 road and surrounding streets between Somerset West and Cape Town International Airport. This was near where the Van der Westhuizens were attacked.

The Nyanga police station recorded an 18.5% increase in “serious crime reports” from October 2022 to December 2022, with 1,557 cases reported. This is according to the SAPS Quarter Three Crime Report. This police station receives the most reports of robbery with aggravating circumstances in South Africa, according to the 2021-22 Annual Crime Report.

Mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith told Daily Maverick: “Sadly, attacks on road users have become an all too common occurrence.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: SONA 2023 – SA’s soaring murder rate underscores need for Ramaphosa to ensure better leadership in policing

Smith acknowledged that many road violence reports go unresolved, saying law enforcement needed “to play a more robust role in ensuring that suspects caught are brought before the courts, and convicted”.

Where possible, our enforcement agencies will conduct patrols of hotspot areas, but due to the many demands on our services it is not possible to maintain a continuous static presence at any one particular spot.”

Airport ambush

Gert and Leonie van der Westhuizen travelled from Kalk Bay to Cape Town International Airport via Baden Powell Drive and New Eisleben Road. 

‘Beautiful, warm person’

The death of the accomplished academic and mother of four has elicited messages of love from around the world.

“She was a beautiful, warm and open person, a loving person. We’ve had so many people from all over the world shocked by the news. I stopped counting, but people from more than 12 countries reached out: My friends, her friends, and people from Angola, Uganda, to Norway to the US to Chile. I think it was ample evidence of a widespread response to violent acts, the consequences, and the need for justice,” said Gert.

“During our memorial people all spoke about how beautiful a life she had and all the plans she had to continue to grow and take care of our children, grandchildren and the students she worked with.”

Now, as Gert and his family await justice as they grieve, they hope Leonie’s story can help prevent similar crimes, in which the attackers, by stealing a phone, stole a life. 

Police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Malcolm Pojie confirmed the incident “at Sithandathu Street, Nyanga where an unknown man allegedly threw an object (stone) through the window of the car in which the 70-year-old victim was an occupant. The object hit her against the head, causing serious injury to her”.

“It is further reported that an unknown suspect grabbed her cellphone and ran off.

“The matter was only reported to Cape Town Central police station on 29 March 2023, where after it had been transferred to Nyanga police for further investigation as the initial incident happened in their precinct. A robbery case was opened for investigation.

“We appeal to anyone with information regarding the incident to please contact Crime Stop at 08600 10111 or the Nyanga police station.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Carola Meyer says:

    This incident would not have happened but for the fact that “their planned route via the M5 was closed”. Twice in the past two weeks I have had to take a sudden detour from Prince George Drive (M5) because of that closed road. I found no detour signage (only the ROAD CLOSED signs); no indication of where one could get back onto the road. Fortunately I am reasonably familiar with the area and headed up to Main Road, but that situation needs to be attended to before more people become victims.

  • Joe Soap says:

    DM you reader community is dead because of your review policy. It just adds delay which is the damper. It does not work because there is nothing stopping people from not reading the comments and just clicking looks good. In this AI age, there are much better alternatives.

    • John Cartwright says:

      The review takes a very short time, and is a sensible and welcome way of sifting out the pointless abuse that often passes for comment on social media.

  • Barry Taylor says:

    This poor man has no chance of the police solving this murder
    They are past pathetic and many are in cahoots with the criminals
    I know I did investigations in CT for 20 years

  • Agf Agf says:

    Very sad. But as other people have mentioned that is a terrible route to have been recommended. If the M5 was closed then a safe route from Kalk Bay would have been along the M3 until Hospital Bend and then on the N2 (Settlers Way) directly to the Airport. Google Maps took them on a VERY dangerous route.

  • Nicoleen Schuld says:

    Commisioner Patakile, there is a simpke solution. Let members of tge SAPS Task force ir Amaberetebarete drive in civilian clothes in civilian cars at different times of the day and night on that road. The perpetrator(s) will keep on trying their luck. This approach has been proven successfully. I understand that your members cannot do it forever. But surely, SAPS can TRY.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    As long as South Africans accept a president who does nothing and incompetent ministers nothing will change.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    The only motivation of the attack was to steal the cell phone. The truth is the cabal running SAs cell phone industry know exactly where that cell phone is and will happily issue a new sim card into that phone and register a new owner of that phone.

    It would be a simple Act in Parliament to totally close down the industry of cell phone theft by forcing the cell phone companies to permanently block any stolen cell phone.

    It is utterly unacceptable that if my cell phone is stolen, I literally need a Court Order to force the cell phone companies to disclose where my phone is and the identity of the person using it. They are indeed accessories to these crimes and the people who are murdered or maimed in the industry of cell phone crime.

    • Ron Ron says:

      Well said Richard. The whole edifice seems to be tailor made to assist criminality – including the RICA farce. Of course it is not only cellphones – I have been defrauded a couple of times, once with an altered invoice due to having been hacked and once by paying someone on the basis that the bank account indicated security. The banks will not help you, SAPS will not help you, FICA means nothing, money vanishes from one account to another – and no-one in the system cares.

    • Rory Short says:

      “It would be a simple Act in Parliament to totally close down the industry of cell phone theft by forcing the cell phone companies to permanently block any stolen cell phone. ”

      What a good idea. However parliament appears to house many criminals itself so perhaps it wouldn’t be interested in this idea.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    How is a main traffic artery like the M5 closed? If it’s due to roadworks, how is it that permission is granted? You simply cannot close main routes like this, because the alternative routes are not safe. In fact, not even they (main routes) are safe. These type of roadworks should be done in the dead of night, with a minimum of disruption. And Google has to be educated to take factors other than tarred roads, traffic and distance into consideration. If I were the husband I would consider legal action against the City and Google, not for gain, but to force them to acknowledge consequences and take action to prevent further deaths.

    • Andrew C says:

      It may have been an accident that blocked the M5. But I agree that Google should mark roads that are dangerous and should be avoided. They should also highlight crime hotspots where smash and grabs occur. I suspect the reason they do not is that if they miss a dangerous road or an incident happens on a road that is not marked by them they might be sued.

      • Shelagh Raubenheimer says:

        Absolutely. Google maps should indicate unsafe routes, especially as there are alternative routes even if they may be longer.
        What a terrible tragedy.

      • IAN YOUNG says:

        The M5 still has roadworks on going but you are directed without warning to go contra flow around the roadwork.
        I discovered that on Saturday15th April.

  • andrea96 says:

    Why don’t the DA establish a special police force, including private security, to police this “Hell’s run”? This tragic event could have been avoided. The special Airport police force must carry guns and shoot to kill. It’s the only action which will stop it. One cannot meet savage behavior with mealymouthed noises.

    • Lorna Monkley says:

      The DA has on more than one occasion offered to fund a ‘Municiple force” to bolster the SAPS in high crime areas, but have been refused permission by saps and ANC. I believe they are afraid that such a force will show them up for the incompetent slobs they are.

      • Michael Clark says:

        Its time the DA stood up against the thugs in the ANC which is essentially a band of legalised gangsters and just started implementing proper law & order in the Western Cape. The Min Cele himself dismissed for corruption when a commissioner and hates the DA becasue the provivce higlights his incompetance and that of his fellow cadre deployed “officers”

  • Thelma Mort says:

    So very sorry, Gert. Sending condolences to you and your family.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    How unutterably tragic. Deepest condolences to family.

  • Stuart Hulley-Miller says:

    There were 1557 similar cases reported to the police for October to December 2022.
    Could someone tell us how many of those reported cases went to court and how many convictions there were. ????

  • Jennifer D says:

    There are two issues at play here. One is that Google maps direct people into dangerous areas and should overlay crime data to point out crime hotspots to the people they are directing. Secondly, COCT should be taking action. The N2 has been a problem for so many years – when do they actually start patrolling it? We are a tourist destination and the airport is where they land – this could happen to any tourist – and it has.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    If the cops still had good informers like years ago, there would have been a good chance of getting the criminals.

  • Michael Clark says:

    My Brother and I had a concrete slab dropped on our car just past the airport at 8,30pm. Missed my brother by inches and would have killed us both as we we’re traveling around 120kms with cars all around us. We did not report as our police are useless.

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