I learnt non-racialism in prison - former Boeremag member shares his journey

31 October 2018 - 11:12 By Naledi Shange
Kobus Pretorius says he is benefitting from his incarceration at Leeuwkop Correctional Centre, in Bryanston, Johannesburg, on October 30 2018.
Kobus Pretorius says he is benefitting from his incarceration at Leeuwkop Correctional Centre, in Bryanston, Johannesburg, on October 30 2018.
Image: Xanderleigh Dookey

Gangsterism‚ drugs and overcrowding are some of the things that South African prisons are notorious for but for some prisoners behind the tall brick and green walls of Leeuwkop Correctional Centre in the middle of Bryanston‚ Johannesburg‚ being behind bars has come as a blessing.

One of those prisoners is 45-year-old Kobus Pretorius‚ who was part of the apartheid loyalists of the Boeremag‚ who tried to overthrow the South African government in an attempted coup in 2002 and planned to assassinate former president Nelson Mandela.

During their mission - which included two of his brothers‚ his father and several other people - his role was to manufacture bombs.

"I've been in prison since December 2002 so this is my 16th year in prison‚ but I'm only five years into my sentence now‚" said Pretorius‚ who was convicted of high treason.

In October 2013‚ his trial was finally concluded. He was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. Ten years were suspended.

"Since [my incarceration]‚ I questioned many things about my upbringing and I completely changed as a person‚" said Pretorius‚ who explained that he grew up in right-wing white home.

Being forced to live with those very same people he was taught to be superior of‚ Pretorius said: "Most of the things I knew about black people aren't true‚" adding that he had to unlearn those things.

Dressed in his orange prison uniform‚ his hair neatly combed‚ with his hands folded behind his back‚ Pretorius was speaking to the media from the maximum security section of the prison after the Department of Correctional Services opened the prison gates to the media for an inside story of what goes on behind bars.

Most of the things I knew about black people aren't true.

As he works through his sentence‚ Pretorius has decided to join the recreation committee and has taken on the role of being an engineering teacher to some of the inmates.

Asked about prison life‚ Pretorius admitted that gangs existed‚ cells were cramped but "it's up to one to decide what they make of it".

"In the cell‚ we have order. Where I'm staying‚ we have rules and regulations that we follow and we try to respect each other and make it as liveable as possible‚" he said.

While Kobus has been moved to several prisons during his incarceration‚ he prefers this specific facility because of the many opportunities it offers‚ particularly the farming of cattle‚ pigs and vegetables.

"I am rehabilitated‚" he said.

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