Abused sisters emotional after seeing accused in court after 40 years

15 August 2019 - 15:10 By Dan Meyer
Claudine Shiels and Lisa van der Merwe want justice for what they endured as children. The sisters elected to have an open trial and reveal their identities to give strength to others who were too afraid to speak out.
Claudine Shiels and Lisa van der Merwe want justice for what they endured as children. The sisters elected to have an open trial and reveal their identities to give strength to others who were too afraid to speak out.
Image: Dan Meyer

Two sisters engaged in a historical quest for justice after allegedly being sexually abused as children more than 40 years ago saw their "abuser" for the first time since then on Thursday.

Claudine Shiels, 60, and Lisa Van Der Merwe, 54, were allegedly abused by acquaintances they regarded as "uncles" in the 1970s. The alleged abuse continued for years and they would block a door to their bedroom to prevent the men from entering. 

"Seeing that man again was extremely painful," said Shiels after the man appeared briefly in the Wynberg magistrate's court in Cape Town. The case was postponed on Thursday for a second time after one of the two accused, who was in hospital, did not appear in court.

"Memories of that man ... are nerve-wracking. You are taken right back to that bedroom," she said. 

Van der Merwe said seeing the accused made her angry. "I just felt absolutely furious when I saw him, she said. "You 'flip-flop'. You go from a very real anger, to a complete emotional breakdown." 

Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act last year paved the way for sexual assault cases to be prosecuted retrospectively. The sisters, estranged for nearly 25 years, were then able to muster the courage to reunite and seek justice.

"I'm extremely proud that our country has made this possible," said Shiels. "All these decades we were not able to speak out, the law didn't help us." 

"We are now able and entitled to speak out." 

The sisters - who elected to have an open trial and reveal their identities to give strength to others who were too afraid to speak out - were disappointed with the postponement, having prepared for the emotionally taxing event.

"Justice doesn't come easy, you have to put up a fight for it," said Shiels. "We also have each other, so we can go all the way with this."

NPA spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila said that the prosecuting authority had developed an appetite for the case once the amended act was operational. 

"It is now possible for people to get justice years down the line," he said. 

"Unfortunately one of the accused was not present so the case has been postponed until December," he said. "The two suspects have been charged with indecent assault."

Accused number one faces allegations involving 11 instances of indecent assault and his co-accused seven. 


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