Pain still lingers for family of one of the 'Lost Boys of Bird Island'

Author's friend doubts his 'suicide', lives in fear herself

19 August 2018 - 00:00 By Jo-Ann Floris

A few days before he died, Willem Smith wrote in his notebook: "Nobody will know except me and the Lord Jesus Christ . all the s**t I had to go through. The pain is excruciating."
He was not referring to the cancer consuming his body, but to the sexual abuse he had endured as a boy at the hands of alleged paedophile Dave Allen.
Thursday marked 18 years since Willem died. He was 39.
And it was The Lost Boys of Bird Island, published two weeks ago, that reopened a wound for Willem's brother Gerrit Smith and lifted the lid further on a sordid ring of paedophiles that preyed on poor, vulnerable boys in the Port Elizabeth area in the 1980s.Allen is named, along with apartheid defence minister Magnus Malan, who died in 2011. One former minister is still unnamed. Allen and environmental affairs & tourism minister John Wiley died in apparent suicides in 1987 before they could be charged.
The men reportedly took young, mostly coloured, boys to Bird Island and sexually abused them.
The book, co-written by ex-cop Mark Minnie and former investigative journalist Chris Steyn, detailed the investigation into the paedophile ring, the attempts to stop it, and even attempts on the life of Minnie and people close to him. He lived in fear for much of his life.
"They are in the background. I know there is a plot to take me out," Minnie, 57, apparently told his childhood friend and close family member Tersia Dodo last week, just days before he was found with a bullet wound to the head.
"If anything happens to me, don't believe a word when you hear it is suicide."
He never specified who "they" are, but Dodo is convinced it is the people who pushed him into leaving the police force.
On Tuesday, Minnie's body was found on a friend's smallholding in Theescombe, outside Port Elizabeth. Police have ruled out foul play, saying a suicide note has been found.
Dodo is anxious. She has received so many threats and insults over the phone since speaking out about Minnie's death that she is moving temporarily from her home in St Francis Bay to an undisclosed address "where I know I will be safe".
She said: "I have repeatedly asked the police to see the supposed suicide note. I may not be an expert on his handwriting, but I will know if the note is written in his voice."She said Minnie's son Markus had been turned away at the mortuary when he asked to see his father's body this week.
The family were going through "disgusted and dismal days" since Minnie's death.
"The funeral will take place next week when everyone from overseas is here, so in the meantime we try to make sense of something that makes no sense."
National police spokesperson Brig Vish Naidoo said this week the claims of abuse of boys on Bird Island were receiving the attention of police.
But he would not say whether the case had been reopened. "The matter is receiving attention, but details thereof cannot be provided at this very early stage, given the sensitivity of this matter," he said.
Back in Mount Pleasant, in Port Elizabeth, Gerrit told the Sunday Times of the terrible secret he and his brother were forced to keep to protect his mother and five other siblings.It was only this week that Gerrit shared it with his siblings - and only because his mother is in an advanced stage of dementia. "There is no way I would have told the story otherwise," he said.
His mother had left his father and moved with the children from Garies in the Northern Cape to Sydenham in Port Elizabeth in 1975, when Willem was 13.
"The city was not good for him. Before long he had fallen in with the wrong crowd, started smoking dagga and stealing a car.
"One day Willem asked me for money, but I knew it would just go to drugs. That is when he broke down and shouted: 'Do you know the things I have to do to get money?'
"For a long time I thought it was just one of those stories he made up to get money from me. But it turned out it was all true."
The story Willem told was how Allen often picked him up and took him to a home in Schoenmakerskop, near Port Elizabeth. Sometimes four or five other boys were there as well.
Gerrit said: "You can imagine if you are so poor, living on the third floor of a block of municipal flats. Willem was the only one who ever asked about our father, asking often when he would come to see us.
"Then comes this very rich guy, taking you for drives in his fancy car, living in a big house, taking you out on boat rides. Willem and the other boys were easy prey."Gerrit said Willem, who had worked as a long-distance truck driver and had never married or had children, had never mentioned the names of other men, just Allen.
"I am forever grateful for this book. There is helplessness, a hopelessness, when you know there is no justice for you when you are poor," Gerrit said.
"For my brother, and others like him, this might all change now."
Maryna Lamprecht, commissioning editor at Tafelberg Publishers, said Steyn was more determined than ever to see that the victims mentioned in the book get justice.
"Because of the weight of the information in the book, Chris has sharpened her vigilance for a while now. She is taking all necessary precautions [for her safety].
"The first public talk where Minnie and Steyn were due to appear was the Open Book Festival in Cape Town in September, in conversation with journalist Marianne Thamm. This will continue unless circumstances change."
Lamprecht said although Steyn was still in shock over Minnie's death, she wanted to see justice done.
In an earlier statement, Tafelberg said that in the week preceding his death, Minnie had said nothing to indicate that he might harm himself. "He was excited about the publication of the book and the disclosure of allegations which, according to him, had been covered up for 30 years."..

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