A student’s case against two men alleged to have kidnapped and robbed him and forced him to use drugs on a night early last year is expected to be finalised in the Regional Court in Makhanda (Grahamstown) this week. Jamie de Jager and Andre du Plessis have pleaded not guilty to the charges of Kidnapping and Robbery with Aggravating Circumstances with respect to an incident on 11 April 2018.
Prosecuting for the State is Lawrence Merrick. Defending De Jager and Du Plessis is attorney Katja Offerman. De Jager and Du Plessis on Monday 25 February pleaded not guilty and at the start of the trial, almost a year after their arrest, Offerman placed on record that the men completely denied the complainant’s version of events. Acknowledging that the events on the night of 8 April 2018, as described by Rhodes student Ryan Morley, would have been a frightening ordeal, Offerman said, “Terrible though that would have been, these men will testify that they weren’t the men who did this to you.”
Morley said he’d been walking from his African Street flat to the Rhodes University campus around 8.10pm on 11 April 2018 when he encountered De Jager on the corner of African and Somerset Street. De Jager had asked him if he wanted drugs.
When he refused, Morley said, De Jager told him he had a knife and that he must go with him. Morley said he didn’t think he could outrun the man and, having seem him on previous occasions, was aware that he was usually accompanied by a second man. Indeed, that second man had later joined them, Morley said. He was scared and accompanied them along African Street, towards Albany Road and to a house where they took out drugs and lit a pipe.
One of the men meaningfully swung a sock with a fist-sized rock in it and, understanding this as a threat, Morley had reluctantly complied with their instruction to smoke as well. “I was scared, so I didn’t refuse,” he said.
The men then demanded money. When he told them he didn’t have any, they instructed him to phone a parent or friend to send some.
“I didn’t have airtime,” he said. “So they took my phone and put my simcard into another device.”
Morley sent Please Call Me messages without response, while the threats continued, he said.
Later in the night, they told him to go to sleep and they would deal with the problem in the morning.
“Accused number one instructed me to get into the bed behind him. The other man was in the bed by the door,” Morley said.
He then described the ordeal of waiting until they had fallen asleep before creeping out of bed and crawling out of the room.
He climbed out of a window and, leaving behind all his belongings, ran barefoot through the night to the safety of the BP garage in African Street, where he was allowed to use a phone to call a friend.
“I had no keys to my flat, so I ran to her place,” he said. The next morning he went to the police station and reported the incident.
Offerman questioned Morley extensively about the details of his encounter with De Jager and Du Plessis. In particular, she suggested he’d had several possible opportunities to escape from his alleged abductors, naming three busy public venues along the route, between Somerset Street and Milner Street, that would have been open that Wednesday night, with car guards, staff and members of the public available to approach for help.
Morley, who is 23, explained that he’d been terrified and also didn’t think he could run fast enough to evade the threat of the knife which De Jager had shown him.
“I was afraid, so my reactions weren’t optimum,” he said. “In that moment I was frozen with fear.”
The defence also asked questions about the sequence and methods of identifying the two accused men.
Explaining why he’d been out and about so late at night, Morley said he’d been on his way to the university library to download research material on to a flash drive.
The first appearances last year, in the Magistrate’s Court, were held in camera at the request of one of the students. The case now in the Regional Court is open to the public.
Two other charges in the same case, originally brought by another student, have been withdrawn.
The two accused men are expected to testify today Thursday 28 February and the magistrate, Thembela Mata, said he expected the case to be finalised this week.