Gert & Joey – A new book about missing girls

Gert & Joey Book

Women & Men Against Child Abuse recently attended the book launch of ‘Gert & Joey’ , investigative journalist Pieter van Zyl (You/Huisgenoot)’s book that delves into the history of one of SA’s most reported yet unsolved crimes against children. Van Rooyen and his accomplice, Joey Haarhoff, were responsible for the abduction, sexual assault and murder of several missing girls, aged between nine and sixteen-years-old, across eastern South Africa. Van Rooyen used Haarhoff to lure young girls for him, and it was only after their last victim managed to escape from a locked cupboard in the house at 227 Malherbe street in Capital Park that they were linked to the crimes. After a police chase in the early morning hours of 15 January 1990, Van Rooyen first shot Haarhoff before turning the gun on himself, thereby ending their terrifying campaign of terror.

These crimes (between 1988 and 1989) weren’t Gert van Rooyen’s first foray as a sexual predator, however. In 1979 already, van Rooyen abducted two girls, aged 10 and 13, taking them to Hartbeespoort Dam, assaulting them and forcing them to perform sexual acts on him before releasing the girls the next day. After being arrested, he was sentenced to ONLY four years imprisonment for abduction, sexual assault and common assault of the girls, and served only THREE years before being released. And this wasn’t his first offences either – van Rooyen had a history that started as a juvenile delinquent stealing cars. The justice system of the time failed woefully – had van Rooyen’s punishment been in keeping with the seriousness of his crimes, he would not have been able to take these children. This serves as a serious reminder of why WMACA will keep advocating for the strongest possible sentences for perpetrators of sexual abuse against children.

Rumours that Gert van Rooyen was involved in a child smuggling network that involved selling girls for cash are again mentioned in the book, and van Rooyen’s son is quoted as saying that three former National Party (NP) ministers were part of a greater child-smuggling ring. The book touches on other disappearances which tragically weren’t documented properly, as the SAPS at that time wouldn’t look into such crimes if the victim wasn’t Caucasian. Following on the heels of ‘The Boys of Bird Island’ we are seeing more and more fingers pointing towards the highest echelons of the Apartheid government. Given the recurring allegations of government officials’ involvement, the fact that all these events share a common timeline during the 1980s and the fact that 30 years later many of the witnesses or parties involved are deceased or rapidly ageing, this should be investigated as a matter of urgency – the victims’ families deserve closure after so many years.

In the chapters dedicated to Gert & Joey’s personal lives, it became glaringly apparent that the cycle of abuse is very real – both came from troubled, abusive backgrounds, and of the two’s offspring, two of van Rooyen’s sons have been convicted of fraud and child rape/murder respectively, and Haarhoff’s son Juan was convicted of murdering his neighbour.

‘Gert & Joey’ gives some insight thanks to Pieter van Zyl’s research and interviews, and the author shared his thoughts with us: “What struck me was the silence, and how toxic it can be – not just for survivors, but the people who knew about this or were involved somehow. I’ve been a journalist now for twenty years, and if my work has taught me anything it’s that there is always someone who KNOWS, who has information but won’t come forward for whatever reason.”

According to Criminology lecturer Lindie Coetzee of UFS, in many (if not most) instances child molesters and abusers have a history of suffering abuse themselves. “In a sense society let them down. Dealing with child abuse is everyone’s problem. We need to create a culture that battles the shame and secrecy related to abuse experiences”, says Coetzee, affirming the need to break the silence surrounding childhood sexual abuse. Why does a woman like Joey, who according to all reports in the book had no history of violence against children become entangled with a man like Gert van Rooyen? Coetzee argues: “Someone who has been abused can play the role of the more powerful person against victims, in an attempt to overcome the powerlessness they felt when they were being abused.”
‘Gert & Joey’ is published by Penguin Random House, and we hope that the book, which is currently only available in Afrikaans, will be translated into English and opened up to a broader South African public. It’s a story that is part of the South African narrative on child sexual abuse, and WMACA feels that nobody should be excluded from this conversation.

If anything, this book serves as a reminder that nobody should be silent when it comes to crimes against our children. #MiniMeToo #CourageousConversations #BreakTheSilence #Gert&Joey

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