Release of ‘Station Strangler’ reminds Cape Flats communities of the mid-90s serial killer

Elroy van Rooyen's aunt, Florence Gelant and Zorah Motasi. All photos by Mzi Velapi

The department of corrections is conducting community dialogues ahead of the release this week of the alleged ‘Station Strangler’.

The Van Rooyen family in Strand is opposed to the release of Norman ‘Afzal’ Simons who was convicted of raping and murdering their 10-year-old son in 1995. Elroy van Rooyen and his cousin Ryno were, according to media reports at the time, lured by Simons to accompany him to the train station while carrying boxes with the promise that he would give each R10. Elroy’s body was later found near a gravesite in Strand.

Simons was branded the ‘Station Strangler’ because he was investigated for 21 other murder cases involving young boys, but was only convicted of Elroy’s murder. The Cape Flats was thrown into a frenzy as all the victims were sodomised and buried in shallow graves and in most cases near a train station.

At the community dialogue held in Mitchells Plain on Sunday, the regional head of corrections, Lawrence Venter explained to the residents that Simons was only convicted of one murder. “We all know that the purpose of this meeting is about the release of Norman ‘Afzal’ Simons. I must emphasise that he was only convicted of one murder charge and the other 21 cases that were attached to him were dropped. The other 21 cases are cold cases, they can be re-opened at any time,” Venter said.

Speaking on behalf of the Van Rooyen family, Zorah Motasi, an activist and neigbour of the Van Rooyens, said that they are opposed to the release of the alleged ‘Station Strangler’ because the family and the Strand community is still in pain and his release is not in the best interest of the family and the community.

Motasi said that the family never got help to cope with the trauma of losing their child. “Unlike Norman Simons, the family was never catered for by the criminal justice system. No social workers were provided to the family,” said Motasi who is also the leader of Vroue in Aksie, an organisation that seeks justice for victims of crime, especially women and children.

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Venter said that they have met with the families of the 21 victims and as the department they will make sure that they get counselling for the trauma they went through. “We might be late, as no counselling was provided to the families, but we will make sure that they now do,” he said.

Mitchells Plain CPF calls for Simons to be given a chance

Mitchells Plain residents, activists and family of the Station Strangler’s victims attended the community dialogue at Lenteguer Civic Hall on Sunday.

At the meeting, the Mitchells Plain Community Police Forum chairperson, Norman Jantjies appealed to the community, that while traumatised by the killings, to consider Simons’s punishment as done. “There is no proof that he murdered the 21 children and Norman needs to be given a chance to re-integrate into the community but should ask for forgiveness,” said Jantjies.

“I remember what happened 28/29 years ago. We had search groups that would go to the dunes looking for bodies and among the search groups there would be Norman. I remember speaking to him, I think it could have been two or three days before he was arrested and he had a scar. I asked him if he was the perpetrator and he laughed at me,” said Jantjies.

Michael Jacobs from United Residents Association in Mitchells Plain said he agrees with Jantjies that Simons should be given a chance and called for the 21 unsolved cases to be re-opened. “The way forensic investigation has improved since the 90s, we think it would be easier to find the perpetrator now. We also call for a budget for that and to improve the capacity of the police to conduct investigation into the murders,” he said.

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Strict parole conditions for Simons and questions about the monitoring

Ronny Bila, the head of Bellville Community Corrections, told the meeting that Simons will be under 24-hour house arrest. He will only be allowed out 4 hours a day for medical attention, life threatening challenges and to look for employment. The 56-year-old is not allowed to speak to the media and will be restricted from the midst of children.

Lynn Phillips from the Cape Flats Safety Forum pleaded with the correctional services department to ensure that the parole conditions of Simons are monitored closely as the wardens tend to be sloppy. “The wardens do not even get out of the car to make sure that the parolee is in the house. They believe the family members who lie to them,” she said.

Responding to such concerns, Delekile Klaas, the regional commissioner for correctional services called for the community to report cases where the officials do not get out the cars. She said that that they have about 8,000 parolees, probationals and awaiting-trial prisoners that are monitored by their officials in Mitchells Plain alone. So, understaffed and overextended, Klaas said that their officials moreover are fearful of getting shot at or their cars hijacked in areas like Mitchells Plain, Khayelitsha and Nyanga.

The department of correctional services will hold a community dialogue in Parow on Tuesday as it is the area where Simons will reside after being released from Drankenstein Medium A prison this week.

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