Another former senior Media24 journalist has been accused of sexually abusing boys while he held senior positions in the media.
News24 is in the possession of three affidavits from men who accuse 80-year-old Coenie Slabber, a well-known former arts editor who worked at Sunday newspaper Rapport between the 1970s and 1990s, of sexual abusing them while they were minors.
Slabber, who lives in Bloubergstrand in Cape Town, denies the allegations against him (see below).
In November last year, News24 and podcaster and writer Deon Wiggett alleged that former Media24 executive and businessman Willem Breytenbach sexually abused and raped several boys since his days as a teacher at Grey College in Bloemfontein in the early 1990s.
Willem Breytenbach, a former teacher-turned-journalist who became an executive at Media24 before he left the company in 2014, is accused of raping a schoolboy more than 20 years ago when he headed-up a school newspaper project for the company.
Warrant Officer Rowan Andrews of the Western Cape Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences unit arrested Breytenbach in December. He faces charges of indecent assault and sexual assault and will appear again in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on 30 March.
It is alleged that Slabber groomed well-known Afrikaans writer and columnist Herman Lategan when he was a schoolboy and abused him on multiple occasions.
The other two men, Sam* and Dirk*, have asked to remain anonymous. All three men have deposed to affidavits that are in the possession of News24’s lawyer.
Slabber was a prominent Afrikaans media figure in the 1970s to 1990s and held various senior positions at Rapport and Die Republikein in Namibia. He was a celebrated arts critic and columnist. He was also at the centre of liberal Afrikaans writers’ struggle against the apartheid government’s censorship laws.
Herman: I was groomed and abused at school
In his affidavit, Lategan said he met Slabber when he was 13 years old, and a schoolmate of Slabber’s son, at Hoërskool Jan van Riebeeck in Cape Town. Over the course of the next few years, Lategan and Slabber became close and Slabber introduced Lategan to various cultural influences, including music and the arts.
Lategan’s domestic circumstances were deteriorating and weekend visits with Slabber at his flat in Bloubergstrand, where he still lives today, came as a “welcome respite from my dismal domestic situation”. Slabber treated him “with kindness”.
Lategan says he was impressed with Slabber, who was a famous arts editor and well known in the literary fraternity, and knew prolific writers such as André P Brink and Breyten Breytenbach. “I was awestruck.”
Lategan says that, following several pleasant visits to the Bloubergstrand flat, Slabber one night came up behind him when he was 15 years old, as he was brushing his teeth, and fondled his penis. He further alleges that Slabber came into his room that same night and performed oral sex on him. “From then on it became a regular occurrence,” Lategan writes.
Lategan goes on to describe a number of alleged incidents of sexual abuse in his teenage years. In one incident, Lategan says, Slabber sexually abused him in a car during a trip between Cape Town and Johannesburg while Slabber’s son was asleep on the back seat.
On another occasion, Lategan says that Slabber molested him at a house in Bezuidenhout Valley in Johannesburg where Slabber was staying with a fellow journalist.
He was also allegedly sexually abused while on a holiday in Spain with Slabber and his son.
The alleged abuse continued into Lategan’s matric year. Lategan had auditioned at the University of Cape Town Drama School and was accepted. Lategan says Slabber drove him to Cape Town and dropped him off at his father’s house and asked him to get out of the car. Slabber then didn’t speak to Lategan again for 25 years, Lategan says.
“After years of intensive psychiatric treatment, I was able to pick myself up to a certain extent, although there is not a day that passes without me feeling unworthy of success, or love, or friendships. I am half a human being, constantly battling shame,” Lategan states.
Sam: I was abused by a family friend
Sam* alleges that, during the 1970s and 1980s, he was sexually abused by Slabber on several occasions. Sam’s father was friends with Slabber.
The first incident of sexual abuse apparently happened when Sam was 10 or 11 years old, between 1974 and 1976, when Slabber was married and living with his wife, two sons and a daughter in Windsor, Johannesburg.
“My family had gone on a holiday and we stayed a night or two with [the Slabber family]. During the night I became aware, and was woken, by somebody stroking my genitals. It was like being tickled. I could make out that it was Coenie, after a while. I was embarrassed and panicked because I didn’t know what was happening,” Sam states in his affidavit. This, he says, took place at the townhouse in Windsor.
According to Sam, he was again abused by Slabber at a flat in Braamfontein. He was 12 at the time. Slabber had by then been divorced or separated and Sam and his family stayed with him en route on holiday.
Slabber allegedly “played with” the boy’s genitals.
“I would turn on my stomach in an attempt to make him stop, but he’d just roll me onto my back again. The next morning in the kitchen he [Slabber] told my dad, in front of me, that I had crawled into his bed during the night. My dad scolded me and warned me that Coenie was a working person who needed his rest. I was furious because it was a lie and I couldn’t tell my father the truth,” Sam states.
According to Sam, he was again abused by Slabber during a holiday in Namibia in the winter of 1978, when he was 14 years old. The alleged events happened at a resort in Swakopmund. At the time, Slabber was working at Die Republikein newspaper in Windhoek. His two sons, who lived with their mother in Cape Town, accompanied Sam’s family on the trip.
“We stayed a couple of nights, and during the night he’d come to my bed and abuse me.”
When he was in matric in 1982, Sam and his family visited the Sun City resort at Slabber’s invitation. “Because I shared a room with my parents, the abuse didn’t happen this time. But Coenie would still give me hugs in passing or brushed his hand against my crotch when no one was looking.”
The alleged abuse continued into Sam’s adulthood. “All of these incidences happened against my will and never was it something I wanted to happen or participate in,” Sam writes.
When he was completing his military service in 1988 and 1989, he discussed his experiences with a social worker. “The sessions with the social worker didn’t work out and I quit after she told me I could have rejected Coenie’s advances as a child.”
Sam says he saw Slabber again in August 1990, when he happened to be in Johannesburg for a few weeks. “This was the very last time I spent time in his company and the last time he ever touched me. I was 26.”
Dirk: I was lured and abused at Sun City
Dirk* alleges that he was groomed by Slabber at the age of 17, in 1982. He also relates how he was impressed by Slabber’s fame and influence and accepted an invitation to spend a weekend with Slabber at Sun City that year.
Slabber got into bed with him on the first night, Dirk writes. “He asked if he could pull down my pants and I said yes, even though I didn’t want him to,” Dirk claims.
Slabber then allegedly performed oral sex on him.
“I was shocked, freaked out and disassociated from what was happening. It felt like it was happening to someone else.”
The following year, Slabber allegedly invited Dirk to Cape Town to meet a young friend of his, who turned out to be Lategan. Through Slabber, Dirk and Lategan began corresponding with each other. Dirk accepted the invitation because he wanted to meet Lategan and experience Cape Town.
Dirk says Slabber again allegedly performed oral sex on him, against his will and “without asking”.
Dirk again disassociated and returned home three days earlier than planned.
These alleged events had a profound psychological effect on Dirk, who at one point broke a bottle and cut his face in an attempt to make himself “less attractive to ooms (uncles)”.
On Tuesday, News24 telephonically contacted Slabber about the alleged abuse. After the allegations were put to him, Slabber asked: “How did this come to your attention?” (“Hoe kom dit nou by jou uit?”)
Slabber then agreed to an interview at his flat in Bloubergstrand on Tuesday at 11:00. At the beginning of the interview, Slabber again asked how News24 knew about the allegations.
Asked whether he denied the allegations, Slabber wanted to know the names of his accusers. He was told that Lategan was one of the accusers and that the other two men preferred to remain anonymous, but had drawn up sworn affidavits.
Slabber confirmed that he had known Lategan for many years and that he was his son’s schoolmate, and that Lategan had visited him several times. “We became friends and shared many interests. We liked each other.
“He also lived with us for a while because of his personal circumstances. My family took care of him and clothed and fed him. My son told me Herman was gay.”
Slabber said he was surprised to be confronted about the allegations. “I am older than 80. I am really old, I am not a well-known person or newsworthy, and here you are telling me about these allegations.
“I deny that I did anything criminal or malicious.”
Slabber then described Lategan as someone who was prone to gossip and telling stories and who could be malicious and fiercely critical of people who he felt had wronged him.
“I am not surprised that Herman is making these allegations given his temperament. What does surprise me, is that he is doing it now, towards the end of my life.”
Slabber said on one occasion Lategan called to see him, but he wasn’t feeling well. He suspects Lategan still holds a grudge because of his perception of having been snubbed.
Lategan dismissed these assertions as “nonsense”.
“This should be a criminal case. I feel uncomfortable being cross-examined by you,” Slabber then told News24’s journalist.
“I am old and my brain is confused. I suffer from dementia and have had two minor strokes. I am not, as you have pointed out, of sound mind. I am now an old, retired, dementia-ridden pensioner.”
Slabber added that he has had three transient ischemic attacks [a stroke that lasts only a few minutes] and should be shielded from stress and unnecessary excitement.
“My dementia isn’t that bad, though I sometimes struggle to remember names, which is a huge embarrassment for me.”
‘I am a wreck’
News24 told Slabber that he appeared lucid and compos mentis for a person who had dementia. He responded that this impression was “misleading”.
“I am a wreck. I am decrepit,” Slabber said.
Slabber was presented with a list of written questions. The questions pertained to each of the alleged incidents of sexual abuse. He denied each of the allegations with a terse “no”.
He did, however, confirm that he rented a room at a colleague’s house in Bezuidenhout Valley, but denied that he sexually abused Lategan there. The former owner of the house, who does not want to be named, recalls that Slabber rented a room from her and that Lategan visited him there.
While he confirmed that Lategan had accompanied him and his son on a holiday to Spain, Slabber denied that the alleged abuse took place.
Slabber’s eldest son told News24 he had no knowledge of the alleged incidents and declined to comment further.
Ishmet Davidson, CEO of Media24, said the company condemned in the strongest possible terms any form of violence and abuse.
“We do not have any personnel documents on record for Coenie Slabber as he left Media24’s employee too long ago,” Davidson said.