Books

Book extract: Blood on her hands: South Africa's most notorious female killers

2019-07-02 14:56

Blood on Her Hands: South Africa’s most notorious female killers by Tanya Farber

Published by Jonathan Ball

248 pages

R250

Before this absurd and bloody incident unfolded, Taliep Petersen had been at his wits’ end with his wife Najwa. He had, according to family members, wanted to divorce her as he found the marriage “10 times worse” than his previous marriage, which had itself been beset with problems.

As if the events of that night were a dress rehearsal for what could follow, Najwa now sought just the right hitman to help her do the job thoroughly. One imagines her thoughts as the cold claws of a bird of prey as it swoops down to grab something. The perfect man had to be out there. Someone over whom she had power. Someone whose moral compass could be set aside, especially if a wad of cash was involved.

That man was Fahiem Hendricks. At 42 years of age, he was four years Najwa’s junior, and had known her for several years in various capacities: 25 years earlier, Fahiem’s brother had worked for the Dirk family business as a driver before a car accident had left him a paraplegic. Dirk Fruit Oshakati stood at the top of the South African food chain, exporting vast quantities of fruit and vegetables to Namibia. Fahiem, occupying a position far down that chain, lived a hand-to-mouth existence selling cheap, over-processed fast food.

Najwa’s previous husband was friends with Fahiem, who had visited their home on several occasions. Najwa and Fahiem were later fellow parents at the local school where Zaynab and Fahiem’s son were classmates. Fahiem did not know Taliep, nor had he visited the house in Grasmere Street.

A certain level of familiarity with Najwa must have persisted, however, for when the school bell rang on December 1 2006 – the last day before the summer holidays – Fahiem walked up to Najwa and asked her for a loan. His fast-food business was not going well.

The loan hardly put a dent in her bank account, which was receiving R100 000 at the end of every month. Not all of Najwa’s income came from Dirk Fruit, however. She was also dealing in diamonds and, by her own admission, selling US dollars “on the black market”. On top of that, she was receiving payouts from a property group in which she had shares.

Fahiem, having been promised the loan by Najwa, arrived at the house in Grasmere Street to collect it. The minute that money, a sum of R10 000, was secured, a power dynamic developed between Najwa the creditor and Fahiem the debtor. Their respective businesses highlighted the different socioeconomic groups from which they came, and the asymmetrical balance of power this could create.

For the Dirks, the import-export business was but one slice of the pie; the inventory of their holdings included land worth R10 million in the town of Ondangwa in northern Namibia, two shopping centres that were leased out at a considerable profit, and several houses and erven themselves worth millions.

It was also alleged they ran a diamond smuggling operation between Angola, Namibia and South Africa. One of the rumours that floated quietly on the wind of Cape Town for many years was that the diamonds were often hidden inside the pieces of fruit packed into the company’s fleet of Volvo trucks. There was talk that the Dirk family was under investigation for tax evasion on the Namibian side of the border.

Najwa Petersen. Picture: Nasief Manie

Another person who unwittingly became involved in Najwa’s plan was her best friend, Mymoena Bedford. Their friendship spanned more than two decades, and Mymoena readily obeyed Najwa’s strange request, shortly after the schools closed, that she pay a visit to Fahiem’s house, which was two roads down from her own, to get his telephone number. It was indeed a strange request since Najwa had already given him a loan and had not asked for any security. She must already have had his contact details, though perhaps she felt having his address would suffice.

At any rate, Bedford dutifully returned with the number she had procured from Fahiem’s brother, since Fahiem himself was not home, and handed it over to Najwa, who now moved one step closer to securing the middleman to help her carry out the plot. Najwa called Fahiem and invited him to the Petersen household. Seated at the dining room table, she told him what she was looking for: men who could “do a hit” for her.

He understood she wanted someone killed, but at this stage did not know Taliep was the intended target. At first, he refused to have any part of the plan, but as the next few days passed that early December, Najwa chipped away at his reluctance over several phone calls until, one day, he broached the topic with a close friend of his, 34-year-old Abdoer Emjedi from Athlone.

Abdoer had recently done a stint in jail and was staying at Fahiem’s house as he was at a loose end. Unsurprisingly, he had contacts in the criminal underworld and said he would see what he could do.

This would also take time, however, but the impatient Najwa kept on calling Fahiem for updates, as if she was desperate for the hit to take place as soon as possible.

Eventually, Abdoer told Fahiem he had earmarked the right men for the job – three youngsters from Hanover Park. Fahiem relayed this fact to Najwa, who summoned Fahiem to a meeting at her house. It was then that she revealed the detail that Taliep, her husband, was the man to be murdered. She said he was planning to leave her, and that in the event of a divorce, he would end up with half of her money. She also claimed that he had lost a lot of their money in a bad deal.

What she didn’t mention, though it was probably on her mind, was a R5.3 million life insurance policy that had been taken out in Taliep’s name just a few months earlier.

The sole beneficiary of that policy, in the event of the musician’s death, would be Zaynab. None of Taliep’s other children were listed as beneficiaries, and since Zaynab was only seven, it was Najwa who would manage the money on her behalf until she came of age.

Najwa promised R100 000 for the job, and, absurdly, it was decided that a “deposit” of R30 000 would change hands during a staged robbery, while the rest would be paid later, once all policies had been cashed.

By December 13 that year, Cape Town International Airport was the hive of activity it always becomes over the festive season. South Africans from other provinces and travellers from all over the world were flocking to the Mother City by the thousands to enjoy the white-sand beaches and long summer days.

The scorching December sun was practically melting the streets, but Taliep Petersen was far from his home city. Bundled up in a warm jacket, he was in London, where he had been since the beginning of the month, preparing for the opening of his and David Kramer’s latest musical production, Ghoema.

When it was time to return to Cape Town, Taliep made his way through the various checkpoints at Heathrow Airport, boarded the aircraft and settled into his seat. During the long flight, he read, slept and gazed out the window. Soon he would touch down in the city of his birth. Perhaps he shuffled past other passengers down the narrow aisle of the plane, his feet in flight socks, padding towards the small toilet. Perhaps he freshened up with a splash of cool water, or slipped his hand into his daypack to check that Zaynab’s gift was still there. Or perhaps he merely tilted his head back and closed his eyes, waiting for the final descent.

But waiting at the other end for him was a wife who wanted nothing more than to end his life.

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August 25 2019