Charmaine Phillips, South Africa’s own “Bonny”, was released on parole in August 2004 after serving almost 20 years of her four life sentences in prison. She (19 at the time) and her 35-year old lover, Pieter Grundlingh, became known as “Bonny & Clyde”, after a series of murders that fascinated the country in the early 1980s. The couple pleaded not guilty to six charges of murder, robbery and fraud, but were convicted on all charges. Grundlingh was hanged on July 30, 1985. Phillips was released on parole in August 2004.
The couple’s son, Pieter Grundlingh, now 21, was six months old when his parents were arrested, and was with his parents when they committed all four murders.  He has been involved in crime and drugs since he was twelve years old, and was released on parole from the same prison as his mother earlier in the same month. Pieter, a member of a notorious gang, was serving a sentence for being in possession of stolen goods. He had been in and out of prison for years. It has also been reported that Grundlingh is “terminally ill”.

Judging from the amount of coverage that the release received, there seemed to be significant interest in the private life, personal details and future plans of Charmaine Phillips. Some reports indicated, for instance, that she will be working as a hairdresser. Since much of the detail of her years behind bars and her new life remain undisclosed or in confidential prison reports, one of the few sources available to the media was the couple’s son, Pieter jr., whose years in foster care, addiction to drugs and criminal activities became a news topic in its own right, with several reports dwelling on his tragic life story. The Sunday Times reported that although Grundlingh was peppered by questions from the news media, he remained reluctant to talk, since his story was sold to a magazine for R15 000.

Some questions to consider:

  • Is it ethical to pay a paroled criminal and self-confessed drug addict a large sum of money in order to extract from him private information about his mother?
  • Does that infringe on the privacy of an individual who has seemingly chosen not to speak to the media about her private life?
  • Is it legitimate to focus attention on the son, simply because of the interest in his mother?

By Jana Marais, Stellenbosch University