Criminal record and ‘web of lies’ uncovered as relatives tell all
A web of criminal convictions and illicit affairs has unravelled around the leader of a controversial Orania-style, whites-only settlement in the Klein Karoo.
A Weekend Post investigation has revealed that Jaqui Gradwell, 56, who was arrested last week, has a string of convictions ranging from robbery to theft, and allegedly had an affair with his daughter-in-law, while questions have also been raised over funds invested by his followers in his scheme.
In a mirror of Orania, the aims of his settlement, Die Eden Projek – or Eden Project – are to set up a self-sustainable community with its own schools, clinics and houses.
But associates and relatives have labelled Gradwell a heartless opportunist who is simply on the make.
Gradwell and his lover Etrezia “Trish” Weber, 28, who he claims is his wife, were allegedly found in possession of an illegal firearm and a small amount of dagga at a police roadblock in Ladismith last week.
Police spokesman Captain Malcolm Pojie said the couple had appeared in the Ladismith Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday and had been remanded until their bail application next week.
Through attempts to contact Gradwell’s legal representative, it was established he does not have a lawyer and is applying for legal aid.
Weekend Post’s investigation revealed:
- Gradwell is not his real name – he changed it from Johan Kobus Pretorius;
- Despite claiming Weber is his wife, he is in fact married to an American woman, Rose Stile, whom he began courting when she was underage;
- He has at least eight convictions, including for robbery and theft; and
- He has been married at least six times and allegedly had an affair with his daughter-in-law
Last year, Gradwell and a group of followers were booted off a Willowmore farm before moving to a caravan park in Uniondale after a multimillion-rand deal to buy the farm fell through.
Gradwell and his followers then settled on a farm about 25km from Ladismith – known as “the rock” – four months ago.
They wished to buy the land but failure to pay the full amount has led to the owner granting an extension. The 180ha property is valued at less than R1-million, but, according to sources with the Eden Project, is virtually like a rock and completely un-farmable.
Reasons for his name change remain unclear, but both Gradwell’s family and Stile confirm it happened.
The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission shows “Die Eden Projek” was registered as a non-profit company last year and “Etrezia Gradwell” is a listed director.
However, it has been established that Etrezia’s surname is in fact Weber – and she is a widow with three children.
Stile, the American wife, said Gradwell had been deported from the US for alleged possession of an illegal firearm.
Stile and Gradwell were married in Kentucky in April 2002 – but she was only a minor when they began dating.
“The relationship started while I was 15 and he was 37,” she said.
“I was with him for 12½ years. The religious stuff only started once he got with Trish [Weber].”
Stile said she was still married to Gradwell – which means he cannot legally marry Weber.
“They are married – it’s just not legal really. I know her [Weber] from SA. I lived in SA for over eight years,” she said.
Relatives said Gradwell had on several occasions boasted that he married Weber as she was expected to receive a R4-million life policy pay-out after her husband’s death.
A check of the criminal record system revealed that Gradwell has eight previous convictions including for robbery and theft in 1979, theft and drunk driving in 1982, theft in 1983, and possession of drugs in 1992.
Gradwell’s son, Johan Etienne Pretorius, said his father had listed him as a director of the Eden Project without his knowledge.
“I told him to take my name off and that I wanted nothing to do with it,” he said.
Pretorius said the reason his father changed his name had never been discussed.
“Why else does someone change their name? He was up to no good. He changed his name a few years after divorcing my mother.
“He then had an affair with my wife, which resulted in me getting divorced in 2010. She took my child and went to live with him before leaving him a short while later.”
An angry Pretorius said about four families currently lived on “the rock”.
“It is not farmable land and is literally a rock. They are living in tents and the way he talks to them, they believe each word he says.
“He has taken people’s life savings for this project. One couple came back to South Africa from New Zealand to buy into the project.”
Pretorius said he had recently gone to the settlement to confront his father.
“If he does not take my name off [as a director] I will lay criminal charges.
“We know that he only put a deposit down for that rock and that money is outstanding
“He should have had more than enough to pay for it as several people have paid him to pre-book plots.
“We simply do not know where the money is as he is the sole person with access [to the bank account] and who can tell us.”
Another relative, who declined to be named, said Weber was Gradwell’s biggest victim.
“I have known her [Weber] since she was a schoolgirl,” the relative said.
“She got involved with him [Gradwell] shortly after the death of her first husband; he took her and her three kids in and gave them stability and safety. “She was always so trusting of him . . . “That man is heartless. He talked many people into uprooting their lives and joining him. He has ruined a lot of people’s lives.”
A message posted to the Eden Project WhatsApp group by a follower named Pieter stated: “Jaqui [Gradwell] lies from daytime to night without shame.
“The farm which was apparently paid for in full three weeks ago and is in the process of transfer, we found out [on Tuesday] is a lie. There is still money outstanding.
“We have been here for four months and have wasted our time and money. Jaqui calls himself a boere leader but there is a snake in the grass. People, I am warning you.” vv
Carel Boshoff, President of the Orania Movement’s response to this article. Click here for the original ruling.