TWO days after having been released on bail, a defiant Brent Cunningham has strongly denied that he has a problem with his temper, and has threatened to sue anyone who has posted negative comments about him on Facebook. He is charged with assaulting his ex-girlfriend. In an exclusive interview with Weekend Post, the 21-year-old personal trainer said despite his rap sheet and past use of steroids, he was not aggressive.
“Actually I have a soft side to me which most people haven’t seen. I don’t believe I have a temper, but I am going to see a therapist and find out if there are any anger issues that need to be dealt with. I am not a monster. I will not let what people are saying about me define me.”
The muscular, dark-haired youngster has had several run-ins with the law.
When he was 18 he was acquitted of the murder of Brandwag High School pupil Juan Matthews. Although he admitted to stabbing Matthews, 19, to death in a scuffle, the court found that he had acted in self-defence.
Then, in November 2011, he was convicted for the assault of his elderly father, Malcolm.
He is due to appear in court on May 16 in connection with the assault of his former girlfriend Shireen Ballan and two of her friends.
Appearing nervous and with a forced sense of bravado, Cunningham said the first thing he did when he was released on Wednesday evening was go for a spray tan, dye his hair and eat a McDonalds burger.
While part of his bail conditions are that he must refrain from using steroids, Cunningham said he planned to get back to gym and bulk up “the natural way” as soon as possible. He admits his appearance is very important to him.
“I am not arrogant. The way people perceive me is not the most important thing to me, but a gentleman must look after himself.”
Cunningham said it would be no mean feat proving his innocence because he felt he had already been tried and convicted by the media and public.
“I am just a normal human being who wants to be left in peace. I do not go looking for fights. And I am not going to sit here and bad mouth Trevor Wilson [Ballan’s new boyfriend] because that’s what people are hoping for.”
Cunningham dominated headlines on December 27, when photographs of 36-yearold Ballan’s cut and bloodied face – allegedly a result of the assault – went viral.
His name continues to trend on social networking sites, where he has received multiple death threats.
“I am aware of what is being said about me and it is obviously upsetting, but at the same time I have received amazing support from my family and friends.
“I know there are many people who want to harm me but I can’t be afraid for the rest of my life. The circumstances I was confronted with in prison were far worse than out here.
“It is bound to happen that I will bump into people who want to pick fights with me but I know that I have to just walk away. I can’t hide forever.”
He said he had also mended his relationship with his dad.
Although Malcolm was absent from Cunningham’s highly-publicised first bid at bail in February, he has since verbalised his support for his son. His mother has not attended any court proceedings.
Cunningham’s attorney, Danie Gouws, said they would pursue a civil suit against the Facebook users who defamed him. Gouws said every comment made on Facebook regarding Cunningham’s case had been saved.
“We can use this to track down the individuals who made the threats and lay criminal charges with the police. As his attorney I have to take each and every threat seriously. We cannot ignore them in case something happens to my client.”
He said with regard to the defamatory comments made, there was case law which enabled him to pursue a civil or criminal path. Gouws believes the media has had tremendous influence on the case.
Cunningham’s first bid at bail was denied on February 7.
“I was shocked every time I arrived at court and the gallery was full. There would be people up for murder or rape and they would get bail. Their matters would never feature in the newspaper the next day, but I would be on the front page,” Cunningham said.
“I do believe it was unfair to my situation. Too much judgment was placed on me before the truth had even come out. People just refused to listen to both sides of the story. But my life has always been like this, I know people love to hate me.”
He said growing up he had always tried to be a good person.
“People choose to forget that I was found innocent of murder. I obviously wish the incident with Juan never happened because it is very sad.”
Addressing the much talked about issue of the 15-year age gap between himself and Ballan, Cunningham said he had always been attracted to older women because he felt more mature than his peers.
The interview took place at Gouws’s offices. Cunningham’s physical appearance is a far cry from the barrel chested man depicted in a photograph that made the rounds following his arrest on December 29.
Although he tried to keep fit in prison, he lost 15kg, mainly due to stress. He openly admits to using steroids in the past, but does not believe that the substance was the cause of his aggression.
“I was using steroids two months prior to the [assault] case. I am not saying it’s right, but a lot of people do it. It is the cheaper option to bulk up.
“I will never do it again,” he said.
Speaking on his four-month stint in prison, Cunningham said: “People have no idea how bad it really is. I was there during the riots and I saw so many people get stabbed. I was always aware that I could be next.”
He said because his photograph was always in the newspapers, he got some unwanted attention from inmates.
“But I didn’t look the same [muscular] so most people were surprised when they saw me face-to-face.”
He also rubbished claims that he tried to slit his wrists with the foil of a yoghurt tub while in custody.
He said once the case came to an end he planned to lead as much of a normal life as possible.
is a version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend
Post on Saturday, April 27, 2013.