'Spiritual guide' says murder accused was full of love and humility

The self-proclaimed “spiritual medicine guide” tasked with curing Gabriela Alban’s Lyme disease said murder accused Diego Novella was “extremely concerned” about his girlfriend’s condition.

Rhoda Slabbert Barron told the High Court in Cape Town on Wednesday that Novella contacted her regularly‚ including multiple occasions on the day of Alban’s death.

Her body was found at the Camps Bay Retreat Boutique Hotel in July 2015 and Novella has been charged with murdering her.

Slabbert Barron‚ who operates a healing clinic in Magaliesberg‚ said from her first encounter with Novella — he went there twice for “spiritual cleansing” — she could tell he was a “man full of love and humility”.

“Immediately from the time I first met him‚ he spoke about Gabriela. He was concerned as she was very ill and in a great deal of pain. The Lyme disease made her body very uncomfortable‚ causing severe pain and inflammation. She was living off pharmaceutical drugs‚” Slabbert Barron said.

 Defence attorney William Booth asked several times if she considered Novella to have “an aggressive nature” to which she replied “absolutely not”.

But the day Alban was found dead‚ Novella seemed different. “(He) didn’t sound himself over the phone. I asked if all was good‚ and he replied yes. On previous occasions there would always be this excitement and laughter.

 “This time he sounded weird‚ he sounded distant‚ and the way he spoke ... the words were very drawn out‚” said Slabbert Barron.

She did not hear from Novella for several weeks‚ and he was in a prison cell for their “very emotional” next conversation.

 “Diego had no recollection (of the day of the murder). When he became consciously aware of his surroundings he was in wet clothes and he said he had had a swim in the ocean. Beyond that he went and bought drinks for people in a hotel bar‚” Slabbert Barron said.

 Novella first came in contact with Slabbert Barron in late April 2015 after being referred to her by Simon Hill‚ another spiritual healer.

He undertook a seven-day cleanse that used the psychoactive drug Ibogaine‚ derived from the rootbark of the plant Tabernanthe Iboga‚ which grows in the forests of West Africa.

Slabbert Barron said she used Ibogaine “to cleanse patients’ neural pathways” and lead them on a “deep sacred spiritual journey”.

 She told the court: “Once ingested the user will go into a dream-like state. It makes you revisit the painful spaces from your past. It takes the physical‚ mental‚ and verbal abuse from your life and takes them away‚ it sorts out the emotional scars.”

Novella was so impressed with the treatment he regularly contacted Slabbert Barron and her staff to set up treatment for Alban.

Judge Vincent Saldhana questioned Slabbert Barron’s qualifications several times. She replied that she was “just a natural human” who offered “spiritual cleansings”.