A well-known criminal law expert, Llewellyn Curlewis, believes a recent ruling by the Polokwane High Court sends an important signal that farm murders are not tolerated.
This, after the court handed a double life sentence to Mpho Mbuyane (37) who in April 2017 murdered Piet van Zyl (68) and his wife, Tilla (66), on the Kalkpoort game farm outside Zebediela, southeast of Polokwane.
Last week, Mbuyane was convicted on two counts of murder and three counts of house robbery. He was also sentenced to 15 years for the house robberies.
The news has been widely welcomed by the agricultural sector with many hoping that it would deter other criminals from targeting farmers, workers and vulnerable outlying communities.
Agri SA’s chairperson for the rural safety centre of excellence, Uys van der Westhuizen, says they were relieved by the severe sentence imposed on Mbuyane.
“I believe it will be a deterrent to others. The collaboration to catch the convicted offender was thanks to a lot of role players who worked very well together. The police, community, security companies and a heritage protection group were all involved and it led to the verdict,” he tells Food For Mzansi.
Van der Westhuizen underscores the importance of rural communities working in partnership with the police. Often, the first responders to a crime scene are neighbours.
“If your neighbour is the first one to respond, he or she should know how to act. This is why police training is important,” he says.
“Also, if you have a good relationship with everyone in your community, everyone can have peace of mind that everyone is looking out for each other. And that’s when you start seeing reasonable successes with curbing crime.”
No mercy for perpetrators
Meanwhile, Curlewis tells Food For Mzansi that the Mbuyane verdict is indicative that the courts will not easily deviate from the prescribed minimum sentences that should be imposed for murders.
“I do think this will send a strong message to other criminals. In actual fact, it is important that courts should not easily hand out harsh sentences,” he says.
“But [when] they do, it sends out a definite message. This is one of those examples which shows that even in rural areas it’s not unheard of. Those perpetrators will not be tolerated. It also shows that courts will deal with it the moment the wheels of justice turn. It turns slowly, but ultimately it gets to a result.”
Highlighting the severity of the sentence, Curlewis explains that Section 51 of the Minimum Sentencing Act of 1997 makes it obligatory for a court to hand down life sentences when the court finds aggravating circumstances. (However, if there is compelling and substantial evidence, the court is obliged to deviate from this.)
Limpopo police spokesperson Brigadier Motlafela Mojapelo adds, “Each murder carries a life sentence but obviously the sentences will run concurrently, together with the 15 years imprisonment for three counts of house robbery.”
Rural safety needs funding
While recent crime statistics reveal that farm attacks in Limpopo are on the rise, concerned role players are calling on Limpopo’s provincial police commissioner, lieutenant general Thembi Hadebe, to prioritise rural safety.
Between 1 April and 30 June this year, farm attacks in Limpopo increased from 17 to 57 compared to the same period in 2020.
Agri SA’s director for rural safety and provincial affairs, Kobus Visser, says sufficient funding is imperative to implement a rural safety strategy effectively.
“[This is] especially with regard to the implementation of the police reservist system to proactively prevent crimes,” he explains.
Police reservists are members of the community who perform part-time policing functions or activities for the police service on a voluntary basis.
“The deployment of task teams in [rural crime] hotspots and rapid response units are crucial. If these can be implemented then there will be a big difference.”
Meanwhile, Visser adds that Agri SA was pleased with how the rural safety strategy is being developed. “We believe that it is a good strategy. However, it needs the necessary funding. We support the rural safety strategy and we are prepared to work with the police to implement it further.”
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