The recent acquittal of two farmers implicit in the murder of 16-year-old Matlhomola Mosweu near Coligny in North West has reopened one of the many wounds that plague the agricultural sector, says experts.
Following a recent judgement by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) a leading Constitutional law expert, prof. Elmien du Plessis, wonders if the court’s decision speaks to their duty or yet another injustice within a fractured judicial system.
Pieter Doorewaard and Phillip Schutte were previously found guilty on charges of murder, kidnapping, intimidation and pointing a firearm last year.
Mosweu, the slain teen, died after being “arrested and detained” by Doorewaard and Schutte for allegedly stealing sunflowers worth no more than R100.
Justifying the recent judgement, the SCA found the state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt in the matter and the North West farmers have since been acquitted. According to widespread reports, Mosweu was thrown from a moving vehicle after being accused of stealing from the accused’s farm in 2017.
‘He stole a seed and was killed for it’
“I am wondering, a child, walking the path, hungry, picking a seed from a sunflower, if that really constitutes ‘stealing’ and justifies an ‘arrest?’” says Du Plessis, an associate professor of law at the North West University (NWU).
“Is a more compassionate response not to find solutions to the underlying cause of hunger? How would you like your child to be treated in a similar situation? And why was that absent?” says Du Plessis.
Political and policy specialist at NWU, Theo Venter, also weighed in on the matter saying three families had their lives flipped upside down.
The town of Coligny came to a standstill in 2017 as the image of agriculture was once more damaged. “The case is tragic. A young man is dead, and two people in prison.”
Last year, Doorewaard and Schutte were respectively sentenced to 18 and 23 years behind bars in the North West High Court in Mahikeng last year.
President of the Black Farmers Association of South Africa, Dr Lennox Xolile Mtshagi, adds that the news of those implicit walking off scot-free is simply a matter of the country’s sordid past. “We do not support murderers. It goes back to what people have been saying about our justice system, it favours the rich and privileged.”
‘Justice is served?’
Du Plessis furthermore argues that court judgment is correct as the State has a duty to prove people guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
She believes due to improper and shoddy police investigation details remained unclear in the matter.
“It seems to be due to insufficient police work and an unreliable witness” she believes.
“We sit with a teenager who died a brutal and lonely death. We sit with two farmers who was somehow involved in the events that led to his death. The appeal showed that the rule of law is still the basic legal principle in the country.”
The BFASA meanwhile has vowed to throw its weight behind any decision made by the NPA from this point.
“If the Supreme Court acquits them it can be that they were wrongly accused, or further investigations should be conducted by the NPA. If they do feel they have a leg to stand on, we will support the NPA should they choose to appeal,” says Mtshagi.
‘Where do we go from here’
Mtshagi adds that the organisation was in the process of mobilising the masses to protest a slew of unfair and unjust arrests on 10 December 2020.
If the same leniency has been afforded to these privileged farmers, it should be extended to many innocents who were rotting in jail due to lack of funds for efficient legal representatives and resources, he argues.
“There are lots of people who are rotting in jail for crimes where they were never involved in. But because of our justice system has failed us, those who are privileged are the only ones who can beat this justice system,” he says.
We can only learn from the legal bungle, adds Du Plessis. As a nation we need serious introspection in the events of the Coligny sunflower case.
“I hope that there is some form of conciliation or mediation between the parties to understand how it got to that point, and what the impact of the actions (death) was. I hope the small community of Coligny, and the bigger community of South Africa can ask ourselves how we have come the point where a teenage boy, hungry, plucked a sunflower, and ended up dead.”
Meanwhile Venter has called for calm in affected communities who are suffering from trauma following the event. He further cautioned that citizens should not be swayed by political opportunists who were merely trying to exploit their pain for votes.
“We really need restorative justice where the victims receive support. Politicians that now claim racism in the outcome of this appeal is out of step with legal principles.
“In the aftermath of the sunflower case, Coligny has moved on and people had time to reflect. All stakeholders need to sit down and take stock of their role in this tragic case,” Venter says.