Farmers and organised agriculture in the province have called on the minister of police as well as the Free State commissioner of police to investigate farm murders and attacks purposefully.
They say this will help bring culprits before court and enable successfully prosecution.
Farmer and Free State District Agricultural Union chair in Bethlehem, Herkie Viljoen, has expressed disappointed at the judgment, saying that it showed that police did not do their jobs properly.
Not enough evidence
The Free State high court in Bethlehem acquitted Sakola Matlaletsa and Sekwetje Mahlamba, who had been facing charges of murder, stock theft and robbery.
Delivering his judgment, Judge President Cagney Musi said the evidence presented by the state was insufficient and did not link the two to the crime scene.
In response, Viljoen said, “We have a feeling that somebody is hiding something, or somebody is protecting somebody. We are now in the process to take this matter to [the] next level and to seek advice from professionals.
“It seems like people can go around and murder farmers without them being caught and brought to justice. This, of course, presents a great concern for our safety,” Viljoen said.
Asked about the deceased family’s response to this judgment, Viljoen adde, “I would imagine they are not happy and they are also seeking assistance from other sources to help with the investigations. We are all unhappy. We want justice.”
Meanwhile, the attorneys representing the accused alluded to suing the state for unlawful arrest, detention and for malicious prosecution on their clients’ instruction.
Furthermore, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in the province accepted the judgment of the court, agreeing that there was not enough convincing evidence from state witnesses for conviction.
“We accept the decision of the court because we got all the reasons from the presiding officer as to why he had to come to the decision of acquitting the accused.
“We are aware that the quality of the evidence we presented to the court, based on… some of the state witnesses distancing themselves from the statements, was not convincing for any conviction,” said NPA spokesperson Phaladi Shuping.
Attacks decrease, murders increase
Although there has been a decrease in the number of farm attacks in the province recently, official figures still paint a scary picture.
Dr Jane Buys, safety risk analyst at FSA, said that in the period from 1 July to 30 September 2021, the Free State had 13 farm attacks and three farm murder incidents that claimed the lives of seven victims. The farm murders took place at Harrismith and Heilbron.
“In one case in Harrismith, an emerging farmer, as well as his three children, were killed. However, it appears that there have been no arrests on any of these farm murders. During this reporting period, there were five attacks on producers, four on farmworkers, one on a livestock speculator and two on smallholding residents,” said Buys.
According to her the geographical areas in the Free State that are most affected by farm attacks and murders are Ficksburg, Bloemspruit, Harrismith, Steynsrus, Clocolan and Mafube.
“When the same period is compared with that of , there is a decrease in farm attacks in the Free State. In the previous financial year, there were 19 farm attacks, while this year there were 13, a decrease of 46.15%.” Buys said. Farm murders, on the other hand, increased from three to seven.
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