More than two months after the killing of two brothers laid bare the fragile relationship between Mpumalanga farmers and farmworkers, the province is reeling from another shocker. Three of the five men accused of murdering Zenele and Mgcini Coka are being held for a separate murder in Mkhondo.
The police are investigating the killing of two additional men, Sfiso and Musa Nene, in August 2020 near the Pampoenkraal farm where the Coka brothers died. They were allegedly beaten to death by eight men, including a farmer and his workers.
The National Prosecuting Authority admits that this case fell through the cracks and never made it to court. The accused were, however, expected in the Piet Retief magistrate’s court on Monday, 31 May 2021.
Social cohesion threatened
Meanwhile, the accused in the case of the Coka brothers – four Mkhondo farmers and a farm manager – are still out on bail. This, after the case was postponed to 30 June pending further investigation into the killings that threatened social cohesion in Mzansi.
While details are still sketchy, it is alleged that the Coka brothers were killed after a heated altercation.
Dr Jane Buys, a safety risk analyst for Free State Agriculture, tell Food For Mzansi that the incident triggered further questions about the often fragile relationship between farmers and communities.
“It seems as though it was a recurring sort of thing that happened over a period [of time]. Somewhere, people should have known that this is becoming a problem.
“For instance, in the Free State when we look at the Lesotho border, we know that there is a lot of crime occurring at the border on a daily basis. So, it is a problematic issue in that area, and we regard it as a hotspot.”
Farm safety strategy
Buys is curious whether similar incidents had occurred in the past.
“So, my first question was whether the Piet Retief [Mkhondo] incident was recurring, and if it was recurring and SAPS knew about it, did they do something about it? Was the information liaised with them?
“We [in the Free State] have the rural safety strategy. We have monthly meetings with SAPS. Did that area stand out as a hotspot area or a high-crime area?”
These questions, Buys believes, are relevant because often crime leads to farm attacks.
Also, in her experience trespassing is often a precursor to a possible farm attack. Some of the murder accused farmers claim that the Coka brothers were trespassing on private property.
“We regard it in the Free State as one of the four crimes that show you whether there will be a farm attack in future or not. Malicious damage to property is the second one, arson and intimidation are others.
“So, those four crimes, if they are being committed and they become a trend, that’s a red flag for us. Trespassing should be efficiently addressed by SAPS. It remains a problem in the rural areas and on farms.”
‘One life lost is too many’
Meanwhile Afasa chairperson Neo Masithela says, as an organisation, they reiterate that one life lost is too many.
“It’s not a good thing in the agricultural sector to lose any lives, be it a farmer or a farmworker or community member. We are calling on all farmers who are, for whatever reason, acting outside the parameters of understanding, to work together to refrain from doing so.”
Afasa is conscious that justice must be served in Mpumalanga, and that the courts will have the final decision. However, they are worried about the sector losing more lives in future.
“We just hope the justice system speeds up the process to stop the anguish that is faced by the families of the deceased.”
Tension in Mkhondo
Christo van der Rheede, executive director of Agri SA, agrees that the matter must be thoroughly investigated.
“Everyone involved must get the opportunity to be subjected to the justice system on a fair and transparent basis. And anyone guilty of an offence must be prosecuted,” he says.
Earlier, Agri SA called on deputy president David Mabuza to facilitate a meeting between Mkhondo farmers and the community to reduce tension in the area.
Van der Rheede said, “The police have a critical role to maintain law and order, as well as the prosecuting authorities to investigate the fatal shooting and violence.”