Angry community vows to pack Uitenhage court for hearing and warns of Coligny-style reprisals
A Uitenhage farmer is expected to appear in court today for allegedly shooting dead eight roaming cattle last week and wounding three others. The 37-year-old suspect, whom police refused to name, was arrested yesterday and released from police custody later on warning, according to Uitenhage deputy cluster commander Ronald Koll.
He is facing three charges, including malicious damage to property, contravention of the Animal Protection Act and illegal discharge of a firearm.
The cattle, which belonged to a group of small-scale livestock farmers, were found piled in a heap at a Kruisrivier farm on the outskirts of Uitenhage on Thursday.
The farm is believed to belong to Piet Voigt. Calls and messages to his lawyer, Andre Dorfling, went unanswered yesterday.
The incident caused an uproar in the community and created a social media storm.
It even caught the attention of the Eastern Cape and Nelson Mandela Bay authorities, who condemned the shooting and demanded that the perpetrator be brought to book.
Rural Development and Agrarian Reform MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane visited the farm over the weekend and demanded that the livestock owners be compensated for the loss of their livelihoods.
The incident highlighted the plight of small-scale farmers, who have been pleading with the municipality to provide commonage land for their livestock to graze.
Yesterday, a group of KwaNobuhle residents, led by the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco), gathered at the Babs Madlakane Hall to discuss plans for rolling mass action against the farmer they believe is responsible for shooting the cattle.
They warned of a similar scenario to that which played out in Coligny in North West Province this week, when a farmer’s home was set alight by rampaging residents after the death of a 16year-old boy.
Sanco Uitenhage regional chairman Nceba Plaatjies said: “The farmer [allegedly] killed those cattle because they belonged to a black man.
“He would never have done that if they belonged to a white man.”
He expressed concern about the low turnout of residents and black farmers at yesterday’s meeting.
“We need everyone to take this matter seriously because if that farmer can [allegedly] shoot and kill the cattle that belonged to the Booi family, tomorrow it will be someone else’s cows.”
The cattle killings also raised the question of land ownership.
Although the residents said they believed the farm land was being leased from the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, the municipality’s human settlements staff – who were searching through their records last night – said the land did not appear to belong to the city.
The Bay’s political head of human settlements, Nqaba Bhanga, said: “Our officials have investigated and the land is not ours. They will, however, do a thorough investigation.”
The residents had been planning to march to the Kruisrivier farm tomorrow, but on hearing that an arrest had been made, vowed instead, to show up at the Uitenhage Magistrate’s Court today.
They also plan to hold community meetings in KwaNobuhle and KwaLanga tomorrow to discuss the incident as well as the scarcity of land for small-scale farmers.
Plaatjies said Sanco would have a meeting with the municipality and request an audit of the commonage farms that belong to the city. Sanco also wants the metro to investigate ways to accommodate black farmers.
Koll, accompanied by Uitenhage police station commander Laurence Soekoe and KwaNobuhle station commander Colonel Dial Kettledas, addressed those at the Babs Madlakane Hall yesterday.
Koll said they had decided to update the community due to the sensitivity of the matter and concern that criminal elements could creep in and lead to public violence.
“There have been developments. We have arrested the suspect and he is appearing in court tomorrow [today] here in Uitenhage,” he said.
“We have also confiscated his firearm and the bullets found in those cattle heads are still being tested to see if there is a link.”
He urged calm and that the law be allowed to take its course.
Bhanga also called for calm, saying the matter was now in the hands of the court and the community should be patient and let the authorities deal with the matter. – Additional reporting by Rochelle de Kock