Liv­ing with one foot in the grave

CityPress - - News - S’THEMBILE CELE sthem­bile.cele@city­press.co.za The In­de­pen­dent Devel­op­ment Trust again re­ceived a dis­claimer of au­dit opin­ion At ir­reg­u­lar ex­pen­di­ture has in­creased by when com­pared with last year’s au­dit out­comes Six au­di­tees, in­clud­ing Prasa, were re­spo

‘Big House” is an in­for­mal set­tle­ment that can barely be seen from the main road. On ei­ther side of the road, power lines – from the Ko­mati power plant – tower over hectares and hectares of green veld. If you fol­low a beaten-down, muddy path, you will find your­self in the com­mu­nity that is, iron­i­cally, not big at all. Big House has fewer than 30 solidly built mud struc­tures. Kids play­ing coy at the sight of a cam­era roam the small area ex­cit­edly, oc­ca­sion­ally trip­ping over a chicken, kit­ten or pig.

It is a close-knit com­mu­nity that has long been for­got­ten by the out­side world. There is not a shop in sight for kilo­me­tres, not a sin­gle taxi passed by in the time City Press spent there.

Big House has seen a num­ber of vis­i­tors to­day af­ter so­cial me­dia caught wind of a dis­turb­ing video de­pict­ing one of their own be­ing shoved into a cof­fin by two white men. Vic­tor Retha­bile Mlotshwa is heard giv­ing a gut-wrench­ing cry as one of his at­tack­ers shoves the lid of the cof­fin over his up­per body, while the other tells him how he is about to pour petrol over the cof­fin. The pair are Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Martins Jack­son.

Aaron Runeyi (60) – known fondly around th­ese parts as “Madala” – re­calls the day it hap­pened.

“Vic­tor is like my son. He ac­tu­ally kept this thing from us in the be­gin­ning,” he says, stand­ing out­side the home he has lived in for more than 18 years.

“He [Vic­tor] ar­rived look­ing very ashy and I asked what had hap­pened. He said: ‘Hayi, no, Madala, there is no prob­lem.’ I said to him, but look at how you look, wash­ing your­self off at a com­mu­nal tap near your home. What is hap­pen­ing? He in­sisted that he was fine. I said your con­di­tion says oth­er­wise. He said: ‘This white man chased me on the other side, but I am fine.’”

Some time be­fore Mlotshwa showed up at his home, an­other res­i­dent had raised the alarm, say­ing that Mlotshwa had been caught by the two men.

Del­ton Sit­hole (27) is a gen­eral worker at the nearby coal mine. On 17 Au­gust, he too was as­saulted by the two men. He is re­luc­tant to talk about it, say­ing he has al­ready told the story more times than he cares to. But within mo­ments of City Press’ ar­rival, most of the res­i­dents have come out and are plead­ing with Sit­hole to tell his story.

“The is­sue now is that your story is be­ing erased. What hap­pened to you was also trau­matic. Telling your story will help,” one young man says firmly.

Sit­hole is handed a stool and re­luc­tantly sits. Wear­ing jeans and a red Or­lando Pi­rates jersey, his veins pop out as he clenches his fist wait­ing to be prompted.

He re­calls how at about 8am that day he was walk­ing when a bakkie stopped along­side him and asked where he was go­ing. He ex­plained that he was just pass­ing by. Mo­ments later, the man in the bakkie got out and the two got into a phys­i­cal fight.

“I was clearly over­pow­er­ing him. He got back into the bakkie and pulled out a gun and I ran. I lost him and af­ter a while walked nor­mally again. Then an­other bakkie came from a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion and hit me. I fell and was picked up and thrown in the back. He drove me back to the farm where the first guy was and they started kick­ing me.” Sit­hole says the pair were then dis­tracted by Mlotshwa walk­ing in the dis­tance. “There goes an­other k*ffir, they said and then left me alone to go deal with Vic­tor.” In­jured as he was, Sit­hole made his way back home to say that Mlotshwa had been caught. Speak­ing to City Press, Madala says that they have al­ways heard hor­ror sto­ries of what was hap­pen­ing on sur­round­ing farms but never had any proof of it, un­til now. “I have al­ways known that the farm­ers in the area are cruel hearted but never had proof or sus­pected that they would go this far. Those who work on the farms have al­ways been tight lipped about what hap­pens there. We live our own lives here, there is no boer dic­tat­ing life to us here,” he said. “I want to know about this cof­fin. Why it is just lay­ing around on this farm? What pur­pose does it serve for this farmer? We have heard about this cof­fin, but it has al­ways been a myth be­cause no one had seen it and no one was speak­ing out about it.” It is clear that Madala is the fa­ther fig­ure of the res­i­dents. He says that he thought they had been done with th­ese kinds of in­ci­dents post-1994 when he voted in Nel­son Man­dela. On the day that Sit­hole came and told him what had hap­pened, he was pre­pared to march up to the farm and walk there as an act of defiance. “I was not scared to go there be­cause you must re­mem­ber the strug­gle which I come from. There is lit­tle which I fear now, hav­ing gone through those things dur­ing apartheid.” As Madala speaks a roar in the back­ground is ever present, it is the con­veyer belt which sup­plies coal to the power plant. De­spite Big House’s prox­im­ity to the plant, there is no elec­tric­ity or wa­ter in the houses. “We have been told count­less times that we do not have the cor­rect in­fra­struc­ture for wa­ter and lights. We get told new homes with the cor­rect pip­ing will be built for us but we are yet to see any of that.” The res­i­dents make do with what they have, makeshift chim­neys made from rolled up as­bestos sheets pro­trude from some homes, smoke drift­ing out of them. While res­i­dents have it tough, they are a cheer­ful bunch with a deep re­spect for each other as if they were all one fam­ily. About 40km from here is Mid­dle­burg where the mag­is­trates’ court has seen a fair amount of ac­tion. Oosthuizen and Martins ap­peared briefly. The two men were seen walk­ing into the court room free of any shack­les, caus­ing out­rage on so­cial me­dia where many com­pared their treat­ment to that of stu­dent leader Mcebo Dlamini, who was seen with an­kle cuffs at his bail hear­ing. The pair have aban­doned their bid for bail, say­ing they fear for their lives. They will re­main be­hind bars un­til 25 Jan­uary in the new year.

TALK TO US Are th­ese sorts of cruel acts still preva­lent in SA?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the keyword COF­FIN and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

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Theo Martins Jack­son and Willem Oosthuizen

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