IN­SIDE R5 000 FOR A LIFE

What rot­tweil­ers’ own­ers handed over af­ter fa­tal maul­ing

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By JEFF WICKS and LWANDLE BHENGU Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Nathi Oli­fant.

Its horses are fed only top-qual­ity prod­ucts and treated like roy­alty, the ex­clu­sive La Maine Eques­trian Es­tate on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast boasts on its web­site.

But when one of its farm labour­ers was sav­aged to death by three rot­tweil­ers, the 21ha es­tate’s man­age­ment of­fered his fam­ily a measly R5 000 as com­pen­sa­tion for his life.

Khulekani Mthembu had the flesh ripped from his face, arms and legs dur­ing the at­tack on Septem­ber 24.

His brother Collin said that when he went to La Maine the day af­ter his brother’s death, man­ager Christine Cooper and pay­mas­ter Pauline Timms of­fered the fam­ily R5 000.

When he col­lected his brother’s be­long­ings, he dis­cov­ered an SMS from Cooper on his brother’s phone that read: “Where the f**k are you?” It was sent at the time of the at­tack.

To add to their pain, the dev­as­tated fam­ily re­ceived a call from a mem­ber of the es­tate man­age­ment af­ter the death, in­quir­ing whether Khulekani, 33, was HIV-pos­i­tive.

“I don’t know why she wanted to know that. She said it was for peo­ple who helped him into the bakkie that took him to hos­pi­tal, but I don’t know if I be­lieve that. They care more about the dogs,” said Collin.

Khulekani had worked on the es­tate for three months as a gen­eral labourer af­ter his el­der brother se­cured a job for him. Their du­ties on the es­tate — which is owned by a wealthy UK cou­ple, prop­erty de­vel­op­ers Mark and Rose­mary Thoma­son — in­cluded re­leas­ing the rot­tweil­ers from their ken­nels in the evening and en­sur­ing they were locked away be­fore guests and staff ar­rived in the morn­ing.

Collin quit his job af­ter his brother’s death.

“I think they feel that the R5 000 was enough to pay for my brother’s life and for us to go away be­cause af­ter that they did not con­tact us at all,” he said.

On the fa­tal day Collin re­ceived a call from Cooper in­form­ing him that a farm­worker had found Khulekani’s blood­ied body. He was writhing in agony as he was taken to a state hos­pi­tal 30 min­utes away in a neigh­bour’s bakkie. Collin ar­rived at the Stanger hos­pi­tal about two hours af­ter the at­tack, in time to see Khulekani draw his last breath.

Cooper was nowhere to be seen.

Two years be­fore killing Khulekani, the rot­tweil­ers, which pa­trol La Maine at night, sav­aged an­other per­son.

Do­mes­tic worker Nosipho Thusini was left dis­abled and scarred af­ter skin grafts to her face, back, hands and legs. La Maine paid her R2 500 — and re­placed her be­fore she had re­cov­ered from her wounds.

Es­tate man­agers sub­se­quently sent the an­i­mals for “train­ing”.

Thusini, 30, who lives in Msinga, car­ries with her the trauma of the at­tack.

“I have been told to see a men­tal spe­cial­ist be­cause when I hear a dog bark­ing or see a dog I just shiver and ev­ery­thing be­comes black,” she said.

The mother of three is job­less, turned away by prospec­tive em­ploy­ers be­cause of her “dis­abil­ity”. “I’m told I’m dis­abled now be­cause I’m limp­ing. The last em­ploy­ers said I could not work in my con­di­tion,” she said.

She had been at La Maine car­ry­ing a plas­tic bag of clothes when she was at­tacked.

Thusini said La Maine paid her salary for two months while she was in hos­pi­tal.

“They said they would pay for me while I was get­ting treat­ment. They paid for two months and then they just stopped.”

When she went back to claim her job, she said, she dis­cov­ered an­other cleaner had been hired in her place.

Nei­ther Cooper, Timms nor the Thoma­sons would com­ment.

This week the Mthembu fam­ily were still com­ing to terms with their grief at the fam­ily home, a mod­est ron­davel in Wom­bane, a ru­ral township out­side Eshowe. Khulekani’s six-year-old son, who was at school, is too young to un­der­stand that his fa­ther is dead. —

Collin Mthembu, above with the three dogs that mauled his brother Khulekani Mthembu, left, to death in Septem­ber.

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