Bail for Midlands farmer
AFTER more than two decades of democracy in South Africa people of different race and class still have learn to talk to each other, say the elder brothers of Phillip Solomon - a 66-year old white farmer who is on trial for murdering a man during a dispute over a burial on a Kwazulu-natal midlands farm late last year.
Solomon was released on R50000 bail this week following the introduction of new evidence in the Pietermaritzburg High Court about his ailing health. Both the defence and the state agreed on stringent bail conditions which have not been publicly disclosed by the court for public safety reasons.
Solomon is accused of murdering Jeffrey Mothi Ngubane, 30, on Craig Farm in Otto’s Bluff, which he has since sold to cover his legal costs.
Solomon was arrested by police on the day he shot and killed Ngubane at the grave of a labour tenant on his farm.
He had afterwards locked himself in the farmhouse. A few days after his arrest, Solomon’s partner, Marie Louise Bucher, was attacked on Solomon’s farm house and seriously injured.
The Solomon family has for generations farmed in the Otto’s Bluff area.
A recent ETV Checkpoint documentary on the Otto’s Bluff farm murder warned that the area had become “a festering frontier with farmers and workers living in increasing disharmony”.
The documentary shed light on the history of Solomon’s relationship with the Lembethe family who have lived and worked on Craig Farm all their lives and have occupational rights.
The family were laying to rest an elder brother, Jabulani, when Solomon had tried to stop the funeral, leading to the fatal altercation with Ngubane.
Sibling Mondli, a Lembethe relative, said Ngubane lived on the property and did odd jobs for Solomon, who was nicknamed Mahewu after a fermented sorghum drink.
“Mothi was very close to Mahewu. They were friends and Mahewu knew the life that Mothi lived. We thought because they are friends, he wouldn’t do anything to him.”
Of Ngubane, Mondli said: “Mothi was trying to reason with him and the rest of us stepped back. But, incredibly, Solomon fired at Mothi.”
At Solomon’s first court appearance, hundreds of residents wearing ANC and IFP T-shirts protested, demanding justice and expropriation of land from white farmers.
After an application extending over several weeks, Solomon was denied bail by Magistrate Fikile Luvuno on the grounds that it would not be in the interest of justice.
But this week, his lawyers presented new evidence in court about Solomon’s ailing health.
Advocate Gerhard van der Walt said Solomon was being kept in solitary confinement in Pietermartizburg New Prison, where his health had seriously deteriorated. He was also being denied food brought by his family, said Van der Walt.
He said Solomon, who was not a flight risk, could now afford to pay the R50000 bail after having sold his farm to cover his fees.
Granting bail, Judge Jacqueline Henriques said she was satisfied with submissions from both the defence and State prosecutor, advocate Mbongeni Mthembu, that Solomon was ailing in prison.
Henriques said the State and defence had agreed on stringent bail conditions, which she opted not to disclose in court for public safety reasons.
“It is very, very sad.” said Guy Solomon. “With good communication it could have been easily avoided. Carelessness, which led to conflict, has landed my brother in jail.”
“We are very upset over what happened, but the emotions were stirred by politics,” said Stanley, the eldest in the family. “We have spoken to the Lembethes to make peace. Now relations are fine.”
Stanley Solomon said his younger brother had been molested and threatened by prisoners. “This is what led to him being kept in solitary confinement.”
Contacted for comment, the Lembethe family, who still live on Craig Farm, were unaware Solomon was now out on bail. Khosi Lembethe said she was scared.
“I fear for my life because I stay alone in the house. I wish someone could make me understand why he was granted bail.”
Gcino Shabalala, KZN chairperson of the Landless People’s Movement, said he, too, was not satisfied with the decision. “We farm dwellers want to feel protected the same way as others.
“The family’s dignity was eroded the moment Solomon pulled out the firearm to shoot Ngubane, who was attending a relative’s funeral,” he said.
Stanley and Guy Solomon at the Pietermaritzburg High Court where their brother Phillip ‘Mahewu’ Solomon was granted bail on Thursday.