Accused in controversial farm killing granted bail
AFTER more than two decades of democracy in South Africa, people of different races and classes still have to 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 an altercation over a burial on a farm in the KwaZuluNatal Midlands.
The murder of Jeffrey Mothi Ngubane, 30, on December 30 last year, sparked racial tensions in the Otto’s Bluff area and fears of retaliatory violence.
Solomon was arrested by police on the day he shot and killed Ngubane on Craig Farm, which has since been sold to cover the legal fees of his trial and R50 000 bail which was granted this week.
A few days after his arrest, Solomon’s partner, Marie Louise Bucher, was attacked in the farmhouse and injured.
The Solomon family has for generations farmed at Otto’s Bluff.
A recent e.tv 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 was laying to rest an elder brother, Jabulani, when Solomon tried to stop the funeral, leading to the fatal altercation with Ngubane. Sibling Mondli 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.”
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 the Pietermaritzburg High Court about Solomon’s ailing health.
Advocate Gerhard van der Walt said Solomon was being kept in solitary confinement in Pietermaritzburg 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 was not a flight risk. He could now afford to pay R50 000 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 said his younger brother had been molested and threatened by prisoners.
“This is what led to him being kept in solitary confinement.”
When contacted for comment, the Lembethe family, who still live on Craig Farm, were unaware Solomon was 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 was also 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 shot Ngubane attending a funeral,” he said.
SUPPORT: Stanley and Guy Solomon at the Pietermaritzburg High Court where their brother Phillip was granted bail.