The Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa has overturned the sentences of two White farm workers who were convicted of murdering a Black teenager after accusing him of stealing sunflowers. Pieter Doorewaard, 28, and Phillip Schutte, 35, were last year sentenced to 18 and 23 years in prison respectively for murder and other offenses.
The two were found to have killed Matlhomola Mosweu on April 20, 2017, after claiming they caught him taking a plant from their employer’s farm in Coligny, a remote northwestern farming community. Doorewaard and Schutte had claimed that the 16-year-old jumped out of their vehicle while they were taking him to the local police station after catching him stealing from the field.
But the sole eyewitness of the incident, Bonakele Pakisi, testified that Mosweu was pushed from the moving van. A post-mortem report had found that the teen broke his neck when he fell from the van. Doorewaard and Schutte were subsequently found guilty of “murder, kidnapping, intimidation, theft and pointing of a firearm”.
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The two were in March 2019 sentenced at the North West High Court in Mahikeng but on Friday, they had their sentences overturned and are now free. The Supreme Court of Appeal found the two not guilty and said the prosecution “did not prove its case beyond reasonable doubt and that the appellants should therefore be acquitted.”
When news of Mosweu’s death reached many in 2017, it sparked off a mass violent protest in Coligny, leaving six houses and three trucks torched, as well as, looting of several white-owned businesses in the town. The father of the deceased, who had hoped for 30 to 40-year sentences for the two white men, said last year the two were sentenced that he would be disappointed if the sentences were appealed.
Racial inequality is inherent in South Africa after two decades of the end of white-minority apartheid rule, with cases of racism making headlines in recent years as whites continue to own most of South Africa’s land. Mosweu’s death reminded many of the numerous racially charged incidents that have occurred between White farm owners and poor Black farmhands.
Between 1994 and March 2012, there had been 361,015 murders in all of South Africa and between 1990 and March 2012, there had been an estimated 1,544murders on South African farms of which 208 of the victims were black, according to statistics.
It will be recalled that in 2016, two White farmers in eastern Mpumalanga province forced a Black man they accused of trespassing and stealing copper cables into a coffin.
A 20-second video of the incident was widely circulated on social media, showing the victim, Victor Mlotshwa, “cowering inside a coffin as one man pushes the lid down and the other threatens to put petrol and a snake inside,” news site The Guardian reported, sparking anger.
The accused, Theo Jackson and Willem Oosthuizen, were sentenced to 14 years and 11 years respectively.