Community mourns slain farmer

2007-12-28 00:00

At about quarter to six on the evening of December 20, another decent, innocent human being was murdered in South Africa. This time it was an elderly farmer who was slain in his farmyard. David Green was my immediate neighbour — a fascinating man who was businessman, botanist, palaeontologist, cattle breeder and environmentalist.

His Zulu nickname was “uMansense” because of the cracks in his heels from the sandals he almost invariably wore. David was “not into designer clothing” so baggy shorts, farm shirts, a cloth hat and, very rarely, long pants, were his uniform. He drove a clapped out old bakkie and he invested his money shrewdly, quietly and unostentatiously and, as my wife said, she remembers never seeing David without him having a smile on his face. He had an unassuming humility and a love of Africa.

The brazen criminal killed David in broad daylight. His wife Dorothy was rolling up the electric extension cord after mowing the little lawn which separates the “big” house (actually a very modest house) from the humble cottage in which they lived. She heard a shot, saw a man entering the house and pressed the panic alarm. The man ran away. She went around the house and found her husband lying with a shot to his head. He must have died instantly.

Within minutes of Dorothy Green’s phone calls her neighbours were with her. Her one son, who lives nearby, was away in Pietermaritzburg so he rushed back knowing only that his father was shot, not that he was dead. The SAPS, the Dog Squad, the ambulance, the Greens’ doctor, shocked family members and a bakkie load of David’s distressed farm workers all arrived.

A possible motive goes through all our minds. David sold cattle. Was it an attempted robbery? Did Dorothy’s swift pressing of the panic button save her from being murdered as well? It seemed more like an assassination. Why then? Various organisations have long been spreading their poisonous cocktail of grievance, greed, entitlement and race in the area and could that have incited somebody? The incompetence of the Department of Land Affairs in settling land claims may have been an exacerbating factor. Was it some personal grudge? Even so, and regardless of any motive, who gives anybody the right to take another person’s life?

I woke up on the Friday morning following, to a dawn and sunrise of particular delight after the weeks of wonderful rain, but the glorious green valleys and shiny fat cattle were covered with a sickening sourness. The violent and premeditated shedding of the blood of a human being brings horror, fear, anger, sadness and a trail of unpredictable results.

David grew up in the Richmond area, went to high school at Maritzburg College, lived and worked in Zambia and eventually settled in the Estcourt district. Two previously unidentified plants — an aloe and the beautiful flowering shrub Barleria greenii —- had, to the admiration and envy of other botanists, been discovered by David.

One of the pioneers of bringing Boran cattle embryos from Kenya, he visited that country with Dorothy, who was a trained nurse from the Kimberley district, in his old bakkie. His cattle were a colourful “liquorice all sorts” but were efficient and matched the African environment perfectly.

He was passionately interested in conservation, sustainable farming and ethical hunting. He was a good sportsman and polocrosse enthusiast and served his community in many ways, not least the farmers and his farm workers through the school that he and Dorothy ran.

He had no fax machine, his phone was often out of order, he lived with little security and without vicious dogs. As an amateur, he won the deep admiration of academics and researchers for his astonishing erudition, which included his knowledge of trees, plants and animals as well as the palaeontology and human history, going back to the Iron Age, of the Bushman’s River valley. He would have been the appropriate recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

David leaves Dorothy, three sons and a daughter and their families. The killer, whose only skill was to pull a trigger and symbolise an arrogant, uncomprehending “heart of darkness”, still walks free.

• Graham McIntosh is a farmer and former politician.

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