Forces need to be joined as they were 10 years ago when the Potgieter family was murdered in order to fight the scourge of violent crime, writes Dan Kriek.
The spate of horrifying farm murders during the past few weeks had me thinking back to Monday morning, 6 December 2010: I am sitting in the Magistrate's Court in the small Free State town of Lindley awaiting the first court appearance of six men who allegedly brutally murdered the Potgieter family on their farm near the town just a few days earlier.
Attie Potgieter was stabbed about 150 times with a garden fork, knife and panga. His wife Wilna and their two-year-old daughter Wilmien were attacked with a panga and shot. They were robbed of cash and belongings worth R20 000.
There is an eerie silence in the courtroom as we await the start of the proceedings. The mood is solemn. We are all trying to come to terms with yet another shocking farm murder. But this one is different than the others I’ve thus far had to deal with as vice president of Free State Agriculture. The cold-blooded murder of two-year-old Wilmien Potgieter sent reverberating shock waves through the country.
I’m seated next to local farmer leaders Llewellyn Angus and Dirk van Rensburg. Outside the court a huge crowd of farmers, onlookers and protesters from across the political spectrum, including the AWB, are assembled. Present in court is Dr Pieter Mulder, Deputy Agriculture Minister and Freedom Front Plus leader at the time, and Maki Mokoena, local chairperson of the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL).
The court appearance of five of the suspects (the sixth suspect is a minor) only takes a few minutes in an anti-climactic contrast to the massive outcry of rage and horror gathering momentum outside the courthouse.
Now it was time to address the farmers outside. But what does one say? The anger of a community knows no boundaries when murders like these happen, and people want to see justice served and to feel public acknowledgement of their pain, coupled with the reassurance that something will be done about it.
As I think back, I clearly remember the tension and emotion, but I can’t remember my exact words that day.
I tried to reassure the farmers that organised agriculture will leave no stone unturned to address the scourge of farm murders and asked everyone to remain calm. I then thanked the ANCWL for their presence. I deemed it critically important that the whole of society condemned the Potgieter murders. I reiterated that all murders must be universally condemned, regardless of who commits them or who the victims are. I found it extremely difficult to address the crowd of farmers and was keenly aware that not everyone shared my views about the presence of the ANCWL.
As I walked to my bakkie to head home after an emotionally exhausting day, I stopped to thank Mokoena and the almost twenty strong delegation of the ANCWL for their support and for their very strong public stance against the murders.
I told her that I think the ANCWL is the embodiment of the mothers of our nation and therefore have a critical role in condemning violence against women and children - and in this case the murder of a whole family. The ANCWL kept attending the court hearings in the Potgieter case and even requested the judge not to afford bail and to hand the murderers of the Potgieter family the maximum prison sentence.
Before that first court appearance in 2010, I kept wondering how to deal with the public outcry that dominated news headlines and a situation that had the potential to polarise society along racial lines.
I believe we need to address violent crime with collective intolerance and without polarisation.
I phoned lifelong friend Sisi Ntombela, current premier of the Free State, who was the MEC for Social Development at the time. I asked her for public support against the brutal Potgieter murders. She immediately mobilised the ANCWL to take a public stance against the murders.
I called Premier Ntombela this past week to reflect on the Potgieter murders.
She reiterated why she publicly supported the community of Lindley: "Farm murders, whether white or black is a scourge that all of us have to fight. Violence knows no colour. As the premier of the Free State I want to make a passionate plea to all Free State people to stand together in condemning this scourge."
The Potgieter murders caused an outcry across South Africa.
Churches and faith-based organisations held meetings to pray for a solution for violence in the weeks following the murders.
I remember one particular scripture reading in commemoration of the Potgieter family as a message to all South Africans. It was from John 1:5: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
Ten years on, have we made any progress as a nation in dealing with the trauma that violent crime unleashes in our collective lives?
Violent crime is tearing our communities apart. It affects all South Africans.
We see regular media releases and public protests expressing our anger about all the senseless violence. I’m convinced we won’t succeed to end this scourge until we join forces in condemning all murders. All murders are equally destructive and senseless. Sadly, we have not reached the point where we can say that an injury to one is an injury to all. We are, to a large extent, still burying our own dead.
We need government to publicly demonstrate how the resources of the country will be applied to keep us all safe from ruthless criminals.
The Potgieter murders stand as stark reminder of the destructive force of violent crime in rural South Africa. But if one looks beneath the surface at 6 December 2010 at the Lindley Magistrate's Court, the real solution on how to deal with our collective trauma was on display.
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
- Dan Kriek is a cattle farmer from the north eastern Free State. He is a past president of Agri SA.
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