The woman with the mutilated face surveys the scene speechlessly. The pigpens are empty, the goat kraal deserted. No cattle push toward the watering trough as they used to do – before a single blast from a shotgun changed everything.
All the farm activities at Mathafeni, near Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal, ceased one day in 2002 when with a single shot an attacker on her farm shattered not only Mariette Nel’s jawbone (she was 47 at the time) but her life.
But, she says with conviction, there will be farming here again. She was born here, worked on the farm from an early age and took over when her parents died in the mid-’90s.
Her life changed on 26 October 2002 when she and her domestic worker, Miriam Mamyembe (59), set out in the farm bakkie to the market with vegetables. At the farm gate someone ran towards the vehicle, pressed a shotgun to her face and pulled the trigger. He made off with a bank bag containing R300.
After two months in hospital a partial reconstruction of Mariette’s face was done. It was badly mutilated and the limited state hospital resources didn’t allow for replacing her teeth and upper lip.
When she returned to the farm in May 2003 nothing was left of her livestock and vegetable gardens.
To make a living Mariette and Miriam started baking and selling cakes and Mariette rented the farmland to a neighbour. Within a year she was R16 000 in arrears with her bond repayments and the bank wanted to repossess the farm.
A group of businesspeople in the town came to her rescue with a loan, which she has repaid with the income from her cake sales.
She finds difficult to go into town. “I can hear people laughing at me. And I just turn away. I’m not saying I was beautiful but I was never awful-looking.”
She must dice or liquidise everything and eats with difficulty.
An ongoing sense of powerlessness has left her furious. “My face is disgusting, my farm has been destroyed and my attacker is a free man.
“And all for R300,” she says.
* The organisation Tabita, is raising funds to pay for more surgery to Mariette’s face which will cost R600 000. Contact Lita Fourie of Tabita on 072-542-7352 or at firstname.lastname@example.org