Senseless show of force has Barberton farming community up in arms
Nowadays, South African citizens are under no illusions when the topic of crime in South Africa comes under the spotlight. The same applies to farm attacks.
On September 11, the South African Police updated their crime statistics for the 12-month period dated April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018.
According to these statistics, farm murders have increased from 47 in 2017 to 62 at the end of March 2018. There are several other organizations, whose statistics do not completely correspond to those of the South African Police Services, but the message is clear - if you are part of a farming community, you have to be on high alert 24 hours a day.
Boskombuis Pub & Grill (video) is a lodge situated on the R40 between Mbombela and Barberton, right in the centre of such a farming community. On Wednesday morning at approximately 08:00, three female employees at Boskombuis, Anesca Luddic, Lizelle Markus and Valencia Fakadu, noticed a commotion on the R40 just outside the premises. Upon closer inspection, they witnessed two men in a gold-coloured Subaru, travelling in the direction of Barberton, pulling another car off the road.
“They cut in front of the other vehicle, jumped out and held the male driver, who got out of his car, at gunpoint. The armed assailants were dressed in civilian clothes,” said Luddic.
According to the staff, the modus operandi resembled that of an armed robbery or hijacking. They immediately tried to call for help, but due to poor cell phone reception the call couldn’t be placed.
It is a known fact that farm attacks - attempted murder (story & video footage) and murder (video footage) - have plagued this farming community for a few years now. Some months ago, the owners of Boskombuis were also victims of an attack in which they were fired at by their assailants.
The women said that, upon realising they were being watched, the armed men released the person they were detaining, jumped into their Subaru, and sped into the Boskombuis premises at high speed. They approached the staff, carrying R5 assault rifles, upon which the latter took flight in an attempt to get to safety. One of the staff members, however, managed to send an SMS, asking for assistance.
The men apparently entered the lodge restaurant, shouting to the staff to come out of hiding. At this stage, the three women were not in the restaurant area, but hiding elsewhere on the property. According to the staff, the men then tried to kick open the storeroom door, presumably in an attempt to find them.
According to owner of the lodge, Louis Rautenbach, upon not finding the staff, the men then proceeded to the main house, on the premises. “They threatened my wife, Thea, and demanded that she deliver the women immediately. They thought she had hidden them in our house.”
“At that time, my wife, who is still traumatized from the attack that happened on our farm a while ago, fetched her shotgun. Hi-Tech also arrived on the scene during this time. The men demanded that the staff hand over their cell phones as well,"
Rautenbach said his wife refused and told the men they (the staff and herself) were entitled to take photos whenever and wherever they wanted.
“She also warned them that they were trespassing on private property.”
“The man in the photo (above) pressed his finger in my face and said there was no such thing as private property in South Africa,” said Thea Rautenbach. She added that the words that followed - and continued to follow - were very hateful and harsh. “You are a f*cken racist! Is it because we are black? Now we are criminals?”
Thea said she completely lost her cool at this point and retaliated, but when the man kept pressing his finger into her face, she decided to retreat. “He also threatened to arrest me.”
A neighbouring farmer, Lukie van Niekerk, who was among the farmers who had reacted to the distress call, demanded an explanation for the commotion. The aggressors identified themselves as SAPS members, attached to a special unit, and then once again demanded that the staff members hand over their cell phones, presumably because they suspected the women had recorded footage of the incident on the main road.
Although the men wore bullet proof vests, there were no insignia or branding linking them to the SAPS. “They couldn’t provide us with proper identification. They only produced a bulletproof jacket from the Subaru as ‘proof’, all the while cursing and making threats, saying: ‘We do not need it (ID). We do not have to carry it (ID). Why must we keep it (ID) on our person?’ ” Thea continued.
The farmers proceeded to barricade the gate so the men couldn’t leave,” she said and added, “I insisted that they apologise to the staff for their behaviour and they just started laughing, saying it will never happen.”
According to the Hi-Tech officer on the scene, the SAPS members present confirmed that the men were part of the Special VIP unit, responsible for protecting Deputy President David Mabuza.
“The Barberton SAPS refused to allow us to lay charges against the two men, saying we couldn’t as they were more than one metre away from us,” said one of the women.
Africa InTouch News approached an emeritus Colonel who referred us to Section 49 of the South African Criminal Procedure Act.
“Section 49 of the South African Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977, provides police officers with legal justification to use force in carrying out arrests, and includes the rules governing the degree of force to be used, as well as the circumstances in which such force may be employed.”
However, the law clearly states that SAPS members may only point / use a firearm if lives are at risk. If not, alternatives such as pepper spray should be used. No one is above the law and anyone may open a criminal case of pointing a firearm.
In light of the lawlessness happening in South Africa, and especially the situation pertaining to the farming community on the R40, the whole incident raised serious concerns.
Africa InTouch News spoke to DA Councillor Philip Minnaar, who was among those who paid a visit to Boskombuis.
“As members of the VIP unit, why did they stop a motorist on a public road and held him at gunpoint? Why did the men enter private property, armed with R5 rifles, demanding the staff to show themselves and hand over their cell phones?” asked Minnaar.
Minnaar also referred to the irresponsible manner in which the Deputy President’s drivers conduct themselves on the R40 in general.
“Over the past few years - during his time as Premier and now as Deputy President - several residents of Barberton who travel to Mbombela daily, had been exposed to the reckless driving behaviour of the Deputy President's convoy. The time has come for this unruly behaviour to be addressed, once and for all,” said Minnaar.
This journalist has, over the years, received countless complaints from Barbertonians about the Deputy President’s vehicles pushing other road users out of the way to allow the convoy to proceed at high speed. The law is very clear on this. Police officers driving an MEC may exceed the speed limit, but only “if it is necessary for the execution of protection and security services in respect of the MEC”. Under no circumstances may the drivers of these vehicles make themselves guilty of mistreatment of road users or put lives in danger.
Minnaar said: “The DA strongly object to the irresponsible bullying tactics of the VIP Unit members. Not only do they place road users’ lives in danger with their pompous road habits, but their behaviour on this occasion clearly shows that they cannot be trusted. They have acted no different than common criminals by engaging in these intimidation tactics against innocent civilians.”
Minnaar reiterated that the DA won’t allow law-abiding citizens to be treated in this manner, and stated that this incident need to be investigated on the highest level.
“SAPS members and members of the VIP Unit must at all times be suitably trained and trustworthy. In light of the high crime rate, especially in our rural farm areas, citizens should be protected by, and be able to put their trust in, the SAPS. Being exposed to fear by those who should uphold the law, will only destroy the little trust in the system that is still left,” he said.
Editor: Anchen Coetzee
Subeditor: Lynette Brink