In Brief

Sunflower murder: South African farmers found guilty

Pieter Doorewaard and Phillip Schutte pushed teenager out of moving van for allegedly stealing from their employer’s field

Two farm workers who pushed a teenage boy out of a moving van after accusing him of stealing sunflowers have been convicted of murder by South Africa’s High Court.

Pieter Doorewaard, 27, and Phillip Schutte, 34, had claimed that 16-year-old Matlhomola Mosweu jumped out of their vehicle while they were taking him to the local police station after catching him stealing from their employer’s field in Coligny, a small farming community in the north of the country.

The defence called for the court to drop all charges against Schutte and downgrade the charge against Doorewaard to “culpable homicide” - a charge similar to that of manslaughter.

But the sole eyewitness of the incident, Bonakele Pakisi, testified that Mosweu, known as Faki among his friends, was pushed from the vehicle, reports South African news agency Independent Online.  A postmortem report found that the teen broke his neck when he fell from the truck.

Doorewaard and Schutte were found guilty of “murder, kidnapping, intimidation, theft and pointing of a firearm”.

During the hearing, Judge Ronnie Hendricks said: “It is difficult to believe the assumption that the deceased jumped from the van.

“It makes no sense. Why he would all of a sudden, and for no reason, after being so cooperative, jump? I am of the view that their [the accused’s] versions are not reasonably possibly true and are rejected.” 

South Africa’s Eyewitness News says that there was “jubilation in the courtroom” when the judge delivered his guilty verdict. A local community member said: “We are happy that Matlhomola has finally got justice, we are very happy.”

Doorewaard and Schutte will remain in custody until they appear again tomorrow for sentencing.

Mosweu’s death, in October 2017, set off a “mass violent protest” in Coligny that “left six houses and three trucks torched and several shops looted and damaged”, reports Johannesburg-based newspaper The Citizen

France24 notes that “racially charged incidents between white farm owners and managers and poor black farmhands are common in South Africa”. The news site points to a 2016 case  in which two white farmers in eastern Mpumalanga province forced a black man accused of trespassing into a coffin and threatened to set him on fire.

“The case sparked outrage after a video of the incident emerged on social media, and the two were handed jail terms of 19 and 16 years,” France24 says.

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