Pretoria - A young girl’s 200km quest to find her mother’s nine missing cattle came to nothing when the alleged stock thief, whom she eventually tracked down with little help from the police, had his name cleared by the Pretoria High Court.
An acting judge gave Lucky Boy Nkosi the benefit of the doubt due to the confusion over brand marks.
Nkosi was initially found guilty by an Mpumalanga court of stock theft and sentenced to nine years in jail, as it was his second conviction for stock theft. But, on appeal, Acting Judge K Manamela set aside his conviction and sentence, saying the State had failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
He noted that the girl, Thembi Vilakazi (age not given), lived in Driefontein in Mpumalanga.
“She was a herdsman (no gender insensitivity intended) of nine head of cattle, kept for subsistence.”
Every afternoon, she would lock the cattle in the kraal and let them out in the morning, the judge said.
“The afternoon of November 6, 2008, she locked the cattle up after counting them. But she woke up the next morning to an empty kraal. The cattle had disappeared. She reported it to police. This was the beginning of a long journey to find her cattle and her quest for justice.”
Thembi was told at the police station that there was no transport to assist her in looking for the cattle.
“She was not dispirited. She hitch-hiked about 200km to a stock auction in Standerton” as she had heard rumours that stock thieves sold their loot there.
She found three of the cattle and again brought the matter to the attention of the police. She identified her cattle from the marks branded on them and from their colours.
“But the police did not act fast enough to prevent two of the cattle being slaughtered. She recovered only one,” the judge said.
Nkosi, 35, a father of seven, was arrested. He pleaded not guilty, but was convicted and sentenced by the Piet Retief Regional Court for the theft of animals valued at R18 900.
Thembi testified at his trial that when she identified her cattle by their colours, she noted they had another brand mark. She could not, however, tell the court what this new brand mark looked like.
The policeman who testified for the State confirmed a new mark had been branded over the old one, but he too became confused about what the new mark looked like.
Nkosi admitted selling three head of cattle – one brown, one black and the third brown with white markings. He said they were his father’s cattle and bore his father’s branding. He claimed his father had died shortly before the incident, but investigations revealed he had died nearly a decade earlier.
Nkosi said he knew nothing about Thembi’s cattle and had not sold them at the auction. The lower court rejected his version as lies.
He told the court on appeal that Thembi may have identified her mother’s cattle at the auction, but this had nothing to do with him.
The judge said as Thembi could not assist the court about the new branding, Nkosi should be afforded the benefit of the doubt as it could not be established beyond reasonable doubt that he rebranded the cattle and offered them for sale at auction.