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The Pietermaritzburg High Court has sentenced a man to life imprisonment for killing a farmer, hoping it would serve as a deterrent to criminals who have been terrorising farming communities for years.
Siboniso Mtolo, 29, showed little emotion after he was sentenced on Thursday for the murder of Eston sugar cane farmer, Mick Hampson. He turned once as he was led down to the holding cells, to look at the family whose lives he had shattered with a single shot.
Mtolo pleaded guilty to murder, as well as a charge of robbery with aggravating circumstances, for which he was given an additional 15 years.
“Everybody needs to be protected from the likes of people like Mtolo, but more especially our farming communities,” Judge Isaac Madondo said in passing sentence.
He referred to testimony of a KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union representative, Jacobus Marais, who gave evidence in aggravation of sentence.
Marais had said the 779 farm attacks, including murders, in KZN since 2001, had led to a loss of food production, employment and farming expertise. Some farmers had fled South Africa for their safety, he said, adding they were vulnerable and easy targets because of their isolation.
Marais said criminals were aware that most farmers had a variety of firearms and they wanted to steal them to commit further crimes.
Said Madondo: “Farmers provide a service to the nation. Without their produce, the country would starve and the economy would collapse. Members of the farming community are too often affected by crimes of this nature.
“Unless the perpetrators of these crimes are punished adequately, like-minded people will continue to commit offences like this for ever.”
He said it was evident that Mtolo had no regard for human life and acted purely out of greed.
Mtolo had said that he and an accomplice, Jabulani Ngobese, had gone to the farm to steal a vehicle when they were spotted by Hampson and his son, Murray.
Hampson, 69, was shot dead on September 27, when he and Murray confronted the men who were trespassing.
He instructed them to get into the back of his bakkie and was driving them towards his farmhouse to call the police when they attacked Murray, who was also in the back, armed with a shotgun.
Mtolo admitted in his plea that he wrestled the gun out of Murray’s hands, and went to the passenger window of the bakkie. He said he shot Hampson with the intention of killing him.
He said he and Ngobese, who has pleaded not guilty and is currently on trial in a separate court, then fled into the sugar cane plantation with Hampson’s shotgun.
The farmer, who Madondo said walked with the aid of a walking stick and posed no threat to Mtolo, died at the scene.
According to the ballistics report, the barrel of the shotgun was less than 1cm away from Hampson’s chest when Mtolo shot him.
“This was an evil, cold-blooded deed,” the judge said.
“This death has caused excruciating pain to the family.
“According to his family, Hampson was a constant source of support and strength to them and to all who knew him, and his death had sent shock waves through the community, black and white.”
In victim impact statements submitted to the court, Anne Hampson revealed that since her husband’s death, she had had sleepless nights and had resorted to taking sleeping pills.
Hampson’s youngest son, Robert, said his father’s death had “shaken him to his core”.
The slain man’s family, friends and a large contingent of Eston farmers were in court on Thursday.
The widow said later that she was satisfied with the sentence. “Nothing will ever change what happened, but we are just grateful that he is off the streets.”
Murray thanked friends, family, the local farming community, Magma Security, police and the prosecution teams for bringing his father’s killer to justice.
“This has been a traumatic journey for my family, but we have been carried through it by all these remarkable people who have supported us,” he said. “It gives us hope that there are good people out there.”
Said Eston farmer, Lindley Gonlag, who was also in court: “Justice has been done.”