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Cape Town - An intense struggle has been playing out on social networks between supporters of Flippie Engelbrecht and detractors of his chief adviser Carina Papenfus, in the days leading up to the start of the State’s assault case against Wilhelm Treurnicht.
Engelbrecht and his father Flip Engelbrecht claim they were assaulted on January 25, 2008, by Rietvallei wine estate’s late owner Johnny Burger and manager Treurnicht.
Last Tuesday, Burger, 62, committed suicide on his farm. He had denied the assaults.
Papenfus, the secretary of the Freedom Trust, a farmworkers’ rights group that has been the driving force behind the Engelbrecht case, alleged that Flippie ended up going blind and losing his hands because of the initial assault.
On Friday, Treurnicht is set to appear in the Ashton Regional Court for the start of the case.
Papenfus has urged a boycott of Rietvallei wines on Facebook, Twitter and email.
In an email to buyers of Rietvallei wines, wine websites and wine auction houses on July 18, Papenfus said the farm’s products had been “built on the ruins of workers’ lives”.
“In January 2008... (Engelbrecht) was severely assaulted allegedly by his parents’ employer, one Mr Johnny Burger of Rietvallei Wine Estate near Ashton, Western Cape, South Africa.”
Papenfus said the assault left Engelbrecht brain damaged, blind and epileptic with bilateral hand amputations.
The same message was posted on the Facebook page of the Freedom Trust a day later.
Some respondents told the Cape Times the mail had not influenced them.
Eddie Coetzee, operations manager at Michelangelo International Wine Awards of South Africa, said: “We... never responded because we believe that justice must be done through the correct legal processes.”
Papenfus also used Twitter to publicise the wine boycott and the upcoming court case.
On August 28, for example, she argued for a wine boycott with the editor of local wine website winetimes.co.za: “Please stop endorsing farmer brutality. The award-winning wines are made by destroying farm children’s lives.”
Earlier this month Emile Joubert from the website winegoggle.co.za replied on Twitter: “Rietvallei Muscadel auctioned at @NedAuc. Carina Papenfus’s idiotic call for the wine to be pulled ignored, as it should.”
The Freedom Trust’s social media campaign also publicised the “originally reported” sequence of events that left Engelbrecht blind, and when he fell into a fire.
Questions have been raised about this sequence of events, as medical records show Engelbrecht was treated at Tygerberg Hospital for a suspected “brain abscess” 19 months after the alleged assault, and records show he lost his hands at a later date.
The first “anti-Papenfus” website launched earlier this week. The site “Carina de Vries Papenfus uncut” has a link to the property business of Papenfus and her husband, with the comment “know who you are doing business with”.
Stellenbosch University journalism head Professor Gawie Botma said such intense social media speculation was a “taste of things to come”.
“The rise of social media has arguably provided more opportunities for a variety of (less official) sources to influence the news agenda as well.”