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More to Coligny horror than meets eye

Opinion
Given our racial history, it's easy to take sides instead of promoting social cohesion, writes Dr Tutu Faleni.

When I was a 14-year-old schoolboy, my family lived in a township that was a walking distance to a farm owned by an Afrikaans-speaking farmer, Jan Scholtz.

What separated the Scholtz farmhouse and the township was a railway line which we crossed when we visited the farm to buy sheep or cattle to slaughter for traditional rituals.

The Scholtz boys would enter the township only to deliver the cows we would slaughter, mainly for funerals or weddings.

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Residents of Coligny in North West protest against bail for the two farmers charged with killing a 16-year-old boy. File picture: Dimpho Maja

There was indeed a mutually beneficial relationship between Jan Scholtz, his family and the township residents.

I am told that if one was a regular customer, Scholtz would give a discount, and in those days you could easily buy a live sheep for R70.

Scholtz as a farmer was a good man; he treated his neighbours well and conducted his business dealings with them in a fair manner.

But for us as school pupils, a peaceful relationship with Scholtz and his family was just not enough.

Some afternoons, we would sneak out of our homes, cross the railway line and without being seen we would help ourselves to fruits found on the trees which bordered the Scholtz farm.

The adventure and the thrill of walking right next to Scholtz’s farm would win the respect of one’s peers, especially the schoolgirls. The venture of creeping on to the Scholtz farm sometimes came with its challenges.

The boys on the farm would chase us off the property on horseback.

We would run amok in the direction of the railway line as we knew that they would not dare cross the railway line, simply because their territory was on the other side of the track.

The railway line was a symbol of forced separation of communities by the inhuman socio-economic system of apartheid.

Our escapades on Scholtz’s farm never resulted in injury or loss of life to myself or any of my school peers.

But news of our adventures on the farm would, through the dynamic of rumour, reach our teachers and parents.

We would then be summoned to the principal’s office to explain what we were doing on the farm.

No amount of explanation would save us from a beating with a stick on our buttocks.

My parents would deal with our mischief in a different manner than just to mete out corporal punishment. They would try using gentle persuasion to convince us not to go on such a risky escapade again.

My mother would plead: "Leave Scholtz alone because he does not come to the location to bring you trouble. Why do you go over the railway line to bother a man at his farm," she would ask.

I would explain to her that we have nothing against Scholtz - all we wanted were the fruits, which we could only get from his farm that happened to be located in our land.

But I was too young to win an argument about farms, white people, apartheid and the land. I simply gave in and decided never to join my friends on their escapades to Scholtz’s farm.

In my mind, as a township boy, that was the end of my relationship with a white farmer. I just needed good education, to buy my own house and get out of the poverty of township life and stay away from the likes of Scholtz and their farms.

After many years, my dreams came true and I finally bought my own home and moved out of my parents’ house.

A few weeks later, my parents paid me a courtesy visit and made a request that I slaughter a sheep to inform our ancestors of my good fortune - having moved into my own house.

I respectfully informed them that I lived in a suburb and that there was no Scholtz farm where I would just cross the railway line and return with a sheep.

Their word was final and I just had to comply. A good friend introduced me to Marius, whose parents owned a farm not far from where I had moved.

I eventually bought a sheep from Marius's parents to slaughter as directed by my parents, and by coincidence Marius owned a butchery in my neighbourhood where I became his regular customer.

I have often been advised not to say something would never happen to me. Twenty years or so later, circumstances brought me into a friendly business relationship with an Afrikaans cattle-farming family.

I thought I had done with the likes of Scholtz - who had a respectable relationship with the township community where I lived.

In the past 15 years, I had moved from my first house. I visited a butcher on the outskirts of the area where my second home is located. I walked in to hire a spit braai and came face-to-face with my old acquaintance, Marius, who now owned a modern, beautifully laid-out butchery.

We could not hold back the excitement of seeing each other after more than a decade. We chatted about wives, children and the fact that soon we would be retired madalas (old men).

After catching up with Marius, my long-lost acquaintance, I went to the comfort of my home to relax and watch television.

I watched in horror as news of Coligny being torn apart by violent protests was televised.

There were images of houses belonging to white farmers or plot owners being burnt by angry black youths.

They were protesting against the release of the two white men who allegedly murdered Motlhame Mosweu for apparently stealing sunflowers from a farmer's property.

There is more to the violent protests in Coligny than meets the eye.

The deep-seated socio-economic political issues need to be unravelled to understand better the unfortunate circumstances which led to the untimely death of Mosweu.

Given our racially divided history, it’s easy to take sides instead of promoting healing and social cohesion.

Politicians who stood next to Mosweu’s coffin and fanned racial hatred and violence should be condemned for promoting their nefarious political agenda over the lifeless body of a young school boy.

On June 26, two men will appear in court to face charges relating to the death of "Feki", as he was affectionately called by those close to him.

The court will vigorously pursue justice and arrive at an outcome, which will unlikely please everyone.

Ours as South Africans is to respect the due processes of the law, irrespective of the outcome of the final judgment of the court.

The people of Coligny shall have found enough reasons to go on with life.

All of us as South Africans will still be faced with the onerous task of continuing to build a non-racial country, which provides opportunity for all to grow and fulfil their dreams. As I connect the dots of my positive personal experiences with the Afrikaans-speaking farmers, from Jan Scholtz to Marius, I have hope in my heart that a safe and prosperous South Africa is a reality that we can achieve. It all begins with you.

Dr Tutu Faleni (PhD) is a DA member of the North West Provincial Legislature. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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