The shooting happened on Thursday at Zebediela Citrus Farm outside Polokwane, which Mokoena had gone to visit in order to represent five workers who had salary disputes with management.
In what seemed an ironic twist, however, a group of workers armed with stones and sticks allegedly confronted Mokoena, accusing him of failing to pay workers while he himself had been part of the farm’s management last year.
The farm is owned by the Bjwatladi Communal Property Association (BCPA), a group of land restitution beneficiaries. Mokoena joined the farm as a manager last year after he successfully represented the BCPA against Boys Group, a strategic partner that was running the farm since the land was returned to the community.
Mokoena allegedly stopped being part of the management when relations with the owners soured late last year, say sources.
The group of workers accused Mokoena of increasing the salaries of a few workers while neglecting the rest. They allegedly demanded an explanation on their Unemployment Insurance Fund and tax deductions during his tenure.
One of the workers, Jonas Ralibana, alleged that their relations with Mokoena soured after about 1 500 of them were not paid their salaries late last year.
“We were not paid our salaries in November and December, until we were rescued by the new managers,” said Ralibana, adding that he had been working on the farm for the past five years.
Others accused Mokoena of trying to push for “abnormal salary increases”, which was “hurting because production on the farm had stalled”.
Mable Ledwaba, local chairperson of the Food and Allied Workers Union, said Mokoena was fighting to sustain abnormal salary increases not discussed with the union. A few workers’ salaries increased from R6 000 to R20 000.
Things turned nasty when workers demanded that Mokoena vacate the farm and allegedly started charging at him while he was in the offices. As he was trying to leave, the workers blocked his way. It was then that he allegedly shot at the employees, injuring four.
The farm manager, a Mr Swanepoel, confirmed that he was scheduled to meet with Mokoena yesterday over workers’ salary issues.
“It was in connection with the pay reduced to normal pay.”
He added that a group of workers were against Mokoena’s presence on the property. “They said they don’t want Mokoena on the farm. The next moment, I heard gunshots and people were running outside the office, and Mokoena was running with a gun in his hands,” said Swanepoel.
According to Limpopo police spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Moatshe Ngoepe, Mokoena had produced a firearm and shot four protesters before fleeing the scene in his vehicle.
“The injured employees were taken to hospital with gunshot wounds after receiving first aid from the local clinic,” said Ngoepe, adding that one of the workers sustained a serious gunshot wound.
Mokoena was due to appear in the Lebowakgomo Magistrate’s Court, operating in the Thabamoopo district, on Friday.