Durban - A farmer who took the law into his own hands, putting together a posse to hunt down suspected housebreakers, resulting in the murder of one man and the attempted murder of another, has gone to jail for five years.

Relatives of Johan Els, 54, of Vryheid, clung to him crying after Durban High Court Judge Fikile Mokgohloa first denied him leave to appeal against his conviction and sentence and then said she would only hear an application for bail pending a petition to the Supreme Court of Appeal for permission to appeal next week.

When he realised he was going to prison, he nodded once, stoically, and then took off his tie.

Els, the judge said in handing down sentence on Wednesday, was the reason he and his co-accused Mduduzi Mkhize, Andre Els (no relation) and Christoffel Diedericks, were in court.

“He was the one who instructed the other three to go and look for the suspected housebreakers,” she said.

According to the State, Els suspected that Mbhekiseni Nyathi was responsible for housebreakings at his farm. He instructed the other three accused, who worked for him, to find him.

On December 23, 2005, Mkhize came across Sifiso Linda who told him where he could find Nyathi. Els, along with the others, then kidnapped Linda, forcing him into their car to search for Nyathi.

When they found him, they chased him into the bush where Mkhize stabbed him with a hunting knife. He died on the scene.

Linda was then taken back to Els’s workshop where he was locked up and stabbed several times by Mkhize and left for dead.

All four men were convicted of kidnapping, while Els was also convicted of being an accessory after the fact of murder and attempted murder and Mkhize of murder and attempted murder. The judge said Els, as the ringleader, had taken the law into his own hands.

“Even if they were suspected housebreakers, they should have been taken to the police. This type of behaviour cannot be tolerated, otherwise it would render our country ungovernable,” she said.

The judge said it had been argued that Els was remorseful, but she found it difficult to accept because he had always maintained his innocence and had never acknowledged that he was wrong. His offers to pay compensation to the victims and their families were just an “opportunistic” attempt to avoid jail.

She referred to the evidence of Mkhize’s father, who had said he had met Els after the murder and he had told him that his son must take all the blame and not implicate him and in return he would buy him a car or a cow.

She sentenced Els to two years for the kidnapping and five years each for the accessory after the murder and attempted murder charges, but ordered that the sentences run concurrently.

Giving Mkhize an effective 10-year prison sentence, she said he had been only 19 at the time of the incident and had been “under the control of Els”. She said his sentence might appear lenient to family and friends of the victims, but “no amount of sentence or money can bring your loved ones back to you”.

Andre Els and Diedericks were given two-year suspended sentences and ordered to undergo two years of correctional supervision.

The Mercury