By Jabu Mhlabane
A farmer was convicted in the Nelspruit circuit of the Pretoria High Court on Tuesday of culpable homicide after dragging a "drunk" farm worker behind his bakkie.
Jotham Mandlazi died of multiple internal and head injuries on February 8 last year after he was dragged 70m behind the vehicle.
Farmer Gerrit Maritz, 30, delayed reporting the incident to police for over 17 hours, and was later accused of trying to cover up the crime by trying to sneak Mandlazi's body into a local mortuary.
Maritz initially pleaded not guilty to murder and obstruction of justice, but on Tuesdday changed his plea to guilty on a reduced charge - of culpable homicide - after listening to the graphic testimony of eye witnesses.
One of the witnesses, farm labourer Isaac Ngwenya, recalled how a visibly angry Maritz came looking for truant workers at a staff compound on Elmboog farm near Komatipoort at 8.30pm.
"Two of the men Maritz was looking for were not there. He then told us to fetch Mandlazi, whom he accused of also dodging work."
"Maritz got into his bakkie, and when Mandlazi arrived, he called him over to the vehicle," said Ngwenya.
"He then grabbed Mandlazi by the clothes, and sped off, dragging Mandlazi behind. Mandlazi was sucked under the car, right under the wheels."
Apparently realising that he had driven over Mandlazi, Maritz turned and drove back to check on the fallen labourer's condition.
"When he saw that Mandlazi was (seriously) hurt on the head, he told me to put him on the back of the bakkie so he could be taken to hospital." That was the last any of Mandlazi's colleagues saw of him.
Ngwenya confirmed under cross-examination that both Mandlazi and Maritz appeared to have been drinking.
Earlier police testimony indicated that Maritz realised Mandlazi was dead, and so did not take him to hospital.
The "distraught" farmer allegedly instead tried calling his lawyer and only reported the incident to police the following day.
The prosecution alleged that Maritz then told Inspector Francois Vermaak that a drunken Mandlazi had fallen off the back of his bakkie while catching a ride to work.
Maritz's defence team only changed his plea on Tuesday after hearing Ngwenya and Vermaak's testimony, telling the court it was not necessary to call any more witnesses as the farmer conceded he was guilty of culpable homicide.
The court accepted the plea and set down sentencing for on Wednesday. Maritz was released on R15 000 bail. - African Eye News Service.