Durban: A patch of land on a farm in Crammond in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, overlooking the Albert Falls Dam, has been home to the Lembethe family, who have been subsistence farming there for generations.
But their bucolic lifestyle was rocked last week when the farmer who owned the land they lived on (Otto’s Bluff Farm), alledgedly shot and killed a relative of the Lembethes.
Philip “Mahewu” Solomon, 66, allegedly shot Jeffrey Mothi Ngubane, 30, repeatedly, after arguing with members of the family, who were attempting to bury a relative.
Solomon was arrested and made a brief appearance at the New Hanover Magistrate’s Court this week.
He has since been transferred to New Prison, Pietermaritzburg, and is expected to make a bail application at his next appearance on Tuesday.
The Lembethe’s problems with Solomon date back to 2000 when he allegedly blocked the family from burying another relative on the farm.
Other farmers and neighbours were also at odds with Solomon, who they said was feared in the area.
One resident who asked not to be named said Solomon was a “nutcase” who was always armed with guns, knives, and a panga.
“He is mad. I do not know how many people he has attacked previously.
“Solomon owned five firearms including two rifles, two shotguns, and a pistol.
“Thankfully, he has not been granted bail,” said the resident.
Last Saturday, the Lembethes had their latest altercation with Solomon.
They had just lowered the body of Jabulani Lembethe into a grave they had dug near their three-room home when Solomon stormed into their yard.
He tried to prevent the funeral from proceeding. That’s when Ngubane pleaded with Solomon to return to his home, saying “Nkosana, hamba (Prince, away)”.
But the pleas of Ngubane and other mourners fell on deaf ears.
Solomon shouted back, “Phumani lana, hambani (Get out of here)”, before firing repeatedly at Ngubane, who died instantly.
The family’s spokesperson and a brother-in-law, Teteni Sikhakhane, said the mourners were shocked at the level of disrespect displayed by Solomon.
“During the commotion, people dispersed in different directions and when Solomon realised Ngubane was dead, he slowly walked to his house, which is a stone’s throw away.
“We continued filling soil into the grave with tears rolling down our faces, and Ngubane’s body lying in a pool of blood nearby. We waited six hours before police removed his body because we did not want to interfere before the forensics team could arrive.”
A police K9 unit arrived at the scene minutes after the shooting and they then proceeded to arrest Solomon, who had locked himself inside his house.
Sikhakhane claimed that Ngubane’s death would have been avoided had commissioned officers been present at the funeral procession, as the family had requested of the police.
“Police promised to attend because Solomon had made threats to stop the funeral, but they never bothered to show up,” Sikhakhane claimed.
He said Solomon arrived at Otto’s Bluff Farm early in the 90s when the Lembethes had already been living on the farm for generations.
But after Sikhakhane’s mother-in-law died in 2000, Solomon prevented them from burying her at the family homestead and were forced to bury her at a relative’s home, 5km away.
Sikhakhane told about how, shortly after his residing at the farm, Solomon prevented the family from making extensions to their home and continuing with their subsistence farming, as they had done for years.
“We are still traumatised. We do not want him back here. If he is released it would be the end of our family,” Sikhakhane said.
However, Captain Gay Ebrahim of Umgungundlovu north cluster unit, said that when the station commander of Cramond met the family to discuss the burial, they did not make any promise to attend the funeral.
“At no stage did the police receive any information about Phillip Solomon being a threat to the family,” Ebrahim said.
The owners of the neighbouring Kwela Lodge, Birgit and her husband Rene Oegger, said they had been accused on several occasions, by Solomon, of the theft of his bull and he also allegedly made numerous death threats.
“Our run-ins with him started years ago when he accused us of stealing his bull. We forwarded the details of his threats to the police,” Birgit said. Oegger blamed Solomon for a lack of compassion for his animals that roamed the area.
“He does not care about his animals. In the more than nine years we have lived here, we and other neighbours have seen his animals on the road, endangering the lives of motorists.
“We felt sorry for the bull, as we are animal lovers, and that is why we cared for it at our place, as well as for safety reasons.
“We told our neighbours and we informed Solomon that the bull was on our property,” Birgit said.