Troubling tale of how injustice thrives in SA
Parys - In January 2016 two black men, farmworkers, are accosted by a posse of around 40 Afrikaner farmers on a plot in Parys, in the Free State.
For their sins - ostensibly an attempt to rob and possibly kill an older farmer, Loedie van der Westhuizen - the men are beaten to a pulp.
The first policeman who arrives on the scene, after driving around lost, prods the men with a cattle taser and later argues in court that he saw no visible and life-threatening injuries on the victims. Two juniors who arrive later hold a different view and quickly ferry the men, Biko-style, on the back of the police van to hospital.
The farmers are a network of relatives, all centred around old man Loedie; sons, grandsons, daughters-in-law, cousins, the whole gamut.
It is his son Boeta, who ends up as Accused Number 1, who puts the final nail in the coffin for the duo of would-be robbers.
Their killings are not the sort of farm murders that cause an uproar and all-round indignation - they are black farm hands, not white farmers.
One of the men, Samuel, worked for Boeta and was fired by the farmer after he was accused of stealing sausages. In death, the men did not get the respect that eluded them while they were alive. Even the courts failed to properly identify who was Samuel and who was Simon.
At the hospital, they were identified as Unknown Black Male 1 and Unknown Black Male 2. It was unclear, even to the judge, which autopsy report belonged to which man.
They were, in a post-apartheid South African court, “the shorter one” or “the taller one”.
The gun they were allegedly armed with to rob the old white farmer never surfaced. The aggressors swore one another to a conspiracy of silence, that is until the spectre of jail sentences loomed large before their eyes.
“You say nothing. You know nothing. You do nothing,” one father told his son, the author, British journalist Andrew Harding writes early on in the book.
But when jail beckoned, they started ratting out one another and Boeta and a few others were left clutching the baby.
The conservative Free State town is divided into racial enclaves and assumes the scene as a playground of political activism. A young Indian magistrate is forced to recuse herself.
The two men remain dead.
These are not gentle people, the title derived from the ruminations of Rikki, Boeta’s wife, as she contemplates the betrayal of family who turned state witnesses against her husband.
But, in the eyes of the Tumahole community - the black township in Parys - “these are not gentle” people is aptly the description of the whole white farming community, who treat their workers worse than dogs and slaves. Harding does his homework.
He goes around with a notebook and tape recorder in hand to speak to people involved in the saga.
In the end, Boeta walks.
These are not gentle people is a reminder of what is wrong with us as a rainbow people of Desmond Tutu.
History will judge us harshly as we’re hell-bent on learning nothing from our past.
These are not gentle people is published by Picador Africa and sells for R290.