NEWS

Coligny Residents Celebrate Freedom Day In Somber Mood

The murder has torn the town apart and the racial divides are evident.

28/04/2017 17:08 SAST | Updated 01/05/2017 08:01 SAST
Pontsho Mabena

On Thursday, South Africa commemorated Freedom Day which also marked 23 years since the country's first democratic elections, but Coligny, a small town in the North West province, was somber following the murder of a 12-year-old boy.

His suspected killers, well-known farmers in the maize-farming town, which lies in the outskirts Ventersdorp, appeared in the local magistrates' court on Friday.

The murder has torn the town apart and the racial divides are evident.

Crowds gathered outside the court demanding bail be denied to the accused, while farmers also congregated in small groups at various points around the town to discuss a strategy should violence resurge following the duo's court appearance.

Farm workers in Coligny, the majority of whom are black, told HuffPost SA that their lives are not valued.

According to Katleho Bogatsu, workers are ill-treated on the farms.

"It's about the haves and the have-nots here. Black people are on their own. We must work for the money which they pay us, but they behave like they don't need us. The painful thing here is that some of our fellow farm workers die suspicious deaths at the hands of the employers. We hear and see these things, but because we are not protected, we just must carry on with life," said an emotional Bogatsu.

He said the death of the boy was the last straw for the community.

"All along we kept quiet, thinking the justice system would take care of it. That it would fight on our behalf, but this time, we knew we had to take a stand and make our voice heard. A life is too high a price to pay for the sunflowers which the boy was alleged to have stolen," Bogatsu said.

Coligny, with a population of just 2271 people as per census 2011, resembles many other South African towns in which socio-economic divides and struggles to sustain rural or semi-urban economies are often clearly apparent.

On Friday, businesses, including banks, were closed for trade following a previous looting spree by protesting residents on Monday.

Bogatsu said although he did not condone the looting; "It's a way for us to voice our frustrations at the system which has undermined the rights of us poor people," he said.

During the bail hearing on Friday, Magistrate Mattheus Van Loggernberg recused himself from the case saying it was in the best interest of justice and that he feared for his life and that of his family.

The suspects, aged 27and 33, appeared unkempt and tired. They both wore hoodies and made little eye contact.

During their appearance, the court heard the suspect's families had requested to bring linen for the time they are in custody.

Several farmers in the community, most of whom know the accused, were approached for comment on recent events but were heavily reluctant to talk.

One farmer who chose to remain anonymous told HuffPost SA that they would prefer not to provide comment as some farmer's perspectives had not been fairly represented in recent media reports.

The suspects will appear on May 9 for bail application.

They remain in police custody.