NEWS

Coligny: The Forgotten Town, Until Now

Residents say the town was always a ticking time bomb.

02/05/2017 06:22 SAST | Updated 02/05/2017 06:50 SAST
Pontsho Mabena

The murder of 16-year-old Fani Mathlomola Moshoeu was the last straw for farmworkers and some residents of Coligny, a small maize-farming town in the North West.

As one drove into the town last Friday, it became clear this was a town with deep racial divisions. The black and white divide was evident.

It was about 8am when our team turned right on to Voortrekker Street, Coligny's only main road.

Small groups of white farmers, most of whom were in khakis, gathered under a tree with 4X4 bakkies parked to one side.

This gathering was for the farmers, who also own some of the businesses in the town, to discuss a strategy should more violence break out in the town in light of the impending court appearance of the two farmers charged with Moshoeu's murder.

Further down the road, a group of black farmworkers assembled in front of the Coligny Magistrates Court. The group had congregated to oppose the bail of the two men. They chanted struggle songs and demonstrated outside.

Some of the farmworkers joined in the activities still in their pajamas and others in T-shirts given to them during political rallies.

All businesses had closed, owing to the looting spree days prior by disgruntled residents who went on a rampage calling for the immediate arrest of the two farmers accused of the teen's murder.

Speaking to HuffPost SA, leaders of the protesting farmworkers said racial tensions always existed.

"We don't see eye-to-eye with the white men and women in our town. We are made to feel less human every day by our employers and the sad thing is that we are used to it. For a long time we have taught ourselves to take it in our strides and just carry on. The problem came in when they [allegedly] took that boy's life. It angered all of us, including people who did not know him," Katleho Bogatsu said.

Some debris from burnt tyres and broken glass had not been cleared from the streets yet. Stores used boxes and some corrugated iron as makeshift windows.

While the town came to a standstill on Friday, it was almost business as usual for some residents in the Tlhabologang township, a stone's throw away from the town.

Children played in the streets, oblivious to the tension that had overcame the town next door.

HuffPost SA spoke to 18-year-old Mmathapelo Maunye who said she could not take part in the protests.

"I work as a domestic worker for these people. The salary I make from them is all my family has to live on. So as much as I sympathise with my fellow comrades, I cannot be seen to partake in the strikes," she said.

Despite numerous attempts to get comment from farmers in the town, they were reluctant to talk.

One farmer told us her heart was broken by the recent activities in the town. She did not want to be named. She said her pets had died following the violence that took the town by storm in the last week.

One thing stands out in Coligny was how a town in post-Apartheid South Africa can look as forgotten and bypassed by modern life the way Coligny has. After spending the entire day in the town, a public toilet could not be located. There simply wasn't one.

Meanwhile, the British cemetery is situated between the town centre and the township.

Moshoeu will be laid to rest this weekend. The two men accused of his murder will appear in court on May 9 for bail application.