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Rare conviction for farm murder puts four killers jailed for life

Rare conviction for farm murder puts four killers jailed for life
From left: Murdered farmer Jurie Wessels and his widow, Liezel Wessels (Photo: X, formerly known as Twitter)

Four men were sentenced to life in prison last week for murdering and torturing Jurie Wynand Wessels, a farmer. The convictions were a rarity, as the vast majority of perpetrators of farm murders in SA are never caught.

Jacques Broodryk, AfriForum’s community safety spokesperson, has expressed concern over the low prosecution rate for farm attacks. According to Broodryk, 84% of farm murders remain unsolved.

Broodryk was speaking after four men, Ntabanyane John Tlali, Thabiso Nomoro Ramollo, Moeketsi Max Hlaudi and Keketso Thabang Matsabisa, were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder and torture of Jurie Wynand Wessels (53) on Kapteinsdrift farm in Bonnievale on 13 May 2019.

conviction farm murder

AfriForum’s spokesperson for community safety Jacques Broodryk. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier)

Judge Derek Wille meted out the sentences in the Swellendam Circuit Court last week. The killers were seasonal workers on Wessels’ farm.

The four men tortured Wessels and his wife, Liezel, by stabbing them and pouring boiling water over them, and when Wessels and his wife prayed, cried or talked to each other, they were punched in the mouth.

In passing sentence, Judge Wille said, “I agree with the submissions on behalf of the prosecution that the public interest must be adequately served in sentencing these offenders, considering the nature of the crimes and the effects upon society and the local farming community.

“Gender-based violence in our country has regrettably reached pandemic proportions. Farm murders are also very prevalent… In my view, the circumstances of the case demand that the offenders, for all practical purposes, be removed from society for an extended period.” 

Tlali was arrested soon after the murder, while his co-accused fled to Lesotho and after a lengthy hearing in that country they were extradited to South Africa in July 2022.

Low prosecution rate

Broodryk told Daily Maverick that victims of farm attacks are frequently tortured for hours before being murdered.

He said that in 2022, AfriForum recorded 333 farm attacks and 50 farm murders, and so far this year, 246 attacks and 45 murders had been recorded.

“The low prosecution rate for farm attackers should also be addressed. Out of the 153 farm murder incidents recorded by SAPS in the four years from 2019 to 2022, there were convictions in only 24 incidents. Therefore 84% of farm murder incidents are still unsolved,” he said.

Gareth Newman, the head of the justice and violence prevention programme at the Institute for Security Studies, said the latest data on farm murders and farm attacks correlate with the national picture of the police’s declining crime-solving capabilities over the past 10 years.

“Basically, the ability of the police to solve murders has dropped by 50% since 2012. They were able to solve around 31% of dockets in 2012 and then they were only able solve 14.5% of murders last year. So, 85% of the more than 27,000 murders reported last year were not solved,” he said.

Fear and uncertainty

Uys van der Westhuijzen, the chairperson of Agri Western Cape’s Rural Safety Policy Committee, said farm attacks and killings in South Africa were a recurring and deeply concerning issue.

“This wave of crime not only instils fear and uncertainty among farmers but also has significant economic repercussions for the agricultural sector. The seriousness of these crimes is underscored by their impact on the livelihoods of those in rural areas, as well as the broader implications for the country’s agricultural productivity and food security,” he said.

Van der Westhuijzen said efforts to prevent these attacks were insufficient and the reluctance to implement the SAPS’s National Rural Safety Strategy underscored the lack of importance placed on rural safety.

The SAPS did not respond to requests for comment on these claims.

In August, the DA’s shadow minister of agriculture, Noko Masipa, expressed the party’s deep concern over farm murders, which Masipa said had reached alarming levels.

She cited the murder of Theo Bekker in Mpumalanga. Bekker and his wife, Marlinda, were attacked in Balfour, Mpumalanga. The attackers were arrested after they crashed the car they had stolen.

In September 2020, Police Minister Bheki Cele said farm attacks and murders would not be classified as a priority crime.

Night-vision drones

The organisation Justice For Farm Murders, which was founded in 2019 and claims 50,000 members, has donated four drones to farms in North West, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

Its spokesperson, Jo-Anne Cloete, said they were purchasing a fifth drone and seeking funds for two more.

“We have had major success since using these drones fitted with night vision and infrared and we are working very closely with SAPS in the areas where we operate. With the drones we have also managed to prevent some attacks.

“We also discussed appointing security guards at farms, but our farmers simply refused. They are so terrified that it is difficult for them to trust security guards,” Cloete told Daily Maverick.

Widow’s ordeal

In the case that was heard at the Swellendam Circuit Court, Liezel Wessels’ agony was described graphically in the judgment.

She took a bath before getting ready for supper and going to her religious study group. Her husband yelled her name and entered the bathroom, accompanied by men wearing balaclavas.

She covered herself with a bath towel and was taken into the kitchen with her husband by the assailants. They were both tied up and the men asked them for money.

According to court documents, the Wessels were severely beaten by the assailants. A kettle of water was brought to the boil and the assailants poured it over their heads.

After giving the attackers money, the couple were again assaulted and Liezel Wessels lost consciousness.

When she regained consciousness, she discovered her husband and the attackers were no longer present. She escaped the property in her husband’s truck.

She described her ordeal as extremely traumatic and is still receiving counselling. She was an exceptional athlete and is no longer able to compete at her previous level.

No empathy and sympathy

Welcoming the sentencing, the deputy director of public prosecutions, Megan Blows, said the four attackers showed no empathy and sympathy to the deceased, his wife and any of the witnesses when they had to face the ordeal of testifying in court. They were ruthless, up until the end.

“Our farmers and society expect criminals who have committed serious and outrageous crimes such as the ones under consideration to be removed from society. In that way courts would be fulfilling their role in protecting the farmers against these kinds of horrendous crimes,” Blows said. DM

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