Justice without fear or favour prevails – IRR

30 April 2021 - The IRR was alarmed at the blinding pace with which Mpumalanga politicians and national opinion-makers drew the conclusion that four white farmers were guilty of murdering two innocent black work-seekers on a farm in Eastern Mpumalanga before ascertaining even the most basic facts. Despite the climate of bias against the farmers, and later a farm worker too, the Mkhondo Magistrate’s Court presided over the bail hearing without fear or favour, and granted bail.

The IRR was alarmed at the blinding pace with which Mpumalanga politicians and national opinion-makers drew the conclusion that four white farmers were guilty of murdering two innocent black work-seekers on a farm in Eastern Mpumalanga before ascertaining even the most basic facts. Despite the climate of bias against the farmers, and later a farm worker too, the Mkhondo Magistrate’s Court presided over the bail hearing without fear or favour, and granted bail.

The most basic fact that early race-baiting accusers were blind to was that one of the deceased, Zenzele Coka, was not a “work-seeker” as he had been described in the national press for two weeks, but in fact a loyal farm worker. Furthermore, video footage shows that Zenzele Coka, the loyal worker, clashed with his brother, Amos Mgcini Coka, who was unemployed and was apparently trying to break into the farm.

This took place shortly before the fatal shots were fired. That Zenzele’s death by gunshot thereafter may be a case of fratricide, whether accidental or deliberate, makes it no less tragic or worthy of serious consideration, though little attention to this aspect has been granted by opportunists who aim to narrate all tragedy as resulting from clashes between black and white.

One exception to this has been IRR analyst and investigative journalist for the Daily Friend Gabriel Crouse. Crouse was first to discover and report that Zenzele Yende had also been accused of conspiring to murder both Coka brothers, and was arrested in this regard, another fact overlooked by those who see only black versus white. Crouse discovered fixed-camera video footage which contradicted material aspects of the versions presented by those who accused the farmers of murder, and which was shown to members of the court. Crouse interviewed farm workers, indunas (traditional leaders) and local residents who expressed anguish at the race-baiting violence that briefly overwhelmed their community at the apparent behest of political opportunists.

IRR CEO Frans Cronje observed that, while diligent police work deserved congratulation, it could not, sadly, be taken for granted that all police would do their jobs diligently, particularly in racialised cases such as that of Coligny. This was one reason why independent investigation was needed. Crouse’s reporting from Piet Retief included descriptions by witnesses of what appeared to be irregular evidence-gathering practices by the police.

In the course of the bail hearing, the chief investigating officer conceded that although, more than hour beforehand, a concerned farmer called police to the scene where the Coka brothers died, the police did not arrive. The investigating officer also conceded that had police responded to the first calls, both Coka brothers would still be alive. This further suggests that the IRR’s worst fears were justified, and that police failure appears to be connected to these two deaths on any version. Police failures may be connected to the arrest and detention of innocent men, and the failure to arrest or even investigate credible charges of assault brought by white farmers who are politically stigmatized.

Moreover, the failure of police to maintain law and order outside the court on 19 and 20 April resulted in widespread damage to property, multiple attacks on private vehicles, including Crouse’s, and the selective targeting of people by race, resulting in one elderly man being hospitalized. In addition, a man was stabbed and hospitalized during the protests, and 1 500 hay bales were razed on a nearby farm. Thereafter, the police presence was ramped up and further damage was averted, a good job but one that should have been done from the beginning.

“Further leads are being followed at this very moment,” says Crouse. “Our mission is to learn first and then to judge, not the other way around. This is the best and only reliable way to serve the public interest. The alternative is submitting to plain prejudice, and when prejudice is based on race, that is racism. I was heartened to see other journalists begin to reconsider this case as facts were put before them, and hope that they will follow the story where the facts lead.”

 

Media contact: Gabriel Crouse, IRR writer and analyst – 082 510 0360; gabriel@irr.org.za

Media enquiries: Michael Morris – 066 302 1968; michael@irr.org.za

Kelebogile Leepile – 079 051 0073; kelebogile@irr.org.za

Ends

 

 

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