Saturday, July 28, 2007

Murder Outrages Community

The communities of Leeu-Gamka, Merweville and Prince Albert were rocked earlier this month by the violent death of a young Merweville girl, Elizabeth Martiens and the charging of a Leeu-Gamka farmer and his wife with her murder. The event made headlines countrywide and residents of the three towns will no doubt follow closely as the details unfold in the national media. At the time of going to print, the wife’s bail hearing was to be held in Prince Albert on 20 July, while there was no indication whether the farmer intended applying for bail.

The State Prosecutor at the Prince Albert magistrate’s court, Mr Mervyn Saayman, confirmed the factual accounts of the case carried by the media to the Prince Albert Friend. Asked why it had taken three months to make an arrest, Mr Saayman said that the police apparently had no leads and the two accused had helped to trace the girl. Following the arrest of the farmer and his wife, further investigation led the police to the badly decomposed body of the girl in an empty water tank on their farm.

The Prince Albert court confirmed that a charge of indecent assault involving two minors had been laid last year against the farmer. The State Prosecutor at the Oudtshoorn Regional Court, Mr Tommy Verryne, denied rumours that the Leeu-Gamka police had lost the docket and that as a result the case had been struck from the roll of the magistrate’s court at Leeu-Gamka in June 2007. He said that the docket had mistakenly been sent to Oudtshoorn, rather than the police in Beaufort West as was required. Mr Verryne told the Friend that he had given instructions that the charge of indecent assault be added to the murder charge against the farmer.

A crowd of about 200 people, including a group of about thirty chanting learners from Prince Albert Primary School, and residents of our three communities gathered outside the court to get a glimpse of the two suspects when they first appeared in court on 16 July. Emotions ran high and posters directed outrage at the justice system and the vulnerability of children in South Africa.

Anger was aimed at the apparent ineptitude of the Leeu-Gamka police and what were seen by many outside the court as unnecessary, special arrangements to protect the accused from the furious crowd. Several pointed out that the three youths charged with the brutal attacks on two elderly residents of Prince Albert almost a year ago had been given no similar consideration. Others remarked on the professional manner in which Superintendent Masola and his personnel from the local Prince Albert police station handled the situation. Their approach had done much to calm things down.

When matters threatened to get out of hand, Western Cape Minister of Social Development, Ms Kholeka Mqulwana, who had travelled from Cape Town to attend the court proceedings, spoke to the seething crowd and, with obvious feeling, assured them that “Your anger is my anger. I am determined to ensure that justice is done”. She added: “The Prince Albert Station Commander has assured me that no dockets will be ‘lost’ ”. At the same time she appealed to everyone not to judge all farmers by the acts of one and stressed that people be disciplined and respect the law, reminding them several times that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
Mrs Magdalena Benjamin, Prince Albert’s Deputy Mayoress, who also was present in court on 16 July, stressed that she would hate the case to be reduced to a race issue. “As a woman, my heart goes out to both women involved: both the one who is grieving over the loss of her child and the other, who must have been forced by difficult circumstances to remain silent”. Mrs Benjamin wondered aloud about the future of the accused’s children.

Councillor Letitia Solomons of Leeu-Gamka said that people were furious over the Leeu-Gamka police’s apparent mishandling of the farmer’s alleged abuse of two minors in June 2006. She said that people were adamant that the murder could have been avoided if only the police had done the right thing.

Superintendent Masola told the Friend that Prince Albert police would make child neglect its focus from now on. “We have to fight this evil,” he said, “and we hope that the Justice Department will support us in our struggle.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These things happen everywhere, it's just that in a thinly populated area with a low crime rate they stand out more.
I am glad that the community is taking it seriously.