Piet Retief killings: Innocent men may be in jail – IRR

Frans Cronje says when racial stigmatization permeates police and courts, justice can't be delivered

IRR CEO expresses concerns around Mkhondo (Piet Retief) killings

15 April 2021  

The CEO of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), Dr Frans Cronje, says that he has reason to doubt parts of the version of events put out by the police surrounding the killing of two men and the injury of several others at a farm near Mkhondo (formerly Piet Retief). Four farmers were arrested for the killings and are being held in custody ahead of a bail hearing. The police maintain that the four were party to murdering the two men who, they say, were innocent work-seekers. 

Innocent men may be in jail

Cronje said: “The police version, much cited in the media, may be flawed to the extent that innocent men are sitting in jail. If that is the case, a grave injustice is being perpetrated and we will do all we can to see to it that the men are freed.”

A repeat of the Coligny injustice

Cronje said: “The case may have echoes of the Coligny injustice when two farm employees were wrongly convicted of murder in part because of a racially charged, malevolent and inept police investigation that saw flawed evidence presented and accepted by a court. The Coligny injustice was only set right on appeal. Given the experience of Coligny, and the extent of corruption and plain incompetence in the police, we will be applying our own resources to verify the facts in this case. Of course, should it occur that our fears were misplaced, and that the police version is correct in all respects, we will go ahead and publish those facts in support of the police – but I am afraid that we have reached a point in this country where the police cannot always be taken at their word.”

A track record of racial nationalist incitement and stigmatization 

Cronje warned: “Regrettably, over many years we have tracked a trend where politicians, activists, and some journalists have sought to incite racial nationalist conflict and division in our country. Often the tactic employed is to vilify and stigmatize racial minorities around explosive cases such as that at Mkhondo. The purpose of stigmatization is to desensitize society to the plight of the targeted community or individuals so that no-one will dare to come to their defence when they suffer injustices. The minority of black or white writers or commentators that expose the injustice are then vilified as arch-racists or race traitors.”

Justice fails and the rule of law is lost

Cronje noted: “When racial nationalist stigmatization succeeds and permeates the justice system through the police and the courts – as happened at Coligny – then justice cannot be delivered and the rule of law no longer applies. It is, therefore, critical to verify that everything the police has said, and that has appeared in the media about this case to date, is true and correct. This is not an issue that should split South Africans along lines of race because so many South Africans have experience of police ineptitude and corruption and know the devastation this causes in their own communities.”

What the IRR will be doing

Cronje said: “Our concerns are sufficiently great that we will be doing the following. The first will be to verify the facts as set out by the police and to gather whatever other information is relevant. The second is that we will ensure that all local and international media are held to a standard where they report on the facts of the case – and there is already a great deal of international media interest in this case. The third is that we will further act to ensure that any political or activist attempts at inciting racial division and conflict via misleading information and fake news will be challenged in public. The fourth is that where any law enforcement officer, agency, prosecutor, or court official is found to dabble in false information we will press for them to be disciplined or prosecuted together with any politicians they have engaged with. The fifth, of course – should it turn out that the police’s version is flawed – will be to ensure that the four accused are freed.”   

Issued by Michael Morris on behalf of IRR, 15 April 2021