The North West High Court has made another scandalous ruling. Last year Judge Ronnie Hendricks found Pieter Doorewaard and Philip Schutte guilty of killing Matlhomola Moshoeu by throwing him off a bakkie for stealing sunflowers. Now, their appeal against the judgment has been denied.
There are three reasons each independently strong enough to revise Judge Hendricks’s verdict in Doorewaard and Schutte’s favour. In concert, the reasons are overwhelming, and the refusal to grant leave to appeal is thus beyond comprehension.
The case against Doorewaard and Schutte was built on the allegations of a sole witness, part-time Coligny butcher, Bendel Pakisi. Pakisi subsequently said he made the whole story up, and then said that he had been bribed to ‘confess’ that he was a liar, maintaining that his original allegations were actually true. This is not primarily relevant to the court as it came up after the trial and is highly disputable.
What is relevant is that Pakisi initially told senior policemen he saw two white males committing murder, but later changed his story to say there were three. This was inexplicable, since Pakisi claims to have spent hours in the company of Doorewaard and Schutte, who were alleged to have abducted and tortured him in the aftermath of the incident in the sunflower field. Judge Hendricks did not even bother to mention this contradiction, let alone try to explain it away in his final judgment.
The second reason to doubt Pakisi’s allegations is based on forensic evidence. The state’s pathologist, Dr Ruweida Moorad, found that the most remarkable thing about Moshoeu’s injuries was that there were none to the palms, hands, or wrists. His injuries were consistent with a tuck-and-roll type fall, but not with a palms-out dive.
And yet, in court, Pakisi described seeing Moshoeu ‘fly’ from the bakkie, in a swimmer’s dive position, horizontally extended with head lower than feet, arms and hands extended out ahead to break his fall – exactly the position ruled out by the lack of hand-wrist injuries that Dr. Moorad found so significant. This contradiction notwithstanding, Hendricks found that Dr. Moorad ‘corroborated’ Pakisi’s story.
The third reason to doubt the allegations is, if possible, even more clear-cut. Pakisi described being taken by the assailants on a hell ride that stretched from Coligny almost as far as Lichtenburg. Even if they travelled at an insane 120km/h and conducted the various tortures – taking him into a dam before nearly shooting him, making him drink alcohol and run long distances until he vomited and then compelling him to eat his own vomit, making him run while shooting bullets around his ankles – this would have taken an hour.
Doorewaard and Schutte’s phones, however, say otherwise. They had three phones on them on the morning of Moshoeu’s death. Between them, these devices registered 23 ‘transactions’ during the critical period. Each transaction – call or SMS – is routed through a specific tower and recorded. The high-frequency use of these phones indicates that they could not have left the vicinity of Coligny and its immediate surrounds for more than a few minutes at a time that morning, a factor totally inconsistent with Pakisi’s story and largely ignored in Hendricks’s judgment.
The Coligny murder trial is highly politically charged. Apparently fuelled by the EFF and other political hopefuls, buildings in the town were ransacked and burnt down by a mob seeking some kind of justice for the late Moshoeu. Many of the victims turned out to be brown-skinned foreigners.
A crucial aspect of this political element is the testimony of Warrant Officer Popo Seponkane who knew Pakisi and doubted his story from the start. Judge Hendricks singled out Seponkane for heavy criticism in his final judgment. He failed to mention that Seponkane did not appear to testify before the court, citing fear for his life and the safety of his family. Judge Hendricks further failed to apply any pressure on the police or public prosecutor to investigate why it was that a South African Police Officer might see the prospect of giving witness under oath, in court, as a life-threatening event.
Meanwhile, Doorewaard and Schutte languish in prison as apparent sacrifices made at the altar of prejudice to appease a mob that is hungry, as Rian Malan put it, for ‘white flesh’. The process of appeal is not exhausted; a new appeal to a higher court can be expected shortly.
Gabriel Crouse is the George F D Palmer Financial Journalist Trust Fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a liberal think tank that promotes political and economic freedom.