Farming town plunged into chaos over mysterious shooting
Sugarcane fields destroyed, two farm houses torched after fisherman is shot in eShowe
As a fire raged through vast tracts of lush farmland in the hills that surround eShowe, sorrow swelled in the heart of Mfanufikile Xulu.
The death of his only son Siphamandla, allegedly gunned down by a security guard on Wednesday while he gathered worms for bait, has set a spark to a tinderbox.
The 30-year-old fisherman had, his father insisted, been shot while running away from a security patrol, contracted to watch-over thousands of hectares of lush sugarcane.
On Thursday the quiet farming town was plunged into chaos.Roads were barricaded and cane plantations and farm-houses were torched by rioters who ran rampant, all collateral damage to avenge Xulu’s slaying.
Xulu senior said that the image of his son lying in the mortuary would haunt him.
“It was my son lying there ... there was blood coming out of his mouth. I couldn’t see where he was shot but his friends who were with him said that he was shot in the back while he was running away,” he said.
He recounted that his son had gone out to fish with friends and, as the story was told to him, while they were busy digging up the bait the security arrived.
“They told me they heard the car door banging and they ran. After they started running they heard a gunshot. They told me they didn’t know where Siphamandla was. They had run away in different directions,” he said.
“We were calling his phone and we couldn’t reach him. I left my house to go and try to find him and I called his phone and a woman answered; she said I must come to the mortuary to identify my son.”
He said that there a deep-seated anger in the community, who wanted to exact justice.
With security guard Walter Magwaza, 21, beyond their reach, they had taken the torch to the farm on which Xulu was shot.Another tract of land, not in any way related to the shooting, had canefields torched and houses razed.
“The people were angry because we thought the suspect wasn’t arrested. Now that I know where he is, I want the police to let him out so that we can deal with him,” he said.
“He was my only son. He was a humble man. He was going to go to Pietermaritzburg to find some work but now he is gone,” Xulu added.Craig Hambury-King, chairperson of the eShowe-Entumeni Farmers’ Association, said tensions between the local community and landowners ran high.
“Generally in our community we have no problem with our neighbours. We don’t know what it’s like on the ground because people are so emotionally charged it would be dangerous for us to go in and try and sit down and try talk,” he said.
“It is very unfortunate ... we are very cautious and nervous because it is so regrettable that this happened. The one farm which was torched had nothing to do with the situation. The other was basically burnt to the ground,” he added.
“All the houses, the workshops and staff accommodation have been razed. It is hard to estimate at this point but we think between 400 and 450 hectares of cane have been lost to fire,” he said.V1 Security CEO Nelson Mhlongo said he was not in a position to comment. He deferred calls by Times Select to his operations manager who was not available for comment at the time of publishing.
Police called for reinforcements and remain on high alert. One farmer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that there were worries that further farm attacks would be executed overnight.
National commissioner of police General Khehla John Sitole called for the community to be “calm and tolerant”.
“I have tasked to Provincial Commissioner to also mobilise an investigative task team to investigate the burning of the farm house and farms and bring those responsible to book as such behaviour is criminal and unacceptable,” he said.
He added that members of the Public Order Police Unit, Tactical Response Team and members of the local police stations have been mobilised to stabilise and normalise the area.
“Destroying property is no solution to any problem but rather it is a crime which is punishable by law. Furthermore, it serves to neither help nor correct any situation,” Sithole said.