16 September 2016
Almost 18 months since 52-year-old Colin Cloete was beaten to death on a tomato farm in Ashton, his family still have no answers to their questions.
Cloete’s wife, Rosina Cloete, 56, said she had not had any contact with the owner of the farm where she found her husband’s badly-beaten body on 28 March 2015.
Cloete has accused the farmer of killing her husband after he was caught picking tomatoes at the end of harvest, a common practice in the area.
Cloete told GroundUp: “I wanted the farmer to come forward and apologise for what happened to my husband. I could forgive him for what he did. Even if he came to compensate me, I would have accepted.”
“I’m still very unhappy that he was not even arrested when the body was found there,” she added.
Detective Jonathon Franse, investigating officer in the case of Cloete’s murder, said that he had finalised his investigation and that the matter was now the “responsibility of the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority]”. He declined to comment on the findings of his investigation.
On 6 September a related case of assault and attempted murder against the same farmer was withdrawn on the morning that he was scheduled to appear in Ashton Magistrate’s Court.
The case had been opened by Cedras Prins, 47, a friend of Colin Cloete’s. Prins had joined Cloete and several others when they went to pick tomatoes on the tomato farm on 27 March 2015.
Prins alleged that the farmer had beaten him up and then shot him in the leg, but he had managed to escape.
Marius Abrahams, the lawyer who has been representing Prins, told GroundUp: “I was informed by the state prosecutor on Wednesday when I got to court that the case had been withdrawn, because apparently there has been a behind the scenes deal that was made with my client, which I wasn’t aware of.”
Abrahams said he’d subsequently been informed by Prins’s sister that her brother had been paid R5,000 to withdraw the case.
“The state is also complicit in this matter, because they should know that this is a very serious matter. Usually with cases like this, they wouldn’t just withdraw the matter right away. It’s a stringent process. So something isn’t right here,” Abrahams went on to say.
The farmer’s lawyer, Hermie Wentzel, confirmed that Prins’s case against his client had been withdrawn, but said he “could not expand” on the details.
The local NPA prosecutor failed to respond to several calls and emails from GroundUp seeking further information.
The Rural Legal Centre’s Shirley Davids, who has been offering legal support to the Cloete family and Prins, said that if the farmer had been found guilty of assault and attempted murder in Prins’s case, it would have lent considerable weight to the Cloete murder case.
“Cedras Prins identified the farmer as the one who assaulted him and this was supposed to lead to all the other cases against (the farmer) from that day.”
“You cannot just attack people and get away with it. Somebody was found dead in the field; others were directly attacked and assaulted. If it was a poor man who did that, he would have been arrested right away. Why did this not happen to the white farm owner?”
Davids said five other men had also claimed they’d been assaulted by the farmer on the same day Cloete was killed and that Prins was assaulted and shot.
Gert Siegelaar, 48, told GroundUp he’d been beaten up by the farmer and one of his foremen with a heavy piece of farm equipment and both of his arms and both of his legs were injured. “I had to crawl home. I couldn’t work for three months because of the injuries,” he said.
Siegelaar alleged that the farmer had subsequently promised to pay him R10,000 in compensation, but that he had only received R2,000. When he went back to the farmer to ask for the rest of the money, he said, he was told never to return to the farm.
While Siegelaar told GroundUp that he still had an assault case open against the farmer, Detective Franse said that this case had been withdrawn.
Davids and Abrahams say they plan to contact Prins again to convince him to reopen his own case against the farmer. Prins, formerly a seasonal farm labourer, is still unable to work because of the injuries he sustained.
Meanwhile, Davids said she would continue to help the Cloete family with Colin Cloete’s murder case, despite the latest setback.
Rosina Cloete said, “I still want justice for my husband, but I’m not sure this is ever going to come. Now, we have to begin all over again.”
We have not named the farmer because he has not been charged in the murder case.