Tebogo Ndlovu – A farmworker brutally murdered ‘for a few oranges’

South Africa is a country built on a heavily guarded foundation of inequality, dispossession, racism and deep-rooted hatred; and to make matters worse those that wield economic and political power have appointed themselves as judges of how we, the dispossessed and the oppressed, despite twenty-three years into democracy, ought to deal with this painful reality. At the receiving end of this inequality, dispossession, racism and deep-rooted hatred is the black people of South Africa. In a touching piece published recently on this platform, Nigel Branken gives voice to Tebogo Ndlovu – a black farmworker who was brutally murdered on a farm by a white farmer for allegedly stealing oranges. Due to what is an unpleasant history of dispossession and hatred, farmworkers in South Africa have always been predominantly black and farmers have always been predominantly white.

This is how Branken begins his piece: ‘The last time somebody saw Tebogo Ndlovu was on 02 August 2017. Tebogo and two friends were on a farm in Mooinooi, North West Province, when he was shot in the leg by a farmer for apparently stealing a few oranges. His two friends, fearing for their lives, helped Tebogo to flee, but had to leave him behind when they could not lift him over a fence. When they looked back they saw the person who shot Tebogo standing next to him.’ From this last sentence one can assume that the shooter came to finish the job. The inhumanity of the act makes it clear that it never occurred to the farmer that Ndlovu might have been hungry if we are to believe the preposterous story that he stole oranges. In his eyes Tebogo Ndlovu was a dangerous thief, a barbarian and an animal that deserved to die.

Based on Branken’s writing, one can glean that when Tebogo Ndlovu’s mother – the person who gave life to him – reported the incident to the police, the matter was treated as a nuisance. He comments thus: ‘His mother went to the police to report the incident, but it was only after the Makajane community blocked the N4 highway, 20 days later, that the police started to take action.’ It would be worth hearing from the Police Minister Fikile Mbalula as to why his officials dragged their feet before looking into the incident.

As to what became of Tebogo Ndlovu’s defenseless and powerless body after his friends witnessed his shooter standing next to him, Branken informs us thus: ‘It is alleged that the farmer’s son, Matthew Benson took Tebogo’s body and fed it to crocodiles on his crocodile farm to hide the evidence of his crimes. Police have found blood stains matching Benson’s 9mm pistol were found close to where the shooting took place. Further blood stains were found on Benson’s bakkie. Tebogo’s body has yet to be found.’ If it is indeed true that Ndlovu’s remains have been fed to crocodiles, then we should accept that his family, particularly his mother – the very person who gave birth to Tebogo Ndlovu – will never get a chance to bury him. If indeed it is true that the defenseless and powerless body of Tebogo Ndlovu has been fed to crocodiles to feast on his flesh and crunch on his bones, then his loved ones – his family and friends – will never ever get a chance to stand on the side of his grave and utter the mournful words of the bereaved and say: ‘Yours was a special life, and that we stand here today at your grave – your last home – to bid you a final farewell was never part of the plan. But now that we are here, we say unto you with heavy hearts: robala ka kagiso MoAfrika. Tiro o e weditse.’ If it is true that Tebogo Ndlovu’s defenseless and powerless body has been thrown to bloodthirsty creatures of the water, then those close to him will never witness his remains being interred into the grave – his last home.

Nigel Branken, in his thoughtful piece, further writes that, ‘If it had not been for the protest actions of this local community, shutting down the N4, it is unlikely that Tebogo’s murder or disappearance would have been investigated.’ The police responsible have a lot of explaining to do.

It is worth noting the economic disparity between Tebogo Ndlovu and his shooter. Ndlovu steals oranges from the farmer, and the latter shoots the former and feeds him to the crocodiles on his farm. The economic gap between the two is so wide that the farmer has the luxury of breeding crocodiles on his farm that he can feed the bodies of those who ‘steal his oranges’. This happens in a country that has supposedly put its racist past behind it. The ANC (African National Congress), the governing party, should hang their heads in shame for allowing blacks to be meted this inhuman treatment in a new democratic dispensation. Their failure to address the economic issues of the black majority of this country is the reason most whites still regard blacks as lesser than animals.

In the light of the march organised by the hate group Afriforum and their friends on Monday, 30 October 2017, to protest against an imaginary threat apparently targeted at farmers – they mean white farmers – it should serve as a testament to black South Africans and the rest of the world – the latter are quick to extol our constitution which deprives blacks of their economic rights – that in the eyes of these racists, blacks are nothing but worthless creatures who should worship at the knees of their white masters.

Previously in Limpopo and North West white farmers have shot and killed blacks, and then later claimed that they mistook their victims for monkeys. This racist notion of comparing Africans to animals is not new. In the early 60s in Belgium, black people were caged and displayed in zoos for the amusement of the white public. The horrible and inhumane tale of Sarah Baartman, an African woman whose naked body was paraded all over Europe in the 19th century for the pleasure of those who proclaimed themselves to be of a superior race, are still fresh on our minds.

Of Sarah Baartman, former president Thabo Mbeki spoke these words at her burial site along the Gamtoos River in the Eastern Cape, 192 years since she was uprooted from her beautiful homeland: ‘We cannot undo the damage that was done to her. But at least we can summon the courage to speak the naked but healing truth that must comfort her wherever she may be.’ Granting Sarah Baartman her dignity that was stripped from her over two centuries ago, Mbeki did not mince his words when he reprimanded those who declared this vulnerable African woman a sexual freak. ‘It was not the abused human being who was monstrous but those who abused her. It was not the lonely African woman in Europe, alienated from her identity and her motherland who was the barbarian, but those who treated her with barbaric brutality.’

In writing about the horror that befell Tebogo Ndlovu, we are giving him a voice because Tebogo Ndlovu has been permanently silenced. In chronicling the heart-wrenching story of Tebogo Ndlovu, we are saying to noble South Africans and the world at large that it cannot be that twenty-three years since the dawn of a new country, a century since the birth of OR Tambo – ‘a mind whose thoughts opened doors to our liberty’ – black South Africans are still treated as visitors in the land of their forefathers. In talking about the brutal murder of Tebogo Ndlovu – a black farmworker – we are saying perhaps it is about time black South Africans abandoned slogans of peace and reconciliation, and adopted a different approach that will guarantee the people of Tebogo Ndlovu equality, economic freedom and eternal peace of mind.

We cannot undo the damage that was done to Tebogo Ndlovu. But at least we can summon the courage to speak unequivocally with one voice and declare that: what happened to this defenseless and powerless compatriot can never happen again while you and I still walk this earth.

Summing up the gruesome experience of Sarah Baartman in relation to her people on the banks of Gamtoos River, the resting place of an African heroine, President Thabo Mbeki remarked thus: ‘The story of Sarah Baartman is the story of the African people of our country in all their echelons. It is a story of the loss of our ancient freedom. It is a story of our dispossession of the land and the means that gave us independent livelihood. It is a story of our reduction to the status of objects that could be owned, used and disposed of by others, who claimed for themselves a manifest destiny “to run the empire of the globe.”’

The story of Tebogo Ndlovu is the story of Sarah Baartman – she who was deceived into traveling across the oceans, leaving her family and country behind, with the hope of eking out a better life. The story of Tebogo Ndlovu is the story of Africans, the story of inequality, despondence, poverty, racism, hatred and the dispossession of land. After three months since Tebogo Ndlovu was last seen, his body is yet to be found. Tebogo Ndlovu was allegedly shot and killed for ‘stealing a few oranges’ in Africa – the land of his forebears. His body was subsequently fed to crocodiles. I pray that the story of Tebogo Ndlovu will be the final straw that jerks his people into taking charge, otherwise Tebogo Ndlovu will not be the last person to be fed to crocodiles. Kgotsong!

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