Eshowe police switch focus to farm arsonists

ESHOWE – POLICE not only need to solve the murder of Sphamandla Gift Xulu on a farm in Eshowe this week, but must also bring to book a mob of arsonists who torched farms, a home, staff quarters, equipment and other buildings after the incident.

Security guard Andiswa Magwaza, 21, has been arrested and charged for Xulu’s murder following an altercation on Corby Hill Farm on Tuesday.

Details are yet to emerge in court about what led to the shooting of Xulu, 29.

His younger sister, Lerato. said her brother, an unemployed builder, had been fishing at a dam on the farm on Tuesday.

“He was hoping to catch some fish for us to eat. He has been fishing from the same dam for years,” said Lerato, who believes he was shot during the altercation.

She said two of her brother’s friends told her that Sphamandla was digging for worms on the bank to use as bait when confronted by Magwaza.

The Xulu family live in the tribal community of Oqwaqweni. After hearing about the incident, scores of residents went on the rampage, barricading the R66 with logs, rocks and burning tyres, and burning sugarcane fields, farm buildings and homesteads.

By Thursday, more than 225 hectares of sugar-cane fields had been set alight and extensive damage caused to three farm properties. Most extensively damaged was Corby Hill, owned by Durban ophthalmologist Dr Fikile Christian Qoboshiyane. When the Sunday Tribune visited the farm on Friday, smoke was still rising from the main home, a workshop housing tractors and an office with computers and furniture. Oqwaqweni residents had torched staff quarters less than 1km from the main house. Uncooked rice in a pot, bags of maize meal and clothes were strewn in the yard of the living quarters which were all burned.

Oqwaqweni induna Jabulani Ngwenya said he believed the violence was sparked by deeply held grievances that villagers had following “years of abuse”. This, he said, had included widespread cattle impounding.

Chairperson of Entumeni Farmers Association, Craig Hambury-King, has called an urgent meeting between farmers, Oqwaqweni residents and police to help resolve tensions arising from the death of Xulu and the subsequent arson attacks. He said while villagers might have legitimate grievances so, too, do farmers.

Hambury-King said conflicts arose when people pushed their livestock to graze on the farmers crops, resulting in impounding.

“It is not done in a malicious way but to deter owners from allowing cattle to destroy our crops. Otherwise, we will harvest nothing and we all stand to lose everything we worked for,” he said.