Two white South African farmers convicted of murdering black teenager Matlhomola Mosweu, who they accused of stealing sunflowers worth R80, have had their sentences overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein and are now free.
Mosweu’s death in 2017, in Coligny, North West Province, fuelled racial tensions in the country and prompted protests and outrage.
Angry residents torched homes and businesses belonging to white people in the area.
Pieter Doorewaard and Philip Schutte were later sentenced to 18 years and 23 years respectively.
Judge Ronnie Hendrick had ruled that the 16-year-old’s neck was broken and he was pushed out of a moving vehicle driven by the pair. But the pair denied murder, saying the boy ‘fell out of the vehicle’ while they were taking him to the police station.
On Friday, the Supreme Court of Appeal found Doorewaard and Schutte not guilty, overturning their convictions and sentences.
The SCA judges said the evidence was contradictory and the prosecution “did not prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.”
After their 2017 conviction by Hendrick, it reports surfaced that the only eyewitness to the tragedy allegedly admitted afterwards to at least four people that he had lied about what he saw, and had not seen the farmers murder the teen.
Doorewaard had been sentenced to 18 years in prison and Schutte to serve 23 years in jail.
‘We believed in their innocence‘
AfriForum, which paid for the appeal once it emerged that the witness had lied, welcomed the acquittal of Schutte and Doorewaard on all charges against them.
“We are very thankful for the acquittal of Schutte and Doorewaard. AfriForum has said from the very beginning that the state’s only witness lied and therefore the organisation decided to finance the two men’s application for appeal. AfriForum has covered the full costs of the application for appeal because we believed in their innocence and today justice was served.”
AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel said it is such a great pity that someone died, but that still you “cannot put innocent people in jail.”
“Of course, it is a tragedy that the boy died; but even if it is a tragedy, we cannot have innocent men sitting in jail because that won’t solve the tragedy that we see.”
The two men’s legal team, led by Advocate Barry Roux (SC), successfully petitioned the Court of Appeal to receive leave to appeal after the High Court in Mmabatho denied leave to appeal.
Last year, Kriel said the “High Court in Mmabatho erred by ignoring key evidence of their innocence and relying on the story of a liar as only eyewitness.”
Kriel said it was important to hold people accountable who spread lies to create racial tension and a false cloud of “racism” around innocent people.