Sentencing of farmer to life imprisonment lauded as victory for farmworkers

Martin Visser tried to commit suicide before he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Photo by Mzi Velapi

The sentencing of a violent, psychopathic farmer has been hailed as a victory for farmworkers in that it may deter farmers from assaulting them.

The Rural and Farmworker’s Development Organisation has welcomed the sentencing of Lutzville’s farmer, Martin Visser, to life imprisonment for the murder of Adam Pieterse in 2015. The body of the 32-year-old farmworker was found buried in a shallow grave on the small-holding farm of Visser’s father. He had been beaten with a spade and dragged by a quad bike.

The Western Cape High court earlier in the week found Visser guilty of charges of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, four charges of common assault and murder. Pieterse’s murder was part of a history of violence against farmworkers by Visser. He had assaulted the deceased in 2013 for which he was arrested and released on R800 bail. According to the police statement, Visser then went to Pieterse to demand that he drop the charges and when he refused, Visser threatened him by choking him.

And in 2011, he stabbed Kleintjie Moses with a bottle neck on Christmas eve when Moses intervened in an altercation between Visser and a woman that Visser claimed owed him money.

In delivering the sentence, Judge Nathan Erasmus queried why Lutzville policing and the National Prosecuting Authority could charge a man for the same crime in separate cases over a period of time and not connect the cases. “For some strange reason, you offered Kleintjie Moses R100 to withdraw the case and the prosecutor did not pay attention to that when you appeared in court the next time for the same charge. On the Pieterse case, you contravened your bail conditions and went to his house and not only threatened him but hit him with a spade inside his own house. It will be naive for this court to ignore the unequal power relations between you and your victims. You went to Pieterse’s two-roomed house kicked his door open even though it was locked. Adam came to Lutzville from Prieska with only a mattress,” said Erasmus.

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Visser was sentenced to 3 years for assaulting Kleintjie Moses with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. For assaulting Adam Pieterse in 2013 by choking him, he was sentenced to six months.

The court heard how Visser a former truck driver was loaned money by his father, a smallholding farmer, so that the 45-year-old can buy his own farm. He sold alcohol to the farmworkers on credit and did not have license to do so.

“This is huge victory for farmworkers and their rights. It paves way for other cases and it will restore the dignity for the family and farmworkers,” said Billy Claasen from the Rural and Farmworker’s Development Organisation. In his evidence earlier this week Claasen asked the judge to send out a strong message by making an example out of Visser, something that Judge Nathan Erasmus said would not be just or fair. “The case will also pave the way for similar cases that have disappeared or withdrawn, to be re-opened again,” said Billy who is also a councillor in Bergriver Municipality.

According to Davina Cloete from the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign, the police in Lutzville are in the pockets of farmers because when farmworkers report cases, they are chased away and told that they are drunk. Speaking to Elitsha outside the court, Cloete said that the working and living conditions of farmworkers in the area are bad. Cloete said that Vredendal is known for being the “Volksraad”  because of how in the past they used migrant workers from the “Namaqualand and Northern Cape” and “when it was time for people to leave, the farmer will give them a sheep or goat to make them stay. If they have their own herd of sheep or goats and “they try to leave, they are killed by the farmers”.

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“Our concern is the graveyards on the farms. Because of the property clause we cannot enter the farms. There are lots of graveyards on the farms and we cannot get a list of graveyards,” she said.

According to Davina most of the vineyard farmers get cheap wine from the cellars they sell the grapes to and some distribute or sell the wine to the farmworkers. “The cheap wine that they sell is like a drug. It’s similar to tik because when they drink the bompie, its difficult for them to stop drinking,” she said.

The National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson in the Western Cape, Eric Ntabazalila said that they erred but that they had corrected this failure by re-instating the previous charges of assault against both Moses and Pieterse. “The sentencing fitted the crime considering that he committed the crimes with impunity and he had propensity for violence,” said Ntabazalila.

During recess before the sentencing, Visser tried to commit suicide and was taken to hospital. He came back with scratches around his left ear and a gauze around his right ear.

A packed Western Cape High Court room sitting in Vredendal waiting for the sentencing of Martin Visser. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Erasmus told the court that he did not find compelling circumstances that would make him deviate from the prescribed minimum sentence. In mitigation, the court heard that Visser’s parents and wife are sick and need medical attention.

According to Media24 reports Visser has been granted leave to appeal.

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