20 February 2012 began as an ordinary day in the lives of David and Bernadette Hall. The Halls were milking cows on their farm, Buffelshoek, near Fochville. There they were overpowered by five attackers. Bernadette was tied up and assaulted with a blunt object. David was less fortunate. After a fight with the robbers, who were just too many for him, he was finally on his knees. The lawn outside the dairy is where David breathed his last breath.
The community was furious and Let Gen Zukisa Mbombo, Commissioner of Police for the North West Province, said that the police would not stop their search until the suspects were behind bars.
“He will never have the privilege to stand back and see what he achieved in his life,” said Bernadette this week at the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). “He will not see his children get married and he will never meet his grandchildren.”
What is even worse, is the fact that the assailants are still walking around as free people and that Bernadette see them from time to time. The case was not thoroughly investigated. Several forensic pieces of evidence, including a jacket, cigarette butts and the cables that were used to tie up Bernadette, were found at the scene. Initially, the police did not confiscate it until they were confronted about it by farmers in the community. This proved to be in vain …
The attackers were caught and appeared in court. There, however, the state could not prove a case against them because there was no evidence against them. Now nobody knows what became of the evidence that was found at the scene. Virtually the only evidence against the attackers was the fact that Bernadette identified them during an identification parade. “I was there. I saw how they murdered my husband. I know who they are,” she later said. “The Halls’ vehicle, in which the attackers fled, was also found, but no fingerprints were taken on the vehicle.
Eventually the case was not postponed, but the assailants were acquitted. Because of the legal principle autrefois acquit these assailants can never be charged with the same crime again, even if the evidence should suddenly emerge.
“I was treated like a criminal during the trial. It was very traumatic,” she explained. Her rights as a victim were never explained to her. Nobody helped her to prepare for the trial and in court she was attacked and humiliated by the assailants’ legal representatives.
But Bernadette is still on the farm. “Why do you not move to town?” one of the human rights commissioners asked her. “To farm is in my blood,” she replied. “Since I was a little girl, I told my parents that I wanted to be a farmer. Nothing can replace the smell of rain and soil on the farm. One does not suddenly decide that you want to farm. Farmers are born; people are not made into farmers.” And then the dramatic statement: “I would rather stay on the farm and be killed than stay in town. I will not survive it.”
Today Bernadette is actively involved with AfriForum’s campaign against farm attacks. She not only supports it, but also takes initiative and arranges her own actions.
It is clear, though, that the police are not the only culprits in the fight against farm murders, but that the prosecution authority is just as guilty. The SAHRC was very much aggrieved by Bernadette’s story. Yet, she is no exception. Nearly all the victims with whom AfriForum are communicating, complain that their cases are not followed up, that files and evidence disappear, that investigators do not answer their phones or do not return calls and that victims are treated like criminals in court. AfriForum has undertaken to submit a further report in this regard to the SAHRC.