As we approach Youth Day in our 25th year of democracy, I still find it intriguing that, although we’ve come a long way in combating the injustice that came with our ugly past, our journey in fighting for real justice as a unified nation is far from over.
A couple of weeks ago, when Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us premiered worldwide on Netflix, I observed the uproar from viewers all over the world, gutted and shocked at the injustice that had befallen the five teenagers who were wrongfully accused of a crime they did not commit.
When They See Us is based on an American case that took place 30 years ago, and it’s tempting to think that these kinds of miscarriages of justice would never happen today, in the year 2019.
But then I watched Stealing Sunflowers, a local documentary about a much more recent case that is equally horrifying, and for similar reasons.
Stealing Sunflowers is also about the justice system, this time in modern-day South Africa, failing members of a vulnerable, underprivileged community.
In April 2017, the nation woke up to the shocking news of the discovery of the body of 16-year-old Matlhomola Moshoeu on the dusty road leading out of the farming community of Coligny in the North West.
Two white farmers, Pieter Doorewaard and Philip Schutte, were arrested for killing Matlhomola. But, according to them, after they’d discovered that Matlhomola had stolen sunflowers from their farm, they hoisted him onto the back of their bakkie, planning on taking him to the police station. On the way, they said, he jumped off the bakkie and fell to his death.
But a witness attested that Matlhomola didn’t fall – he was thrown off. And during the trial, forensic evidence backed up the claim. Pathologists said there was no way Matlhomola had jumped.
The farmers were subsequently found guilty of killing Matlhomola in October 2018, and were sentenced in March this year – Schutte to 23 years, and Doorewaard to 18.
Matlhomola’s father was unhappy on the day the sentences were handed down – he said to the Mail & Guardian, “I am not satisfied with the sentence they have been given. I am not satisfied at all.” They should have received life sentences, he said.
And I can’t disagree.
The News24 documentary not only follows the trial of the two farmers, but also highlights the racial tension that has been brewing for some time in the community of Coligny. Who’s to say how it will erupt next time?
Watch Stealing Sunflowers on Showmax and When They See Us on Netflix.