Man with disability left for dead after assault

Benedict Swartbooi
Two farmers in court for murder

“How do you attack a person who could not even defend himself?’’

This is the question on Magdalena Swartbooi’s mind after her son Benedict Swartbooi, who had a disability, was allegedly assaulted by two men and left for dead at Maltahöhe on 14 March.

Benedict (30) walked on crutches due to having an overgrown leg.

On that fateful day, he was unable to escape his assailants, who allegedly hit him on the head with a stone.

“During my younger years when I was working, Benedict was my comfort and helper. When I became older and sickly, he was my arms and legs. When I sat, he would pull me up. In the mornings he would make the fire and make me tea.

We depended on his disability grant, but a [farmer] came and cut his life short, I am completely shocked and left without words,” Swartbooi said in an interview this week.

The police arrested two farmers – Henry Vermeulen (51) and Hein Franco van der Wath (25) – who appeared in the Maltahöhe Magistrate’s Court on charges of murder, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and crimen injuria before magistrate Evelyn Stephanus on Tuesday.

Public prosecutor Loide Nghixulifwa appeared for the state. The case was postponed to 17 June and the suspects were remanded in custody while the police conduct further investigations.

Chief inspector Elifas Kuwinga said Benedict was travelling in a horse-drawn cart from Farm Rooi Dam in the Maltahöhe district, to Farm Hoffnung at around 16h00 with his brother Niklaas Swartbooi and uncle Johannes Swartbooi.

The trio wanted to pass through Farm Betha but were not granted permission and decided to use another route.

Kuwinga said on their way back from Betha to Duwiseb Castle on the D824 gravel road, they reportedly stopped to rest along the road.

While resting, two men in a vehicle stopped and asked them what they were doing in their camp, upon which they explained that they were resting.

“The two men disembarked from the vehicle and started assaulting them. The other two men fled by jumping the fence, but the deceased was disabled and couldn’t flee on time. The two suspects then assaulted him with a stone on his head and they left him behind,” said Kuwinga.

He added that Benedict’s older brother and uncle, who returned after a while, found him bleeding.

Benedict thereafter reportedly went into a coma and was declared dead by a nurse who came to the scene.

Magdalena Swartbooi

“He could not jump the fence and flee as the others did. He was walking with crutches. They just left him there and drove away while my boys were looking for help. He meant nothing to the [farmers] because he was black, disabled and we’re poor people. But he was my everything,” said his mother.

She does not know how they will bury Benedict, whose death caught them unprepared and is requesting assistance.

She said she prays to God to give her strength to endure this nightmare. She also prays that God helps the two suspects, she said.

Benedict’s older brother Niklaas said the were on their way to visit their uncle and assist him on his farm.

The road to his uncle’s farm passes through Betha and when they were denied access, they took a road about three farms away from Betha, where they had decided to make camp and sleep for the night.

This is where the suspects saw their horses, said Niklaas.

“They reversed when they saw our horses and came back. Me and Johannes walked up to the fence to hear what they wanted to say. He was swearing. Grabbed me on my neck with my shirt and hit me on my mouth. I wrestled and pulled myself out of his grip. I started running and so did Johannes. But in that time Benedict came closer and was hit with the stone.

“I sat with my younger brother in my arms for about three hours not knowing what to do. We realised the cut was deep. It was bleeding profusely. At that time our attackers were still there. They said: ‘Agh, we don’t care. You can even go and report this. He can die for all we care’ and they drove off,” said Niklaas.

Thereafter, he said he went to collect his phone from the cart and phoned his family to inform them and the police.

Benedict’s uncle, Johannes, said he is scared for his life as a young farm worker.

“The [farmer] said this is his land. I thought we were driving on government roads and that we were free in this country but we are not free. We adhered when they denied us access and left. Three farms away from them, they found us, only to take our brother’s life at a place we were making wood to take home and were resting.

“That night we could not sleep because when we would close our eyes, we would hear the sound of Benedict’s blood flowing like an open tap. We are thankful for our family and community members who received us and prayed for us when we returned.”

The police and nurse who arrived from Maltahöhe declared Benedict dead on the scene, said Niklaas.

“My brother died in my arms. A man who dreamed of building our mother a brick house and a toilet so she didn’t have to walk far into the bushes. The man who would rake the yard, water the plants and make us all laugh at that house with his dancing on crutches.”

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