Ongoing court case of Mooi River farm murders

Families of the Sherwood Farm murder victims will not soon see justice done to the murderers, as one has been released and another’s trial has been postponed until June.

The trial of Mzwandile Magubane (21) and Nhlanhla Dladla (22), who stood accused of murdering Zimbabwean domestic worker Hilda Linyane (34), white farmer Lorraine Karg (58) and Zulu farm worker Zakius Mhlongo (65) on Sherwood Farm near Mooi River on 20 June 2010 , began well enough for the state in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on 19 March 2012. By the end of the week, however, one suspect had been released and the remaining suspect’s trial had been postponed until 16 July.

“It leaves you feeling like you don’t know why you even bother to pitch up,” said Lorraine Karg’s widower, Neville, who now farms in the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville). The state withdrew its case against Dladla after state witness Velaphi Magubane (22) recanted his statement, claiming the police had beaten it out of him. Velaphi and Mzwandile are brothers and were arrested together a week after the murders took place.

Members of the investigating team said they had known that Dladla’s release was a possibility, as only Magubane’s statement tied him to the crime. They had felt, however, that Velaphi Magubane would prize his own freedom above Dladla’s. As soon as Velaphi Magubane left the witness stand he was re-arrested for possession of a firearm, and state advocate Dheelan Naidoo explained that murder charges could follow.

The impact
Dladla’s release was chilling for Priscilla and Innocent Linyane, daughter and son of Hilda Linyane, as well as Sam and Bonginkosi Mhlongo, Zakius Mhlongo’s sons. “When he walked past us after being released he smiled and whispered ‘see you in Africa,’ ‘‘ said a tearful Priscilla Linyane. Bonginkosi Mhlongo, who gave evidence at the trial, said he feared for his life. “These people know where I live. My place has no security, anyone can kick open the door,” he said.

Innocent Linyane, who had travelled from Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, to give evidence at the trial, said he wanted to leave Mooi River as soon as possible. “Who can stay in a place where people cut your parent’s throat?” he asked. On 20 June 2010 Lorraine Karg and Zakius Mhlongo had their throats slit outside the Karg’s farmhouse by two balaclava-wearing men, who beat and then shot Linyane inside the house.

The court heard how Karg, Linyane and Mhlongo had been driving out to a fire when Neville Karg had phoned and asked them to collect bush knives, which the fire beaters could use to cut branches. The decision to return to the farmhouse turned out to be a fateful one, as they encountered the balaclava-wearing men.

On 22 March the state continued with its case against Mzwandile Magubane, which was bolstered by the testimony of fingerprint specialist Christiaan Els, who found Magubane’s palm print on the kitchen wall, surrounded by blood smears. Magubane, who had done some painting work on the Sherwood farm five years before, claimed he had never been in the farmhouse.

The court heard the testimony of a truck driver who said he had dropped Mzwandile Magubane and two others, carrying a 5l jerry can filled with petrol, at a place near Sherwood Farm. The investigating team believes that the fire on Sherwood Farm on the night the murders took place was started deliberately by the murderers to lure Neville and Lorraine Karg away from the farmhouse.

The court also heard from Lieutenant Maybra Nzimande of the Pietermaritzburg Organised Crime Unit, who described how police, acting on a tip-off, had arrived at the Magubane home at 3am on 27 July 2010. Under Mzwandile’s bed police found a black rucksack containing balaclavas and two gate remotes for Sherwood Farm. In another structure, police found Velaphi Magubane and a gun which police ballistics specialists identified as the weapon that killed Hilda Linyane.

The gun, however, was not produced in court as evidence because Velaphi Magubane had chosen to turn state witness. On Friday, with the trial drawing to a close, Mzwandile Magubane told the court he had lost confidence in his legal aid-appointed attorney, and asked for a postponement to enlist a private lawyer. State attorney Judge MT Ncube postponed the case until 16 June.