Hilton Levendal was sitting in his most loved seat in the kitchen of his modest farmhouse when a stone “greater than [his] head” slammed down on him after a bulldozer furrowed into the side of his home.
His former employer, a Herbertsdale farmer, is accused of driving the bulldozer and has been charged with attempted murder, assault and malicious damage to property.
He is expected in the Mossel Bay Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday.
Levendal, 46, claims the farmer has been victimising him for being “too clever” after he called him out on his alleged racism, and for educating other farmworkers about their rights.
Relations between Levendal and his partner and the farmer were strained because he had attempted to evict the two from his property in November, Levendal said.
He approached the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which overturned the eviction decision as Levendal and his common law wife, 41, had no alternative place to stay, he explained.
Assault ‘not the first time’
According to Levendal, the farmer had been victimising him before the eviction attempt, giving him less and less work.
“He said he wants me and my family to die of hunger,” the farmworker claimed.
The father of two alleged he and his partner had been collecting wood from a river bank on Sunday, 25 February – a day after his birthday – when the farmer approached them and told them that the river belonged to him.
“I told him that it was not his property and there was a confrontation. He smacked and assaulted me and my partner but when he saw people were watching, he left,” Levendal told News24.
“It wasn’t the first time that he has attacked us.”
He and his partner returned to their house – which has no electricity, water or ablution facilities – and he sat in the makeshift kitchen.
“Suddenly I felt a kick and the zinc roof gave in. A boulder the size of my head, which kept the [zinc] sheet down, fell centimetres from my head, onto my thigh. Parts of the house, including the chimney, gave in and everything was destroyed – even the Sunday lunch that was on the stove,” an incredulous Levendal said.
“I grabbed my wife and got out of the house, where we saw what had happened. The farmer told my wife that he would push the house down with us in it.”
‘No other farmer wants to employ me’
His partner wasn’t injured, Levendal said, and his two children had not been home as they were visiting their grandmother at the time.
He, however, injured his leg and is unable to walk properly.
“But I do odd jobs to make sure my family is fed. Because of what happened between me and this farmer, no other farmer wants to employ me,” Levendal said.
He claimed the farmer had beaten him and left him severely injured before, but that he couldn’t afford to go to a hospital.
“The ambulance comes to collect a patient, but once you are discharged you have to find your own way back. It costs me R400 to get here from the hospital, or I have to walk 50km.”
Following the bulldozing of his home, Levendal contacted Herbertsdale Farm Committee chairperson Elvin Booysen, who phoned the police that same day.
Farmer issued with warning
The police failed to arrive, Booysen said.
He followed up on Monday and after escalating the matter, a vehicle arrived at 12:30.
Levendal was taken to the police station and his statement was taken.
The case was registered as an assault, but no confirmation SMS of the case was received, Booysen said.
“On Wednesday I phoned the detectives asking why the farmer had not been arrested.”
Levendal said the farmer was driving up and down past their house, trying to intimidate them.
“But because it was registered as a common assault, he would not be arrested, but receive a warning to appear in court.”
‘No life is more important than another’
Frustrated that the case appeared to be stalling, Booysen contacted Billy Claassen of the Rural and Farmworkers’ Development Organisation, to which the Herbertsdale committee is affiliated.
Claassen escalated the matter to provincial police who changed the charge to one of attempted murder.
The farmer was arrested on Sunday, a week after the alleged attack.
“When something happens to a farmer, society is shocked and the case is treated to the full might of the law. But when it involves farmworkers, we must beg and plead before something is done,” an incensed Claassen said.
“This is unacceptable. No attack on anyone in the farm community should be condoned, but no life is more important than another. Each case must be treated with the same amount of urgency.”
Police spokesperson Captain Malcolm Pojie confirmed the farmer faced charges of attempted murder, common assault, assault with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm and malicious damage to property.
The farmer also faces additional charges of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition after police investigations led to the contraband being seized, he said.