‘Potato’ murder shock villagers

‘Potato’ murder shock villagers

BEREA – TO the people of Ha Tomo and Ha Lephoi in Teyateyaneng, Xian-Ping Chen (30) has always been an affable Chinese man who speaks Sesotho fluently and likes to joke with his employees.
They know him as ‘Tolley’, the friendly manager of Basotho Farming, a Chinese owned company that runs a horticulture farm next to their villages.
Some of the villagers have rented their fields to the company that grows potatoes, tomatoes and cabbages. Dozens of people from the villages work at the farm, a sprawling complex of more than 350 greenhouses.
Xian-Ping occasionally comes into the village, on a tractor, to buy cattle manure.
After each harvest Xian-Ping allows some villagers to comb through the field for leftovers potatoes, tomatoes and vegetables. It has always been a cordial relationship built on mutual benefit.
Villagers who cannot plough their fields rent them out to Tolley for an annual fee that allows them to buy food they should have grown on their land.

Permanent and seasonal jobs at the farm keep some of the villagers going.
The farm has nearly 50 employees, most of whom are from Ha Tomo and Ha Lephoi.
Villagers knew that if pressed for cash you could just fill your scotch-cart with manure and take it to farm.
Xian-Ping didn’t pay well, the villagers say, but it was “money to cover some gaps”.
When Xian-Ping starts harvesting it was time for the villagers to get some potatoes and cabbages.
In some cases Xian-Ping would invite villagers to get some ‘rejects’ he didn’t deem ideal for his market.

But on July 17 that peace was shattered when Xian-Ping allegedly fired several shots at a group of girls who were scrounging in his potato farm. He is alleged to have killed a 14-year-old girl.
Xian-Ping is alleged to have accused girls of stealing his potatoes but villagers insist that he has always allowed them to come in after each harvest.
The girl was in Grade 8 in Tšoana-Makhulo Secondary School.
’Malehlohonolo Tongoane, grandmother of the deceased, rushed to the field after receiving the news.
“I wanted to confirm that she was really gone,” she says as she tries to fight back tears.
Tongoane found her grandchild lying, face down, in a pool of blood. Her face was covered in blood, she recalls. Tongoane says three of her grandchildren witnessed their sister die.

Mpho who was at the field says she was stuffing potatoes into a sack when she heard the shots.
She dropped the bag and started running away but a moment later she saw her friend tumble to the ground. “We were holding her hand at that time trying to help her,” she says.
Mpho says the deceased touched her wound and said ‘Jonna ‘m’e oee’ as she fell on the floor, blood coming from her mouth and nose. She says they left her there because Xian-Ping kept shooting.
She dashed to the village to tell elders.
Rantšo Ramakabatane, a member of the Ha Tomo prevention committee, says they heard gunshots at around 1pm. I could see people in the field scurrying around, he says.
Moments later he was told that Xian-Ping had shot and killed one of the girls.
“I was shocked,” Ramakabatane says, adding that four of the people who were in the field are from his village.
The dead girl is from Ha Lephoi. ’Mamohau Lephoi, wife to the Ha Lephoi village chief, insists that Tolley has always allowed villagers into his field after each harvest.
“I was shocked because this was the first time something like this happened,” she says.

Lephoi however says she heard from people that a few days before the incident Tolley banned villagers from coming to his field. She says she suspects that most of the people who went to the filed on that day were not aware of Tolley’s decision. Among those at the field were 14 girls from Ha Lephoi, she says.
They are aged between 8 and 14.
Tsekeli Nkomo, whose three grandchildren were in the field, says the children were so “traumatized that they did not eat for two days”. “They only started eating after coming back from the clinic,” he says.
Police Deputy Spokesperson ’Mareabetsoe Mofoka confirmed that Xian-Ping appeared before Berea Magistrate to face a murder charge.
She said Xian-Ping is awaiting his trial in police custody and will appear before court on the August 1.

’Makhotso Rakotsoane & Letlotlo Mncina

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