Wednesday, 2 August 2006

'I asked them if my dad fought back'

August 02 2006 at 08:07AM

By Shaun Smillie

Lita Fourie visited the Kutuma Sinthumule Correctional Facility to get some answers. She wanted to ask her father's attackers if the 77-year-old tried to fight back. She wanted to know why the two men tortured her parents for five hours before killing them.

She thought it would bring her some closure to have a better picture of what happened to her parents the night they died.

Four months ago, Fourie visited the prison near Makhado to confront Ephraim Mokwena and Michael Malamela.

Helping farm-attack victims

Visiting the jail was the culmination of a journey for Fourie that began the day her parents were shot six years ago. Since then, she has dedicated herself to helping farm-attack victims, many of whom had nowhere and no one to turn to.

The journey began on the day of Sunday, April 16, 2000 when Fourie's parents John and Bina Cross arrived home to their farm near Gravelotte, Mpumalanga, after a church function.

When they entered their home, Malamela and Mokwena were waiting for them. What followed were several hours of torture for the elderly couple.

They held John in the bath and poured scolding hot water down his throat. They also shot him several times.

They then shot Bina three times with a .22 rifle and left her to bleed to death.

'They were drunk'

They finally killed her husband by blowing the top of his head off with a high-powered rifle.

The brutality of the attack is vividly captured in a series of police crime photographs that Fourie keeps in a photo album.

Also in the album are pictures of other farm-attack crime scenes.

One image shows a baby that was burnt to death. Another shows a dead farmer with his jaw shot off. Yet another is of an elderly woman who was raped and had her throat slit.

The photographs are there for shock value. "I keep them to show people just how gruesome farm attacks are.

"People usually don't realise what a farm attack entails until they see these pictures," Fourie explained.

Her parents' attackers were caught just days after the attack. In their possession, police found John's rifle and his watch.

But for Fourie, the capture of the two men brought her little consolation. She soon realised that there was little psychological help available to the victims of farm attacks and their loved ones who are left behind.

"People would not want to talk to me because they did not know what to say. You walk alone. They take your freedom, you can't sleep, you replay it all in your mind," she recalled of that time.

The court found the two men guilty of murder and sentenced them to 50 years each.

Fourie explained: "All the time you are hoping to get answers. You get little pieces from here and there. Some of it you get from the police. Your last hope is to get all the answers in court. But when court ends you still have questions."

Fourie decided to use her experience to help others in similar situations.

She began counselling survivors and family members. Fourie lives in Lephalale in the Limpopo province but her calling has taken her around the country.

"You see hate, anger and most suffer terrible nightmares," she said.

Sometimes helping someone out can be as simple as just asking them how they are doing.

"One woman told me that I was the first person to ask her that. She used to suffer terrible nightmares where she would be trying to wash the blood off the walls and it would not come off," Fourie explained.

Fourie said one of her most difficult tasks is trying to get survivors to open up. But she has developed a simple strategy: "I tell them to write the story down and then send it to me. Paper is not judgmental."

Like her, many of the relatives of farm-attack victims have nagging questions that plague them. Some of them want to see what their dead loved ones looked like when their bodies were discovered. They want to see crime-scene photographs and police videos.

Among the farming community, there is even a nickname for police crime videos. They are called silent movies because there is no sound, just the blood-splattered violent images of the aftermath of an attack.

"I advise them not to look at them," Fourie said.

But it was Fourie's own recurring questions that found her at the prison in early April.

At the time she was doing research for an organisation that was studying farm attacks and got access to the prison.

When she got inside, she recognised the two men she had stared at during her parents' murder trial.

"They were afraid of me. At first they didn't want to talk to me. But I told them that I just wanted to talk to them and ask them all those questions that I couldn't get answers for," Fourie said.

Her first question was: Did her father fight back?

"They said yes. I asked them why did they do it and they said they were looking for money," Fourie recounted the men's answers.

Then, the question that has plagued most farm-attack relatives: Why did they torture her parents?

"They just told me they did it because they were drunk."

Fourie left the prison feeling better, but she also knew that they were holding back on some information.

Fourie has come to understand that she may never know the truth of what happened the day her parents died.

To come to terms with it, she has now dedicated herself to helping others like her.

This article was originally published on page 8 of The Star on August 01, 2006


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