Dispatches: 'I greet you with the hand of life'

Paul Motsabi was assaulted by Eugene Terre'blanche years ago. The attack caused damage to his brain and he has since had a stroke, which has left him crippled. (Oupa Nkosi)

Paul Motsabi was assaulted by Eugene Terre'blanche years ago. The attack caused damage to his brain and he has since had a stroke, which has left him crippled. (Oupa Nkosi)

Several dilapidated mud houses dot the vast and dry mealie fields in Makokskraal as farm children chase after a ball made of rolled-up plastic bags - cheerful and innocent, seemingly mindless of the poverty and pain surrounding them.

Despite the early rains, the unrelenting and fierce sun's rays have left the clay road with deep cracks and grooves, which make it almost impossible to keep the moving car on track.

Previously, Makokskraal, which is about 20km west of Ventersdorp on the N14 highway, was a smallholding of a few local subsistence farmers but now the land belongs to white farmers who rear cattle and cultivate maize. The place is quiet, vast and relatively dry throughout the year but yields impressive amounts of maize.

Many farm dwellers here have left in search of better opportunities in neighbouring towns and townships. Some are reported to have left the farms as an escape from the harsh, often gruesome conditions they endured under farm owners.

But Paul Motshabi (43) is the exception.
Born and raised in Makokskraal, he, despite owning a three-room RDP house in neighbouring Tshing township, is content with his place of birth. The search for Motshabi had initially sent me from one beer hall to another in Tshing. After driving on the dusty streets for more than an hour, I learnt that he had moved back to Makokskraal.

"I greet you with the hand of life," says Motshabi, extending a dark, thin and trembling handshake in the old African way of welcoming guests.

After a moment's struggle with a plastic garden chair, he plonks into it and jokingly says: "You must be careful of the quietness of this place … it can easily drive you crazy."

Motshabi is the saddest reminder of the racial tension and violence that once reigned, and most probably still does, in Ventersdorp, long after the lowering of the Vierkleur (the flag of the Transvaal province of South Africa) and the Oranje Blanje Blou (apartheid South Africa's national flag).

Beaten to a pulp
His piercing eyes bulge at the mention of Eugene Terre'Blanche and he is quick to add that "It's all done ... talking about Terre'Blanche does not help us with anything. He is now gone and we should all forget about him. He got what he deserved."

One late summer evening in 1996 Motshabi, who was the most trusted and envied of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) leader's farmworkers, was beaten to a pulp.

In previous interviews, Motshabi had said that Terre'Blanche had asked him to kill some fellow workers and, when he refused, his master hit him with a steel pipe on the head, neck and shoulders. Motshabi suffered brain damage, which was followed by a stroke that left him crippled.

Terre'Blanche was convicted for the assault but was released on parole for being a model prisoner after serving only three years of his seven-year sentence. In April 2010, a farmworker hacked Terre'Blanche to death with a sharp object.

Sixteen years later, Motshabi has barely recovered from the beatings he suffered.

He is also yet to receive compensation for the gruesome damage done to his body and life. His meagre monthly disability grant is not enough to see him through the entire month.

"That's why I left the township and came to Makokskraal. Here I can manage my money better. All I need is cigarettes and food," he interjects, nonchalantly sipping black tea from a grimy green tin cup with magogo, the remains of last night's porridge.

As Motshabi pulls himself from the plastic chair, hand in hand with his live-in partner, Mmatema Khumalo (45), he passionately points at a clump of trees and explains the medicinal properties of each plant.

"I have everything I need here and the peace and [quiet] is more than I had ever hoped for when I worked for Terre'Blanche," he says, before gulping the remaining contents of his rusty tin cup.

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