The town the New SA forgot: A day in ‘an apartheid era time warp’

05 May 2017 - 08:10 By Shenaaz Jamal
The one-horse town of Coligny, in North West.
The one-horse town of Coligny, in North West.

"If a black child dies, that's OK." These were the words of Ouma Tsele, one of the first people I encountered when visiting the one-horse town of Coligny, in North West.

Today the town is expected to find out whether Pieter Doorewaard, 26, and Phillip Schutte, 34 , accused of murdering 16-year-old Motlhomola Mosweu, will be granted bail.

The men say he "accidentally" fell off the back of their bakkie while they were taking him to the police station.

  • Coligny incident ‘exploited for political reasons’: SolidarityAfrikaans lobby group and union Solidarity says the death of 16-year-old Matlhomola Mosweu in Coligny is being used for “political agendas”.

Driving into Coligny, I was immediately struck by the outdated architecture and road signage. After speaking to several residents, I got the sense that the town is stuck in an apartheid time warp.

Black residents, it was apparent, were afraid to talk about race matters but told chilling stories of segregation at local businesses.

Some white residents, however, insisted: "Ons is nie almal so nie." (We're not all like that)

Nelson Moloko was asked to leave the local chemist’s for using a cellphone in the shop. A white journalist using a phone on the premises was not accosted Picture: Alon Skuy

Tsele challenged me to try an experiment at the local pharmacist where, she said, blacks were not allowed to speak on their cellphones.

We decided to test her theory by sending The Times photographer Alon Skuy into Taljaard Chemists. He asked for painkillers and spoke on his cellphone in the shop for several minutes.

We then asked a black resident, Nelson Moloko, to do the same.

  • 'They gave him alcohol and walked him to the dam at gun point': Coligny murder investigator tells court of alleged threats to key witnessA packed Coligny Magistrates Court room heard how the two men accused of murdering a 16-year-old boy reported his death to police and promptly told the charge officer they had somewhere else to be.

Within seconds of answering my call to his cellphone, he was kicked out of the shop, along with a black woman, without explanation.

The shop was immediately locked and two heavily-armed security guards stood watch.

Moloko advised us to leave immediately.

The pharmacist later told The Times that he did not want to comment on allegations of racism.

Charles Pelser at the entrance to his liquor store on Voortrekker Road in Coli g ny. He has protected the premises with metal sheeting after last week’s looting. Picture: Alon Skuy

It was time for a second test. Tsele and several other black residents told us that the local OK supermarket had separate queues for black and white customers, a claim the store's manager denied.

Resident Tebogo Matshila said he had been chased out of the "white" supermarket queue and placed in a "black" one.

When I bought bottled water and chocolate at the OK and wanted to pay, two white cashiers suddenly closed their tills and directed me to the kiosk, operated by a black woman. A few minutes later, one of the white cashiers re-opened their till to assist a white woman.

I wondered whether it was just a coincidence or racism.

  • Accused men 'left boy to die'A packed Coligny Magistrate's Court heard how the two men accused of murdering a 16-year-old boy reported his death to police and promptly told the charge officer they had to be somewhere else.

"Apartheid in this town is alive and it is breathing heavily. We don't even take notice of these things any more because it's normal to us," said Matshila.

Three former OK employees who spoke to The Times said workers had no choice but to speak Afrikaans.

"When I started working there I couldn't speak Afrikaans but I was forced to learn and I am fluent now because I was afraid to lose my job for speaking English," one said.

Moloko, also a former supermarket employee, said black employees were weighed twice a day to determine if they had stolen anything.

But supermarket manager Von Heath insisted that the weight checking had applied to all workers but was no longer used.

The stories of segregation did not stop at the doors of the OK.

Matshila said that when he had taken his mother to the local doctor she was made to sit in a separate waiting room and white patients who arrived after her were given preference.

White residents are aware of the tensions in the town.

But upholsterer Isabel Fourie, who has lived in Coligny for 50 years, said blacks and whites lived together in peace.

"Maybe the older white people are racist but they still greet black people," she said.

Liquor store owner Charles Pelser, whose shop windows were smashed in last week's riots, has reinforced them with metal sheets.

He says he is prepared for more violence to hit the town.

Black residents have warned of protests if Doorewaard and Schutte are released on bail.

Pelser did not mince his words: "The boere are ready," he said without elaborating.

- Additional reporting by Alon Skuy