Coligny farmers and residents are working towards a mutual trust

Churches determined to help the racked town of Coligny heal

03 February 2019 - 00:00 By KATHARINE CHILD

It was only when farmers and residents of Coligny in the North West admitted to one another that both were getting things wrong that the dark cloud of distrust started lifting.
Yet every night a mother still grieves for her son, trying to make sense of why some sunflowers cost him his life.
Sitting on an upturned bucket in their shack in the Scotland section of Tlhabologang township, Agnes and Saki Moshoeu are a stone's throw from the new house built for them by Gift of the Givers in the neighbouring suburb.
After the death of their son, 16-year-old Matlhomola Moshoeu, on April 20 2017 at the hands of Pieter Doorewaard and Phillip Schutte, violent protests broke out, all but shutting down the small town.
Buildings went up in flames, and racial tension flared.
Agnes is not prepared to forgive them, nor is she prepared to move into the house, as it will take her away from her son's grave. Also, the family are worried about tensions between black and white people in the town, and how they will fit into the "predominantly white" neighbourhood.
A councillor has taken her to see the house, but she has not yet received a key.
Sitting on a bench outside her house in Tlhabologang, pastor Bella Lemotle of the Soul Winners Church played a video of a peace march in November. White and black residents walked from their homes holding placards asking for peace to the centre of town to the tune of Amazing Grace.
"Watch this, this is beautiful," she said.
It was not enough to rebuild the town, the local churches realised. They also had to fix a community.
The Coligny Peace Forum was the vehicle. Together with Dutch Reformed Church pastor Tewie Pieters, the forum has for the past 22 months worked to bring reconciliation to the divided farming community.
Methodist bishop Paul Verryn, who has mediated very tricky situations, led the process. This past week that tenuous peace was put to the test as sentencing procedures - which will resume in March - started for Doorewaard and Schutte in the high court in Mahikeng, 50km away.
In the court an invisible line separated black and white. EFF members in their distinctive red outfits squeezed in among the families of the accused - seemingly to rile them - and were given annoyed stares from some in the mainly white bloc.
Residents in support of the Moshoeu family sat on the other side of the court.
Back home, despite wariness returning, the forum refuses to give up. "I want to see peace in Coligny," said Lemotle.
Pieters, a mining company owner and farmer before he became a church minister, said the tension and violence before were "very bad".
"Something good must come out of this bad." It was during this turbulent time that Pieters realised how little people in the community actually knew about one another.
"So the challenge was to start with a reconciliation process. The church can get into people's hearts and minds."
Lemotle asked her community if they "believed forgiveness is there", and they signed a pledge for the forum to continue.
For that first meeting, they asked Pieters to bring farmers to a meeting at the church.
"We listened to the farmers telling us their stories," said Lemotle. She said theft was leaving farmers vulnerable.
"The maize farm opposite her home is vacant since wide-scale theft drove the farmer from the land.
In 2017 volunteers and Pieters started to clean and paint Coligny and Tlhabologang, with a donation of 4,000lof paint. A farmer offered his bakkie to cart rubbish away.
Pieters and Lemotle met with premier Job Mokgoro to ask for assistance. Pieters is also negotiating with investors about a farming project that will create 300 jobs and an NGO will help residents with skills development.
Lunch is provided daily to the volunteers, thanks to farmers chipping in.
Verryn had words of encouragement, though.
"This could be a new model for SA. Communities must begin to start resolving their difficulties."

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