Cheers in Vredendal court as farmer who murdered seasonal worker is handed life sentence
Lutzville farmer Martin Visser was expressionless when the Western Cape High Court, sitting in Vredendal, on Wednesday handed him a life sentence for murdering a local farmworker with a spade, dragging him with a quadbike and burying him behind his father's vineyard in 2015.
Judge Nathan Erasmus said Visser had handled Adam "Mannetjies Dukvreet" Pieterse like a sick animal, a "bag of mielies" he threw over his shoulder, and "a lifeless sack of skin" he dragged behind his two-wheeler.
"Whatever the sentence, the damage that has been done cannot be corrected. His family will never have the privilege of seeing their loved one again."
Sentencing in the packed courtroom got off to a late start after Visser attempted suicide during an adjournment. He had ostensibly tried to hang himself with his jacket, which broke and resulted in him falling and hurting his ear.
After being treated at a local hospital, proceedings continued. A troubled looking Visser constantly touched the bandage partially covering the left side of his head.
On Tuesday, he was found guilty of the premeditated murder of Adam Pieterse, 33, who worked on a neighbouring farm, and forcing the farmworker's two friends to bury him in February 2015.
His sand-covered body was unearthed three weeks later, when a seasonal labourer saw Visser behind the vineyard of his father's farm twice and contacted the police when she took a closer look and noticed flies buzzing around the disturbed earth.
The cause of death could not be confirmed due to the advanced state of decomposition of the corpse.
During sentencing proceedings, prosecutor Christenus van der Vijfer urged Erasmus to impose the highest possible punishment on Visser and to not show him any leniency.
The farmer had not shown any mercy to his victim, he argued, and had not shown any remorse for what he had done.
Visser has two previous convictions.
In 2010, he pleaded guilty to selling liquor without a licence.
Three years later, he received a suspended sentence for reckless and negligent driving and assault after he tried to run over a woman with a tractor before viciously attacking her.
She had owed him money for alcohol bought on credit.
A number of other assault cases were withdrawn after mediation between Visser and his victims.
Visser was also this week convicted of assaulting Pieterse on January 25, 2015. He had laid a charge which resulted in the farmer's arrest. He was released on R800 bail.
In February, Visser confronted Pieterse about the charge, choked him inside his house and threatened to kill him, his statement made to police reads.
His bail was also not revoked.
Visser murdered Pieterse later that month.
"The deceased after the second assault did what every citizen would do under the circumstances - he went to the authorities to lay a charge and have a hearing. Little did he know that that would lead to his end. He paid with his life because he didn't want to withdraw the case."
Pieterse died in an extremely violent manner, Van der Vijfer continued.
"He beat him and saw the blood spatter, but didn't step back. He threatened [Pieterese's two friends]. He dragged Pieterse like a dead animal, then unceremoniously buried him in a shallow grave."
Visser was also found guilty of assault with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm for stabbing Kleintjie Moses in the throat with a bottle neck at the barracks in Lutzville on Christmas Eve 2011.
Moses had tried to intervene and help a woman up after Visser had broken a bottle over her head when he was attacked.
Van der Vijfer insisted that Visser "cannot control himself" and had not considered the law despite his previous convictions.
"I am doubtful he would ever change or be able to be rehabilitated."
Earlier, defence attorney Asghar Mia asked the court to show his client mercy as he was his family's sole breadwinner.
Visser's parents, as well as his wife, were battling cancer and he was the primary caregiver of his five-year-old child as well as his nine-year-old stepdaughter.
The farmer also had a tumour on his bladder and blisters for which he was receiving treatment, Mia said.
Visser, who served in the army and previously worked as a truck driver, still needed to continue paying for his farm, which he had purchased with saving and assistance from his father.
He had an unstable income, Mia told Erasmus.
He sold his grape harvest to winemakers, ran a shop from his home where he sold groceries to farm workers on a loan basis, and collected plastic pesticide containers which he sold in Cape Town.
Three of the four farm workers he employed had lost their jobs since he had been imprisoned as he was unable to pay their salaries. His father was paying the last employee to maintain the smallholding.
But Erasmus pointed out that Visser had also been selling alcohol despite being convicted of doing so without a licence eight years ago.
Mia attempted to deny this, but the judge insisted that this was common cause.
Erasmus said the initial assault on Pieterse in January 2015 was because he had gone to Visser's home to purchase wine before 09:00 on a Sunday morning, which had upset the farmer.
"On the day of the murder, [two witnesses] had bought liquor from him. Selling liquor on the book seems to be the cause of the problems. It is an integral part of the offenses. So don't tell me he stopped selling liquor in 2010."
Van der Vijfer argued that Visser's circumstances were not that uncommon, and insufficient to require deviating from the prescribed minimum sentence for premeditated murder.
The farmer was sentenced to three years for the grievous assault on Moses and six months for the common assault on Pieterse.
The defence is expected to apply for leave to appeal on Thursday.