Tom Head, South African, June 3, 2019
Sad news is reaching us from Stellenbosch on Monday morning: Stefan Smit, the owner of Louisenhof Wine Estates in Stellenbosch, was the victim of a murder over the weekend.
Who is Stefan Smit?
Smit had gained something of a national profile after he was interviewed by the New York Times in March, speaking to the publication about the threat of land grabs on his property. The wine merchant had previously complained about how citizens from a nearby township had begun erecting shacks at the back of his farm.
The farmer was forced to get a court interdict against the squatters. Sadly, the letter of the law couldn’t prevent Smit from meeting a brutal fate. Police have confirmed that four armed men gained access to the wine estate via an unlocked door, before opening fire on the 62-year-old. His wife and a family friend survived the attack.
Stellenbosch farm murder victim was “embroiled in land dispute”
The Stellenbosch vineyard backs on to the township of Kayamandi. Over the course of a few months, a settlement bordering the farm was established. Although he had it dismantled by the Red Ants, the squatters were undeterred and rebuilt shacks on the fields. You can learn more about this from one of our previous articles on the matter.
When Smit spoke to the NYT, he gave a chilling prophecy on what he thought would happen if the dispute carried on. Within a few months of giving this interview, his worst fears have been realised.
“I, personally, can’t breathe here. They are bringing people down here like fodder. I have never spoken to the people myself, not directly. You don’t do that. It’s not un-dangerous. It’s not advisable. I have received threats before, where they said they would burn me alive.”
Tributes paid to Stefan Smit after farm murder
Smit was a member of Vinpro, the company who regulate the production of wine in the Western Cape. The Stellenbosch-based group Tweeted their condolences on Monday, while condemning “the senseless murders happening to SA’s farming community”. The victim’s nephew also posted a hard-hitting message online:
RIP Stefan Smit.
In one day in South Africa:
– My father on crutches is almost robbed of his phone and wallet
– My uncle is murdered on his farm in Stellenbosch which has been in the family since 1896
Police are continuing their investigations, but haven’t yet made any arrests.
[Editor’s Note: The NYT article on the Stellenbosch wine country is available here.]