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Family resigned to burying whatever is left of relative

Missing men presumed dead as court denies farmers bail for murders

Noxolo Sibiya Journalist
Sthembiso Mnikathi has been missing since last year.
Sthembiso Mnikathi has been missing since last year.
Image: Supplied

“We are now waiting to bury whatever little is left on him. Once we get permission and an escort from the police, we will be able to go to the farm and collect his spirit.” 

These are the words of Mthobisi Mhlongo, the cousin of one of the two men who disappeared during a hunting trip in Leslie, Mpumalanga, on May 19 2023.

Yesterday, the Evander magistrate’s court denied bail to farm owner Hermanus de la Rey, 52, and farm manager William Underhay, 40, who are accused of shooting to death Sthembiso Mnikathi, 35, and his friend Buhlebekhaya Ximba, 31 at their farm and disposed of their bodies.

The duo has been charged with murder and defeating the ends of justice.

Provincial police did not rule out the possibility of adding more charges.

Spokesperson Col Donald Mdhluli said an inquiry for two missing persons was opened for investigation in May 2023. Three other people managed to escape during the shooting.

“The team of men and women in blue worked tirelessly and gathered some crucial information and certain individuals were identified as people that may assist with some clues that would help in solving the case. These people were able to provide valuable details in relation to the investigation,”  Mdhluli said.

Farm manager William Underhay, 40, and farm owner Hermanus De la Ray, 52, appeared in the Evander magistrate’s court in Mpumalanga on Tuesday.
Farm manager William Underhay, 40, and farm owner Hermanus De la Ray, 52, appeared in the Evander magistrate’s court in Mpumalanga on Tuesday.
Image: Supplied

“It then came to light that two suspects, De la Rey and Underhay, were somehow entangled in a shooting of the two missing victims who could have possibly died. Police are of the view that the suspects could have then somehow disposed [of] their bodies somewhere else, far away from the farm.

“...Investigations indicate that some crucial evidence [was] collected on the crime scene which [is] convincing ... that a tragedy possibly befell the two victims [Mnikathi and Ximba].”

NPA regional spokesperson Monica Nyuswa said in denying the pair bail, the court found that the accused, although not flight risks, ran the risk of intimidating witnesses. “The court said there is a possibility that evidence may be concealed, taking into account that the bodies were not recovered,” she said. 

Nyuswa said two witnesses have been placed under witness protection.

On Tuesday, Mnikathi’s family spoke of their quest for justice.

“We opened a missing person’s case at the eMbalenhle police station and hoped that we would perhaps find him, we didn’t. We then sought help from the Leslie police,” he said. 

“We then circulated pictures of him all over social media hoping that he managed to get away [and survived the shooting] and someone would have spotted him, but no one seemed to know anything.

“The only lead we had was the friend who kept insisting that he last saw my cousin at the farm where they had been hunting.” 


Mhlongo said police found samples on the farm and ran DNA tests against family members of the missing men and they came out positive. 

“We were given the positive results late last year. Even without the actual bodies, we now know that they are dead,” said Mhlongo. 

He said Mnikathi worked for a steel company and had moved to Mpumalanga in 2020 from Impendle, KwaZulu-Natal. 

He had two children. - Additional Reporting Jeanette Chabalala

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