SENEKAL, South Africa – A young white farm manager was found earlier this month strangled and tied to a pole on a farm in the eastern part of Free State province, police said. Two Black men have been charged with murder.
At a court hearing on Friday, the police captain investigating the case said the suspects were part of a ring of animal thieves operating in the area, and it appears the motive was theft instead. race race.
But the assassination of farm manager Brendin Horner, has become the latest flash point for racial conflict in South Africa, where the apartheid regime fell apart almost 30 years ago. Tensions are particularly high in rural farm areas where white people still own most of the farms and the Blacks still serve as their often poor laborers.
Groups representing white farmers have accused the South African government of failing to protect them. Some white activist groups say what they call “farm killings” represents the beginning of a “white genocide” aimed at expelling whites in South Africa.
Critics see it as a deeply twisted narrative promoted by white apartheid beneficiaries to promote international sympathy. They point out that violent crime is common in South Africa. Most of the victims were Black.
Of the 21, 325 victims of murder last year, 49 were white farmers – accounting for less than 1 percent of the country as a whole, according to police statistics. White South Africans make up 9 percent of the country’s 58 million people.
At Friday’s hearing, white farmers and motorcyclists confronted Blacks protesting the red polo shirts of the leftist political party of the Economic Freedom Fighters, or EFF, outside a small courthouse in the countryside in Senekal a town on the banks of the Sand River. Police set up barbed wire to separate the groups, but at one point they stood on their noses – a situation that had been reduced by voluntary marshals from both sides.
On a hill outside the town, white farmers waved a banner with Mr. Horner’s face and carried white wooden crosses. Some wear fake ammunition. After reading the Bible and praying, they sang the national anthem of South Africa apartheid.
Some farmers said in interviews that South Africa’s lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and the resulting economic collapse, had become more desperate for poor Black South Africans.
“They used to steal for food at the table, now they kill,” said Derek Meyer, a farmer at the protest.
Khanyi Magubane, a political commentator and journalist, said of the white farmers, “They do not see the bigger picture of disability in South Africa. Everything is targeted, everyone is robbed.”
Farmers joked as buses and minivans aboard EFF supporters were driven, some passengers singing “Kill the Boer,” a liberation song declared hate speech.
EFF founder Julius Malema, a firefighter ousted from the ruling party of the African National Congress, spoke to at least 2,500 from a portable stage outside the courthouse, saying, “We are here to fight and die against apartheid, because South Africa still has apartheid. “
He tapped into the long-awaited rage by calling for land redistribution. In Parliament, the EFF controls 44 of the 400 seats, and accuses the majority party, the African National Congress, of being too slow and too cautious in redistributing land.
A government survey in 2017 found that white farmers control almost 70 percent of farms held by individual owners in South Africa. Much of that land was brutally confiscated from the inhabitants of Africa generations ago. In the vast tracts of Free State, where Mr. Horner was killed, three-quarters of the farms belonged to white South Africans, while Black South Africa owned only 3 percent, the survey found.
The president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, spoke about the assassination of Mr. Horner on Monday, expressing horror and sympathy, but wary of misrepresenting the killings of white peasants in ethnic cleansing. “They are not genocidal. They are acts of crime and should be treated as such,” Mr. Ramaphosa told his weekly presidency.
“What happened in Senekal shows how easily the tinderbox ignites racial hatred,” he said.
In a country with the fifth highest homicide rate in the world, Mr. Ramaphosa has used his addresses in recent months to name murder victims, particularly women killed in lockdown. He pointed out that three young Black men were shot dead in a car in South Africa the same week that killed Mr. Horner.
But the violent protests against the assassination of Mr. Horner have grabbed and immediate attention.
On October 6, several hundred white protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Senekal where the two suspects will appear for a hearing. Some protesters set fire to a police van and stormed the court with cells, demanding that the defendants be handed over to them.
A 51-year-old white businessman, Andre Pienaar, was arrested and charged with attempted murder, malicious property damage and public violence. He was banned from posting bail.
AfriForum, a large advocacy group for Afrikaners, descendants of white Dutch and Huguenots living in South Africa, has led international efforts to draw attention to their discriminatory statements that white farmers are systematically forced to clear their land and killed in large numbers.
In 2018, after Ernst Roets, deputy chief executive of AfriForum, appeared in a segment on Fox News in the United States with host Tucker Carlson, President Trump said on Twitter that he was directing his secretary of state to investigate what he called “big-scale scaling” by white farmers.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Roets said the government does not protect white farmers: “It is very clear that this is not a priority for them to do anything,” he said.
In court on Friday, the judge was next to four armed police officers, government ministers occupied banks near the front and journalists packed the room.
The country’s police minister Bheki Cele, who visited the town earlier in the week with the intention of relieving tensions, said in an interview after four people – three of them Black – had been killed in the area since April.
“One of them is the white young man,” he said.
Lynsey Chutel reports from Senekal and Monica Mark from Johannesburg.