South African white farmers, black protesters face off over farm murder

South African white farmers and black protesters have exchanged threats and abuses during a court hearing for a murder case that revealed persisting racial tensions in the country 26 years after the segregationist apartheid regime ended.

The Friday confrontation followed the murder of Brendan Horner — a white farmer killed earlier this month at his farm in Free State province – triggering riots and prompting President Cyril Ramaphosa to call on South Africans to “resist attempts … to mobilize communities along racial lines.”

As the protesting farmers outside the courthouse in the town of Senekal blamed the government for failing to protect them from violent crimes, counter-protesters from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) cried out against what they regard as the persisting domination of South Africa’s economy by whites while many black South Africans remain as poor as they did under brutal apartheid regime.

EFF leader Julius Malema attended the Friday court hearing during which the two murder suspects filed a request for bail, and addressed thousands of protesters outside the courthouse.

Malema told protesters that they should not be “confused by the so-called farm murders,” reminding them that many more black South Africans were also victims of violent crime.

“Those are the ones who deserve our sympathy, not the old, white racists,” he emphasized.“We don’t want to kill (the) white man. We want equality.”

A protester and EFF supporter from Soweto, Khaya Langile, also said, “I’m here because of white people … taking advantage of us.” 

Murders of white farmers make up a small fraction of total homicide cases in South Africa, which has the world’s fifth highest murder rate. There were 21,325 murders across the country during the 2019-20 fiscal year, of which only 49 were white farmers, according to official police figures.

This is while nearly 70 percent of privately-owned farmland in South Africa is owned by whites, who make up less than just nine percent of the country’s population of 58 million.

Moreover, the white farmers also feel threatened by a government scheme to expropriate white-owned land without compensation as part of a measure to recompense persisting economic inequalities that remain blatantly evident a quarter of a century after the end of apartheid.

Also during the Friday confrontation, police separated the two groups with razor wire in one street, and despite the noisy standoff there was no major violence.

“There have been indications of tensions but by and large all of them took a decision that they did not want to see violence,” State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo said outside the courthouse.

The white protesters were mostly dressed in khaki shirts and shorts, with a few wearing military outfits, and at least one was armed. A group of them also drove through Senekal on motorbikes while sporting long beards, with some waving flags emblazoned with crosses.

“We are getting tired now of all the farm murders,” said 30-year-old Geoffrey Marais, a white livestock trader from Delmas, where a woman was strangled to death two weeks ago.

“Enough is enough. They (the government) must start to prioritize these crimes,” he demanded.

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