The police are standing by the court in a small rural village in South Africa today. There, two suspects of the murder of a young farm manager are brought to trial. This previously led to riots.
21-year-old Brendin Horner was murdered at the beginning of this month. He was found dead on a sandy road in the small town of Paul Roux in the Free State province. His boss almost immediately said he thought Horner had caught cattle thieves. Not much later, two men who had previously been convicted of cattle theft were arrested.
A group of mainly white farmers came to court last week in nearby Senekal where the suspects appeared for the first time. A police van was set on fire.
President Cyril Ramaphosa called for calm and urged not to make a race issue. White farmers who stormed a court over two black suspects opened wounds that go back generations, the president said. Yet the fear is that today it will come to a black and white confrontation.
The opposition party EFF has said it will come to Senekal. The left-wing populist party, with a black following, says the police are cowards and that they should have stepped up last week. According to the party, they would be too scared to face white protesters.
EFF leader Julius Malema tweeted about the riots at the court “fighters attack“and says he is coming to protect state property. A few days later he posted a photo of a machine gun on Twitter.
In addition to the EFF, the right-wing lobby group AfriForum also says it will come to court today. AfriForum stands up for the importance of (white) Afrikaners. The organization says the murders are racially motivated and tries to put the attacks on the map nationally and internationally. The government and independent investigators say the killings are robberies and race is irrelevant.
All the wrong people have mixed in here now, far right and far left. Let them stay away.
“They make it a racist case, while it is about violence that affects everyone, white farmers and black farmers and black workers,” said Tommie Esterhuyse, security expert at farmers’ union AgriSA.
According to him, the organizations that will demonstrate today are using the case for their own political agendas. AgriSA was at the court last week, but now says, at the request of local farmers, to stay away. “They asked us not to come. They don’t want violence.”
“Please stay away”, is also the call from cattle farmer Herkie Viljoen on the phone. “All the wrong people has mixed in here now, far right and far left. Let them stay away.”
Viljoen lives three miles from the crime scene and was quickly on the scene when Horner was found dead. He is part of a security committee in the region and represents five hundred colleagues.
Viljoen wants a solution to the crime and corruption that affects all South Africans. Cattle theft in the region must also be tackled. The five hundred farmers in his region lose more than fifty thousand euros in livestock every month, says Viljoen. “One of the suspects in Horner’s murder has been arrested sixteen times before. How could it be that he was free?”
The farmers feel abandoned by the government and the police. There is a safety plan on paper, but in fact the farmers cannot count on help, because the police are struggling with a shortage of personnel and police cars. The farmers have to rely on themselves for their security. “During the day we work on the land and at night we have to patrol ourselves”, says Viljoen. “You have to see the alarm systems and security that we have. That scares you.”
President Ramaphosa sent his Minister of Police to the region this week to talk to farmers. There it was agreed that the government would come up with a plan within three weeks to better protect farmers. Viljoen: “The government has abandoned everyone in South Africa. But now they have come to us and we feel heard. Let’s hope that we can commemorate this murder as a moment that brought positive change, not chaos. “