South African white farmers and rival black protesters face off outside court hearing over farm murder case

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White South African farmers and rival Black protesters hurled abuse and threats at each other on Friday ahead of a court hearing in a murder case that has exposed still simmering racial tensions 26 years after the end of apartheid.

The killing of Brendan Horner, a white man whose body was found tied to a pole at his farm in Free State province, sparked riots at the start of this month, and prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to make a statement urging South Africans to “resist attempts… to mobilise communities along racial lines”.

Farmers block the main road as they stand off against Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) during the bail application for two men accused of murdering young farm manager Brendin Horner - ShutterstockFarmers block the main road as they stand off against Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) during the bail application for two men accused of murdering young farm manager Brendin Horner - Shutterstock
Farmers block the main road as they stand off against Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) during the bail application for two men accused of murdering young farm manager Brendin Horner – Shutterstock

The farmers, who accuse the government of failing to protect them from violent crime, arrived in pick-up trucks ahead of the court hearing in the central town of Senekal for Horner’s two suspected killers.

The farmers mostly wore khaki shirts and shorts, a few wore military outfits, and at least one was armed. A group on motorbikes sporting long beards drove through Senekal, a trading town surrounded by dry, hilly countryside, some waving flags with crosses on.

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

“Enough is enough. They (the government) must start to prioritise these crimes.”

Demonstrators carry placards during a demonstration against farm attacks - AFPDemonstrators carry placards during a demonstration against farm attacks - AFP
Demonstrators carry placards during a demonstration against farm attacks – AFP

The radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who represent poor Black South Africans who feel left out of the country’s post-apartheid prosperity, staged a counter-march attended by thousands of protesters wearing trademark red shirts and berets in the town centre.

Police separated the two groups with razor wire in one street, but they regrouped and faced off in another area as police helicopters hovered overhead.

The EFF supporters danced, sung and waved golf clubs and wooden sticks, while the white farmers stared them down.

Despite the tensions, there were no reports of violence, and the farmers later left, dismantling several EFF roadblocks and driving out with no confrontation.

The EFF blames South Africa’s problems on what it says is a continued stranglehold of the economy by whites.

Economic Freedom Front (EFF) supporters during the bail application for two men accused of murdering young farm manager Brendin Horner - ShutterstockEconomic Freedom Front (EFF) supporters during the bail application for two men accused of murdering young farm manager Brendin Horner - Shutterstock
Economic Freedom Front (EFF) supporters during the bail application for two men accused of murdering young farm manager Brendin Horner – Shutterstock

Several buses full of EFF supporters drove past the farmers singing “kill the boer (farmer)” out of the window as they headed into town.

“We are not scared of them. We are going to get them on Friday. We are going to face white men face to face,” the EFF’s firebrand leader Julius Malema was quoted as saying in the local press this week.

“I’m here because of white people… taking advantage of us,” said EFF supporter Khaya Langile, who came from the Johannesburg township of Soweto.

Tensions have been heightened by a government plan to expropriate white-owned land without compensation as part of an effort to redress economic inequalities that remain stark a quarter of a century after the end of apartheid.

Roughly 70% of privately-owned farmland in South Africa is owned by whites, who make up less than 9% of the country’s population of 58 million.