SENEKAL, South Africa (Reuters) – White South African farmers and Black protesters hurled abuse and threats at each other on Friday during 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 an appeal to South Africans to “resist attempts… to mobilise communities along racial lines”.
The farmers outside the courthouse in the central town of Senekal accused the government of failing to protect them from violent crime, while their opponents, from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), complained about what they see as the continued domination of South Africa’s economy by whites.
“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.”
The EFF’s firebrand leader Julius Malema sat inside the courtroom to show support for the two murder suspects who filed a request for bail during Friday’s hearing. The judge adjourned the case until Oct. 20.
“I’m here because of white people… taking advantage of us,” said EFF supporter Khaya Langile, who came from the Johannesburg township of Soweto to join the rally.
Police separated the two groups with razor wire in one street, but despite the noisy standoff there was no violence.
“There have been indications of tensions but by and large all of them (the rival groups) took a decision that they did not want to see violence. That is a good thing,” State Security minister Ayanda Dlodlo said outside the court.
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 emblazoned with crosses.
The supporters of the EFF, which represents poor Black South Africans who feel left out of the country’s post-apartheid prosperity, wore their trademark red shirts and berets.
Murders of white farmers make up a tiny fraction of the total in South Africa, which has the world’s fifth highest murder rate. In the 2019/20 financial year there were 21,325 murders across the country, of which 49 were white farmers, according to police statistics.
The farmers also feel threatened 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.