Emotions ran high on Friday as two Black suspects appeared in a South African court over the murder of a white farmer which has once again sparked racial tensions 26 years after the end of apartheid.
A barbed-wire fence ringed the courthouse in the central town of Senekal and police and a water cannon were deployed as opposing groups of white farmers and Black activists gathered near the site.
The killing of Brendin Horner, a white man whose tortured body was found tied to a pole near his farm in the 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”.
The farmers, who accuse the government of failing to protect them from violent crime, arrived in pick-up trucks ahead of the court hearing for Horner’s two suspected killers. The farmers mostly wore khaki shirts and shorts – a few wore military outfits.
“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. [The government] must start to prioritise these crimes.”
Al Jazeera’s Fehmida Miller reporting from Senekal said while farmers deny the issue is about race, but about their safety and that of their workers, the issue had “racial undertones”.
“We have seen skirmishes between the two groups throughout the course of the day. We have heard racial slurs being thrown,” Miller reported.
The left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who represent poor Black South Africans who feel left out of the country’s post-apartheid prosperity, staged a countermarch 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. Despite the tensions, there were no reports of violence.
— Economic Freedom Fighters (@EFFSouthAfrica) October 16, 2020
The EFF blames South Africa’s problems on what it says is a continued stranglehold of the economy by white people.
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,” 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 percent of privately-owned farmland in South Africa is owned by white people, who make up less than 9 percent of the country’s population of 58 million.