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The murder of the white farmer becomes a hot spot in South Africa




SENEKAL, South Africa A young white farm manager was found earlier this month strangled and tied with a spear to a farm in the eastern part of Free State province, police said. Two blacks were charged with murder.

At a packed court hearing Friday, the police captain investigating the case said the suspects were part of a network of cattle thieves operating in the area and that the motive appeared to be robbery rather than racial animus.

But the assassination of farm manager Brendin Horner has become the latest flare-up for racial conflict in South Africa, where the separatist apartheid regime fell nearly 30 years ago. Tension is particularly high in rural agricultural areas where white people still own the vast majority of farms and Black people still serve as their often poor workers.

Groups representing white farmers accuse the South African government of failing to protect them. Some groups of white activists say what they call farm killings represents the beginning of a white genocide aimed at expelling whites from South Africa.

Critics see this as a deeply distorted story, promoted by white apartheid beneficiaries to foster international sympathy. They show that violent crime is common in South Africa. The vast majority of victims are black.

Of the 21,325 homicide victims last year, 49 were white farmers, making up far less than 1 percent of the total country, according to police statistics. White South Africans make up about 9 percent of the country’s 58 million citizens.

In Friday’s hearings, white farmers and motorbike drivers confronted Black protesters in red T-shirts of the political left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters, or EFF, outside the small rural court in Senecal, a town on the banks of the Sand River. . Police set up barbed wire to divide the groups, but at one point they stood face to face a situation was alleviated when volunteer marshals intervened.

On a hill outside the city, white farmers waved a banner with Mr. Horner and carried white wooden crosses. Some were wearing bulletproof vests. After reading the Bible and praying, they sang the national anthem of the apartheid era in South Africa.

Some of the farmers said in interviews that blocking South Africa in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic downturn has made South Black Africans poorer and more desperate.

Usually they steal for food at the table, now they are murders, said Derek Meyer, a farmer in protest.

Khanyi Magubane, a political commentator and journalist, told white farmers, “They do not see the biggest picture of dysfunction in South Africa.” Everyone is being targeted, everyone is being robbed.

Farmers mocked as buses and minivans were transporting EFF supporters traveling, some passengers singing Kill the Boer, a liberation-era song that has since been declared hate speech.

EFF founding leader Julius Malema, a firefighter ousted from the ruling African National Congress party, addressed the crowd of about 2,500 from a portable stage outside the court, saying, “We are here to fight and die against apartheid because South Africa still has apartheid.

He is plunged into long-boiling rage, calling for the redistribution of land. In Parliament, EFF controls 44 of 400 locations, and accuses the majority party, the African National Congress, of moving too slowly and too carefully in redistributing land.

A 2017 government poll found that white farmers control almost 70 percent of farms maintained by individual owners in South Africa. Much of that land was brutally confiscated by African residents generations ago. Of the large tracts in the Free State where Mr. Horner was assassinated, three-quarters of the farms are owned by white South Africans, while South Africans own only 3 percent, the study found.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke out about Mr Horner’s assassination on Monday, expressing horror and sympathy but warning against the false equation of white farmers’ killings with ethnic cleansing. They are not genocide. They are criminal acts and should be treated as such, said Mr. Ramaphosa in his weekly presidential address.

What happened in Seneca shows how easily the race hatred box can be lit, he said.

In a nation with the fifth highest homicide rate in the world, Mr Ramaphosa has used his addresses in recent months to refer to homicide victims, particularly women killed during the blockade. He pointed out that three young blacks were killed in a car in South Africa in the same week that Mr Horner was killed.

But the violent protests over Mr Horner’s assassination attracted immediate and widespread attention.

On October 6, several hundred white protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Senecal where the two suspects were appearing for a hearing. Several protesters set fire to a police van and attacked the court holding the cells, demanding that the defendants return to them.

A 51-year-old white businessman, Andre Pienaar, was later arrested and charged with attempted murder, damaging property and public violence. He was denied bail.

AfriForum, a large advocacy group for Afrikaners, descendants of white Dutch settlers and Huguenots of South Africa, has led international efforts to draw attention to their discredited claims that white farmers are being systematically forced to relinquish their land, and to be killed in large numbers.

In 2018, after Ernst Roets, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of AfriForum, appeared in a segment on Fox News in the United States hosted by Tucker Carlson, President Trump told me Twitter that he was directing his secretary of state to investigate what he called the large-scale murder of white farmers.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Roets said the government does not protect white farmers: it is very clear that it is not a priority for them to do anything, he said.

In the courtroom on Friday, the judge was surrounded by four armed police officers, government ministers occupied banks near the front, and journalists filled the room.

The country’s police minister, Bheki Cele, who had visited the city earlier in the week in a bid to escalate tensions, noted in an interview after four people three of them Black had been killed in the area since April.

One of them is this young white man, he said.

Lynsey Chutel reported from Seneca and Monica Mark from Johannesburg.

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