A murder case has become a proxy trigger in a clash between black and white as racial tension rises
‘These white Boers are not here because of the farm murder; they are here to use this farm murder to address the issue of the land. They think they can use this farm murder to intimidate us to stop talking about the land, to move away from demanding the land…”
These were the words uttered by EFF leader Julius Malema outside the Senekal Magistrates’ Court in the Free State, where a tense racial standoff took place this week.
“With the recent happenings in Senekal, it’s clear that, beyond issues of discipline and patriotism, the black majority might be in danger, so it’s always important to prepare yourself for the future. After all, the future remains unknown.
“So what we are saying is, while government is still thinking about it, we should start the process. It’s no secret that [white military training] has been happening in the country, but, for an unknown reason, it is a huge issue when the African youth want to do the same training, and that makes us wonder what it is that those who are doing it are planning for,” said Tshepo Mazola, an ANC Youth League (ANCYL) leader in Soweto Zone 9, who is backing an initiative by the structure to start military camps for young people.
“The community will continue to support those guys and there will be people there on Tuesday when they appear again for the bail hearing,” said local resident Thabo Molefe, who was on the streets of Senekal to show support for the two suspects – Sekwetje Isaiah Mahlamba (32) and Sekola Piet Matlaletsa (44) – who are accused of murdering 21-year-old farm manager Brendin Horner.
The standoff between white farmers and EFF supporters at the murder trial as well as the announcement by the ANCYL that it would offer its members basic military training and teach them how to handle guns have sparked fears that the Free State town will become a tinderbox.
THE PRESIDENT IS NOWHERE TO BE SEEN
Thousands of EFF members travelled to Senekal, claiming that they were there to protect the state, and had been provoked after white farmers stormed the court last week and overran police vehicles while trying to lay their hands on Horner’s alleged killers.
Reports that police turned away armed men who wanted to get into Senekal also heightened tensions.
During the bail hearing on Friday, police officers set up razor wire to block off the court and separate the farmers from the EFF during several confrontations that occurred between the hostile groups.
Those on the farmers’ side gathered with placards pronouncing that they were “gatvol” with farm killings of white people and that they would protect their land until Jesus Christ returns.
The EFF supporters were out in their numbers and many were armed with rudimentary weapons, vowing to confront the farmers and their guns.
Malema told his supporters that they should not be confused by the white farmers, who he claimed were using Horner’s murder case to intimidate others to move away from the land reform agenda, which is to expropriate land without compensation.
The trial, and the general issue of farm murders, has polarised the town and created racial hostility.
A local resident, who declined to name himself because he works for government, said he was happy to see Malema and even happier to see the show of unity among the EFF supporters who travelled from various places around the country to be in Senekal.
“We, as black people, need to stand together and this is what we saw today – if we stand together, we can be much stronger. The EFF is showing it, but [President Cyril Ramaphosa] is nowhere to be seen,” the resident said.
Some locals said crime was not only affecting the white farmers, and therefore the case should not be taken as a racial attack on farmers. “What we do not want is for white farmers to take this personally as if they are the only ones who are affected by crime,” said one resident.
The confrontation came in the wake of ANCYL members offering military training to young people, despite reservations from within the party.
A recruitment poster saying the camp would offer basic military training as well as instructions in gun handling, guerrilla tactics and political education circulated this week. Last year, an attempt by the youth league to establish this camp failed, but now members are saying information about white farmers receiving military training makes it necessary.
LOTS OF INTEREST
Although the governing party’s youth structures have for the past few years been disbanded, the Free State’s Fezile Dabi region is taking it on itself to lead the campaign.
Mazola and fellow Johannesburg greater region ANCYL leader Bheki Nkutha, who were leading the training initiative last August, said they could not go ahead because of the disapproval of the party’s leadership and issues with the training venue.
They had wanted to continue with the planning phase of the programme so that the camp could take place in April this year, but the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic delayed the process.
“I think it’s important for me to state that the current poster doing the rounds is from the ANCYL in the Fezile Dabi District in the Free State, but it’s the same programme we tried to organise as the greater Johannesburg region last year. We failed to get the venue because its owner claimed that it was no longer available,” said Nkutha.
Both Nkutha and Mazola believe that the Senekal protests, where white farmers were found to be carrying guns, were evidence that black youth needed to undergo combat training.
Both ANCYL leaders state categorically that the aim was not to encourage black young people to take up arms or intimidate other sectors of the population, but was purely for defence reasons.
Fezile Dabi camp organiser Andile Mlambo claims that the initiative has received a lot of interest from young black people and that about 200 of them have signed up with the youth league.
What we do not want is for white farmers to take this personally as if they are the only ones who are affected by crime
He said there was a misconception regarding the establishment of the camp and maintained that it was primarily to ensure that young people could protect themselves when faced with criminals and instances of violence against women and children.
According to Mlambo, the camp would also provide good introductory training for those wishing to pursue a career in the SA Police Service or the SA National Defence Force.
“This programme will not only offer basic military training, one of its other key aims is to politically educate young people and teach them necessary fundamental skills.
“We’re simply looking out for our own people in our own communities. We know that crime affects all of us. We’re not inciting war and we’re not inciting violence,” he said.
Lucky Mathonsi, an ANCYL Ekurhuleni member, said it was equally as important for women to learn to defend themselves.
“We’re not only training people to use arms, but to protect themselves against criminals. We also want to teach them first aid and we’re targeting mainly women because they’re faced with issues of genderbased violence.
“The members of the youth league agree that we need this training. I’ve personally received messages from them saying they want to undergo [training]. Our aim is simply to ensure their safety if they’re attacked,” Mathonsi said.
ANC Free State spokesperson Thabo Meeko said the youth league in the province had urged the region to abandon its training camp after concluding that the governing party’s armed struggle was something to be left in the past.
However, Mazola said he was all too familiar with leadership distancing itself from youth programmes, adding that older people in the ANC had a tendency to be “conservative”.
This, he said, was the time for older members to give young people a voice.
“It’s high time that we told them to go home and raise their grandchildren, and let us lead this organisation,” Mazola said.
BREWING RED STORM The EFF travelled to the Free State town in their numbers this week TAKING A STAND Senekal police officers erected a razor wire fence to separate the EFF and the farmers
OPEN CALL The poster that was sent out by the ANCYL in Fezile Dabi