While ministers were defusing tensions in the town of Senekal, Free State Agriculture (FSA) delivered a memorandum of demands challenging government to take decisive action against corrupt officials implicit in farm attacks and crimes.
Police minister Bheki Cele and state security minister Ayanda Dlodlo engaged with FSA and the family of the slain Brendin Horner in a bid to quelle mounting racial tensions in the eastern Free State.
While addressing farmers in Bethlehem, Cele said it was unacceptable of police in the area to have allowed a suspect who was implicit in 16 farm crimes to kill Horner, a 21-year-old farm manager.
Cele and Dlodlo also visited the Horner family in Paul Roux when he revealed that suspects Sekwetje Isaiah Mahlamba (32) and Sekola Piet Matlaletse (44) had several run-ins with the law.
“Of the 16 times (one of the suspects has) been arrested, he was found guilty four times and nine of those would have been for involvement with stock theft. Others would be robbery and other minor things.”
Despite government’s attempts the situation remains tense. “You don’t trust the police… so we will work on it,” Cele said in his response to several complaints made by farmers in the Mitz Agricultural Union Hall. “There are allegations that our own police are involved in criminal activities here… Farmers have said of the 10 police present, two were bad police…”
Cele vowed to return in three weeks with a way forward to address the safety concerns of farmers in the towns of Bethlehem, Senekal, and Paul Roux. The suspects in the Horner murder case remain in custody and are set to appear in court again on Friday, 16 October 2020.
Senekal remains on knife’s edge
Meanwhile, government has appealed to frustrated members of the farming community to remain calm and to avoid breaking the law or taking the law into their own hands. This after the brutal death of Horner sparked upheaval in the town.
Tension came to blows last week outside the Senekal Magistrate’s Court following a brief appearance by the accused. Today, farmer and businessman André Pienaar was in the dock over inciting unrest. He was denied bail and remanded in custody facing charges of attempted murder, malicious damage to property and public violence.
Magistrate Buti Mlangeni said gunshots were fired in the court room and personnel, mostly women, had to be evacuated. Mlangeni believes this was a clear indication that Pienaar, the owner of a construction company, would stop at nothing to use force against anyone who comes in his way.
FSA president Francois Wilken has echoed the sentiments of Cele and Dlodlo, urging protestors to behave responsibly.
“There is concern from the community of Senekal that irresponsible action by external parties that have sought to exploit the situation for ideological and political gain can cause irreparable damage.”
The safety and wellbeing of the Senekal community needs to be prioritised, Wilken added. “Members of the public together with FSA members considering attending (future protests) need to take into account the impact that the possible negative consequences of their intended actions may have on farming and wider community of Senekal.”
The FSA confirmed its commitment to stability and peaceful coexistence between all communities, both black and white, said Wilken. “The agricultural community is committed to work with the authorities, but will continue on our own where we have to.”
Furthermore, TLU SA called on all South Africans to not be swept up by hidden efforts to create polarisation. “The events at Senekal confirmed that communities in South African reached their breaking point in terms of unacceptable crime and corruption,” said Henry Geldenhuys, the president of TLU SA. “The double standards, when it comes to the handling of crime, creates polarisation in communities and with the SAPS.”