As the nation reflects on the events following the murder of a 21-year-old Free State foreman, two agricultural leaders speak candidly about lessons to be learnt from the violent protests outside the Senekal Magistrate’s Court earlier this week.
Sinesipho Tom reports that farmer Nick Serfontein, who attended the march, condemns the behaviour of some protesters, although he urges government and the police to take greater responsibility for the safety of rural communities. Serfontein previously served on pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s land reform panel. Furthermore, Duncan Masiwa reports that the secretary-general of the African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa), Nakana Masoka, described the protest as “barbaric”.
It’s a few days later. Do you have any fresh perspectives on what went wrong in Senekal?
Serfontein: Look, it wasn’t an organised march. People came from far and wide. A few WhatsApp messages were shared, and I don’t even know how many people arrived. I think, 4 000 people. Everything went peacefully until a small group of young chaps went a bit wild and became irresponsible. They went into the court room and everything erupted from there.
I don’t think the majority of people at the march agree with that and it is wrong. You can’t justify that. But what is true, is that farmers are fed-up. They are really fed-up. It is not only farm attacks, but also stock theft. Everyone suffers. In fact, stock theft affects black farmers more because they don’t have the means to protect their cattle and their stock. People are just gatvol of all the crime taking place.
Masoka: What we shouldn’t overlook is that black farmers are also unhappy with the continued murders and attacks on farmers, their workers and families. However, we cannot in anyway support the barbarism that took place outside the Senekal magistrate’s court. The turning over of state, or any other vehicles and then burning it should not be supported.
What can we learn from it as a nation?
Serfontein: Farming is difficult. You have to fight the drought. You have to fight climate change. You have to fight so many things and then you get a government that does not listen to farmers in terms of all these murders. I mean, Bheki Cele, if he wants to address farmers again, they are not going to listen to him.
This thing that happened in Senekal will be repeated – except this time the leaders have seen how things can get out of hand. They’ll obviously control their emotions. Next time it will be controlled. But farmers are fed-up. I mean, this poor young chap, Brendin Horner. He was 21-years-old and he was tortured to death. All his bones were broken. He was cremated. He was not even buried.
Masoka: There are several things that we can learn. Top on that list is that leadership is very critical. In this incident, we can see that the leaders did not play their role in keeping order and controlling the farmers.
Instead, leaders were the ones agitating for lawlessness. It is really regrettable. Leaders are supposed to cool down tempers when they see things are getting out of hand. Leaders should always think about the image that the conduct of their members are going to leave in the eyes of the community and people outside the country.
What should Free State commercial farmers learn from it?
Serfontein: What they should learn from this is to control their emotions. They should be able to control people who are going wild. You can’t justify that kind of behaviour. I think the leaders of organised agriculture will be ready next time.
Masoka: We should be seen coming together and discussing the challenges that are facing us as a sector and as government. Unfortunately, the level of trust among our farmers concerning the police are very low as well. There’s a perception that the police themselves are involved in crime perpetrated on farms. This includes the theft of livestock on farms.
What should the police learn from it?
Serfontein: You can’t generalise, but some police members are probably in cahoots with those involved with stock thefts. They are pretty useless. If you drive through the Free State you will see cameras on the road every few kilometres, but nothing is done. Now I have to spend money on cameras on the farm. It is going to cost me R400 000 because the police can’t do their job. Add generators to that because Eskom is bloody useless. Then there’s stock theft and farm murders. It’s too much, honestly.
The fact that this March didn’t happen sooner is just a miracle. It was due to happen. I’m not saying it is right, but people were eventually going to crack. The useless government, the useless police and the useless security affects black farmers more than the white farmers. They don’t have the means to protect their stock. They don’t have the means to put up cameras. I mean, I am battling now. We (the Sernick Group) have established 40 (black) farmers already that we are trying to help, and their biggest problem is stock theft. And what do the police do? Nothing. The fact that more people have not been killed because of the uselessness of government and the police is just a miracle.
What should the government learn from it?
Serfontein: I liaise with government on a regular basis. These things have been repeatedly discussed with government. This is a wake-up call.
What you’re probably going to get next is that political parties and farmers are going to shoot at each other.
They are going to kill each other, so government should do something. And what did Bheki Cele do? He said these people should be locked up because they destroyed public property. What did they do to the EFF when they destroyed Clicks? What did they do? Did they lock them up? They did not do a thing to them, so why does it apply to some people and not to others? That angers the commercial farmers even more.
This is a defining moment for agriculture in South Africa. What are the next steps, so we don’t go over to extreme violence?
Serfontein: We need a little bit of calm. People need to relax. We have to think about the dangers of what happened. I won’t say it is a defining moment, but there are a lot of other good things happening in South Africa. The same farmers that are being murdered are asking how they can help black and emerging farmers in South Africa. The government is shooting itself in the foot with their lack of responsibility.
Masoka: You see, these two suspects arrested for the murder of Horner will appear in court again. I think it is better that the provincial commissioner convenes a consultation with organised agriculture in the Free State beforehand. They need to ask themselves how they are going to use this situation to improve communication and ensure that the level of violence witnessed outside the Senekal magistrate’s court does not happen ever again. Yes, even if people are angry and frustrated, how do we ensure that we control the anger of our people and manage tense situations differently in future?