Senekal was once again the scene of tense protests on Friday as the EFF and groups of farmers gathered for the bail hearing of Sekwetje Mahlamba, 32, and Sekola Matlaletsa, 44, who have been charged with the murder of 21-year-old Brendin Horner on 1 October in Paul Roux, Free State.
A group of about 200 farmers met on the lawn of the Padstal Restaurant on the edge of Senekal on Friday morning and kneeled to pray for an end to violence on farms. The group, a few of whom had firearms on their hips, then rose and sang Die Stem.
EFF supporters started gathering early in the morning outside the Senekal Magistrates’ Court and party marshals lined the side streets on Van Riebeeck Street to act as a barricade between a group of farmers two blocks away. Then a group EFF supporters rounded the block to confront the farmers, singing “Kill the Boer” and yelling insults.
Debbie Els from a group called Stop Farm Murders addressed the group of farmers from a bakkie.
“We will not be intimidated by a thuggish political party, the EFF. We are saying to them, bring it on. What happens, happens. We know what was said by Malema, the violence instigator-in-chief. We will not be fear-mongered,” said Els, who travelled from Cape Town for the event.
Petrus Sitho, from East London, had chained his hands and feet.
“We are gathered here with one purpose, to try to put an end to farm murders and save our economy,” said Sitho.
“All farmers and farm workers who are killed by this corrupt government, may they so rest in peace.”
There was a significant police presence in town, with nyalas and a water cannon on standby, but they maintained a low profile as barricades of razor wire separated the small group of farmers and about 2,000 people who had gathered to support the EFF.
A group of former commandos, who used to be employed to help work with police in rural areas before they were disbanded in the early 2000s and who were wearing their uniforms, formed a line next to the razor wire as EFF leaders addressed the party on a truck 100m away.
EFF members started moving towards the farmers, singing in isiZulu for the “gates to open”. The farmers moved towards the barricade but the EFF supporters maintained their distance. Then the farmers turned from the crowd and rushed around the street.
An EFF group had rounded the block to face off with the farmers. Marshals fought to hold back party members who were face to face with a number of farmers while others chanted “shoot, shoot, shoot” and sang “dubula” and “Kill the Boer”.
The SAPS intervened to quell the situation, but nearby, the group of farmers who had been on the edge of town had been stopped by the police as they tried to make their way through the town’s centre. EFF supporters gathered to confront them, but former party spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi stepped in to calm the crowd.
“We’re here to take the land,” said an EFF supporter, who then threw a rock towards the group of farmers.
While the protests continued at the time of writing, the situation was tense, with a few rocks thrown and garbage bins overturned, but leaders of both the farming groups and the EFF were trying to maintain order.
Before the court hearing, EFF leader Julius Malema told supporters they should march before he returned.
“This is your town. March all over,” he said.
“Since the government of Cyril Ramaphosa is scared to act decisively, we are on our own. Next appearance, all ground forces and peace-loving South Africans will be in attendance in defence of our democracy and property,” said Malema in an interview with Newzroom Afrika on Thursday.
He said the police had treated the farmers who protested the previous week with kid gloves.
“We are not going to fight anyone. We are going there peacefully, but you push, we push. We will not shoot anyone, we will not provoke anyone.”
News24 reported that inside court, where attendance was limited due to Covid-19 restrictions, both murder suspects had applied for bail. According to the state, police recovered bloody trousers in Mahlamba’s deep freezer, which he denied. Police arrested Mahlamba and Matlaletsa after they allegedly boasted of attacking a white man while they were drinking in a tavern.
Mahlamba has claimed that he was with his girlfriend on the evening of Horner’s murder, but the state said it had a statement from her saying they were not together the whole evening, reported News24. Mahlamba and Matlaletsa intend on pleading not guilty.
EFF leader Malema was in court on Friday. Police Minister Bheki Cele and State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo also attended.
Mahlamba and Matlaletsa appeared briefly in the Senekal Magistrates’ Court a week earlier. A reported 1,000 farmers gathered at the court, demanding police act on farm attacks. A smaller group stormed the courthouse and a police vehicle was turned over and another set on fire.
Ahead of Friday’s court appearance, police set up roadblocks at the entrances to Senekal and searched vehicles for firearms.
On Thursday evening, as police locked down the area, Senekal resident Maria Jonker, who lives near the courthouse, complained of the coming commotion.
“They don’t care about how we feel about all this. What is going to happen after everyone is gone? This is unnecessary. We are a small, peaceful town and don’t need all this,” she said.
“This is terrible. Now, tomorrow I have to close my store and that’s not fair. I’m a single mother with three children to feed. How am I supposed to feed my children when my store is closed?”
The bail hearing continues. DM