Racial tensions simmer in South Africa over alleged murder of farmer

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Emotions ran high Friday as two black suspects appeared in a South African court over the murder of a white farmer which has sparked racial tensions.

A barbed wire fence ringed the court house in the central town of Senekal and police and a water cannon were deployed as opposing groups of white farmers and black activists gathered near the site.

Crime in this sleepy area, 300 kilometres (180 miles) south of Johannesburg, is relatively rare.

But on October 2, the body of 22-year-old farm manager Brendin Horner was found. He had been strangled and tied to a fence at a farm in Paul Roux near Senekal.

A silver cross with his name engraved on it has been erected at the spot where the body was discovered.

The killing of white farmers is a highly emotive issue in South Africa. Some conservative groups say the farmers are victims of a genocide and the government is not doing enough to protect them.

“This young man is paying with his life, he is going to help us solve the (crime) problem,” Horner’s employer Gilly Scheeper, 58, said.

Scheeper has hired private investigators to run a parallel probe into the death “because police here are corrupt”.

The motive for the murder has not been established.

Half a dozen policemen guarded the court house on Friday, dressed in bulletproof jackets and armed with assault rifles.

Inside the court, the judge said only the final arguments and the verdict could be televised.

Farmers rioted, stormed the court house and torched a police van when the suspects first appeared in court last week.

One of the suspects had been arrested 16 times before the latest arrest.

The alleged instigator of last week’s court rioting, businessman Andre Pienaar, is in custody facing charges of public violence, attempted murder and incitement.

President Cyril Ramaphosa tried Monday to ease the tensions in post-apartheid South Africa.

“Killings on farms are not ethnic cleansing,” he said in a weekly newsletter. “They are not genocidal. They are acts of criminality and must be treated as such.”

South Africa, where white minority rule and apartheid only ended in 1994, has one of the world’s highest crime rates.

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