Following the protest by farmers on Tuesday, government and police spokespeople have been receiving threats, insults and a barrage of messages and phone calls since the release of statements in which Police Minister Bheki Cele and Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola condemned violent protest action outside Senekal Magistrates Court in Free State.
In his statement, Cele labelled the actions of protesters outside the Senekal Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday as “lawlessness”, and called for the perpetrators to be arrested.
Cele said “There is no logic when these protesters burn a police van, which is the same resource that is meant to assist them. It is also baffling why the anger of this community is being directed toward the police, when arrests have been made by the police and the suspects are before the courts”.
Demonstrators allegedly torched a police vehicle and stormed the court’s holding cells, where two men accused of murdering 21-year-old farm manager Brendin Horner were held.
Horner’s body was found in an open field near the town of Paul Roux in the Free State early on Friday morning. A rope around his neck had been tied to a pole.
Sekwetje Isaiah Mahlamba, 32, and Sekola Piet Matlaletsa, 44, were arrested in connection with the murder and appeared in the Senekal Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday, when their case was postponed to 16 October for a bail hearing.
On the day of their court appearance, an estimated 100 protesters – part of a larger group of an estimated 1 500 to 2 000 people – clashed with police outside the court.
They seemingly wanted access to the accused following a rousing speech by André Pienaar, a Marquard farmer, in which he allegedly incited a mob of supporters to storm the court.
Meanwhile. fifty-two-year-old Pienaar has since been arrested.
Lirandzu Themba, spokesperson for Cele, tweeted that she had received threatening phone calls and messages since Wednesday.
She tweeted – “It is worrying that I continue to receive abusive and insulting and racist phone calls from [anonymous] people and some identify themselves as farmers from Senekal.
“These calls are being taken seriously and are being looked into by @SAPoliceService authorities for further handling”.
Some Twitter users heckled Themba on Twitter after the tweet was posted.
“Thank you for playing. You have successfully cause (sic) the death of another farmer. You can collect your prize at the gates off (sic) hell. Keep playing for more prizes,” an Anna Vogel wrote.
Someone called Vlad Teslaqovsky, wrote: “You are upset re these calls…but you arent (sic) upset about the farm murders…or any other murders for that matter. See a problem here?”
Justice and Correctional Services spokesperson Chrispin Phiri said he has also been receiving threats from people who identify themselves as “Senekal farmers”, following a statement by Lamola, who also condemned the violence.
Phiri wrote on Twitter: “I am simply stunned by the number of people who happen to farmers, who have called me throughout the day. Either demanding that we explain the condemnation of the violence we saw in Senekal [on Tuesday] or demanding to explain all manner of versions to me. Violence is violence!”
Phiri told the media that he was preparing for “another long day”. He said he and Themba were mostly accused of “double standards” because alleged violence by EFF supporters at Clicks stores in September was “not condemned” by Cele.
This, however, is not true. At the time, Cele said while he supported the right to protest, police could not allow damage to property,
“Police should ensure that the rule of law is maintained. They must deal decisively with those who choose to break the law.
“I’m encouraged that officers are making arrests and urge them to continue to ensure the protection and safety of customers, staff members in the affected areas”.
Following the violent protest in Senekal, Cele equally said while the right to peaceful protest was part of any democratic society and enshrined in the country’s Constitution, it came with responsibilities.
Phiri said while he managed to have sensible conversations with some callers, most just spewed vitriol and insults, as well as racist remarks, such as calling Cele a “monkey”.
Phiri said “We must always condemn violence, whether it is committed by a white person or a black person. If someone has evidence of a crime they must report it and we must trust the criminal justice system to deal with it.
“The system has its difficulties and isn’t perfect, but it has to be respected so that it can restore civility and the rule of law in society. That is very important in our country – equality before the law.”
Dr Pieter Groenewald, leader of the Freedom Front (FF) Plus, which was represented at the gathering on Tuesday, told News24 he did not believe the threats were from Senekal farmers.
Groenewald said “These could be other insurgents who want to abuse this situation. I repeat what I have said before: violence is not the solution here. We can’t solve problems through violence. But, at the same time, we have to be cognisant of the emotions these farmers are experiencing,”
Jess de Klerk, from the local agriculture association, told the media is was highly unlikely that local farmers were harassing the spokespeople.“I find it very sad that words such as ‘monkey’ are being used. Such comments are never constructive.”
De Klerk and Groenewald said they believed there were double standards when it came to how politicians reacted to acts of violence. “We don’t condone the violence at all,” De Klerk said. “The police should be left to do their jobs, by the farmers as well as [Cele]. He should be consistent when he condemns violence and demands arrests.”
He added that the police ministry should be able to trace the people who made the offensive calls.