Tensions in the Free State town of Senekal have run high for days, with talk of ‘civil war’ in anticipation of the court appearance of Sekwetje Mahlamba, 32, and Sekola Matlaletsa, 44, who are accused of murdering farm worker Brendin Horner.
Police manned roadblocks on both entry points into the town, with cars being searched for firearms, and used coils of barbed wire to partition the town into quarters, isolating anti-farm murder protesters; the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF); the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League; and the courthouse from one another.
Besides a few verbal altercations, and zap-signs from buses, the morning was peaceful. Outwardly, the crowd was relaxed – though when I asked a group of ambling EFF supporters how they felt, I was told to go away and ‘send an African journalist to talk to us’.
Deputy leader of the EFF Floyd Shivambu said the party’s mission was not to protest over farm murders, but rather to ‘defend state infrastructure’. Shivambu chanted ‘phanzi Ramaphosa’ [down with Ramaphosa] and ‘phanzi racism’. He went on to explain that the EFF was a ‘distinct party’ because it did not participate in the Codesa negotiations in 1990s that paved the way to South Africa’s constitutional democracy, which he characterised as ‘racist’ because ‘it left white people with the land’.
Shivambu called repeatedly for ‘discipline’, which was well observed through the morning. At 10am, Julius Malema arrived on the EFF stage to say speeches would be given later, adding: ‘Don’t play music … sing on your own. This is your town.’
The EFF crowd thinned considerably, with barely 100 members remaining to sing in the sun. The ANC Youth League crowd dissipated, too, though music blared from speakers in their quarter.
In the courtroom, the magistrate heard arguments against any live recording of Mahlamba and Metlaletsa’s bail hearing, ultimately deciding in favour of the state’s argument against exposing images of the witnesses before their cross-examination.
The major pinch-point this morning was outside Senekal’s Wimpy, three blocks from the EFF stage but adjacent the anti-farm murder protesters. TimesLive reported that ‘EFF supporters…threw rocks and empty beer bottles at bikers who attempted to pass’. At least three concrete public rubbish bins were broken, with chunks of concrete strewn on the street.
At one point, a large crowd of EFF supporters waiting for their leader blocked the street by the Wimpy, making entry and exit from Senekal impossible.
A SAPS officer, who asked not to be named, grinned, urging patience. ‘Their leader will return and they will leave this road. Everyone is still sober. This is a day to make everyone sweat but now it is just from the heat not the blood.’
Another officer added: ‘I am not saying this to be complacent, but so far so good.’