SOUTH AFRICA

South African political parties quick to capitalise on racist attack

A white South African farmer forced a black man to get into a coffin. Screen grab of video, below.
A white South African farmer forced a black man to get into a coffin. Screen grab of video, below.

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A horrifying, 20-second video showing a white South African farmer forcing a black man into a coffin has provoked outrage over the past few days in South Africa. It is a searing reminder of the brutal racial tensions still present in the country, especially in rural areas among farmers. South African political parties have been quick to rush to the side of the victim… but one journalist asks if they are really putting his needs first.

According to the South African media, the video was filmed by another white farmer who was also participating in the torture, which took place on August 17 near the town of Middelburg, in the Eastern Cape. However, the footage only recently surfaced.

The video shows a white man forcing a young black man, Victor, into a coffin and trying to shut the lid on him. The man who is filming shouts threats at the victim, as well. Victor moans in pure terror as the two attackers tell him to cooperate or they will put a snake inside the coffin with him or pour petrol on the coffin and set it alight.

Little has been said about what happened after this scene, but Victor was eventually released. He bravely filed a complaint against his attackers, Theo Martins Jackson and Willem Oosthuizen. According to the South African media, Jackson and Oosthuizen said that they went after Victor because he had trespassed on their farm. The young man said he was just using a popular pathway that cuts through the farm to return home to the township where he lives.

Political parties are quick to use the incident for their own gain

The incident has quickly become political. The radical left-wing party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led a rally outside of the courthouse where the two farmers appeared before a magistrate on Wednesday.  The EFF has spoken out for the victim.

"This humiliation can be based on nothing else but his blackness, which means it is in actual fact a humiliation of black people as a whole," the EFF said in a statement.

However, the African National Congress (ANC), which is the ruling party, has also been trying to use this incident to its advantage: the party recently posted photos of its leaders posing with the victim. Gaopalelwe Olivia Phalaetsile, a journalist with Radio Jacaranda News, was reporting outside the Middelburg court house.

I was really surprised to see that there was both an EFF stand and an ANC stand set up in the street next to the magistrate’s court. The victim was asked to give a speech at each stand. When he was with the people from the ANC, they had him put on a traditional South African outfit in ANC colors to clearly show that he was a party member [Editor’s note: Victor is an ANC activist].

Gaopalelwe Olivia Phalaetsile, Jacaranda News
This photo shows the young victim, who has his hands over his mouth, wearing a traditional ANC outfit. Photo from Jacaranda News

This political exploitation is really upsetting because we aren’t focusing on what really matters: what the young man went through.

Ultimately, the trial was adjourned until January 25. The two aggressors will remain in prison until that date. They appeared briefly before the magistrate and said they had decided to forefeit the possibility of bail because they feared for their lives, according to a journalist who attended the hearing. The two men have been charged with kidnapping and assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

Racism and violence continue in rural South Africa

A lot of racial tension remains in rural, agricultural parts of South Africa. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, sucessive governments have attempted to redistribute commercial farm land, which has traditionally been owned by white farmers. However, huge disparities remain and land ownership continues to be heavily skewed across racial lines.

Moreover, violent attacks against farms have also been increasing in the past few years. Law enforcement maintains that farms are frequently targeted because of their remote locations, as well as the perception that they might have valuables on site. However, most white commercial farmers see this violence as racially motivated.