Two black men are beaten to death in the middle of a cattle pasture in South Africa after white farmers hunt them down to avenge an attack on an elderly landowner.
A month later, four of the farmers stand squeezed in the dock of Parys town magistrates court, charged with the double murder.
Outside the court, about 200 black protesters chant “Kill the farmers” at khaki-clad white protesters who vow to defend themselves against what they say is a “genocide” of their people.
The killing last month of Seun Tangasha, 29, and Samuel Tjexa, 35, has lit a tinderbox of anger over racism, crime, poverty and land ownership issues that afflict modern South Africa.
For many blacks, the court case has highlighted the alleged mistreatment of workers by white farmers, who stand accused of forming vigilante groups to carry out extrajudicial murders.
For many whites, it is about how farmers are forced to fight back against a deadly crime wave of ‘farm attacks’ that left many landowners in fear of their lives.
Anna Jubeba, Tangasha’s aunt, told AFP that his “family are very angry and very sad” over his killing.
“These farmers must go to jail for life,” she said, speaking in their sparsely-furnished house in an impoverished township on the outskirts of Parys.
“The courts see these guys killing black people, but they are let out on bail because they are white. No one has come to help us. The police haven’t even come to our house.”
The upcoming murder trial will rest on the events of January 6, when Tangasha and Tjexa arrived at an isolated farm where they worked as casual labourers for Lodewikus van der Westhuizen, 73.
– ‘Left for dead’ –
According to the police, the two men demanded that van der Westhuizen hand over 20,000 rand ($1,250) in what may have been a long-running dispute over unpaid wages.
When he refused, Tangasha and Tjexa allegedly hit him over the head with a gun before he pressed a panic button that alerted neighbouring landowners who rushed to his aid.
The two men then fled on foot as between 40 and 60 farm vehicles joined a high-speed hunt to catch them across the huge fields and straight dirt roads of Free State province.
“The farmers found Tjexa and Tangasha eight kilometres (five miles) away from van der Westhuizen’s farm,” police said in a statement.
“The two were subsequently beaten up and left for dead.”
Tangasha — also known as Simon Jubeba — was declared dead on arrival at hospital, while Tjexa died soon after.
Accused of their murder are van der Westhuizen’s son Boeta, his cousin Anton Loggerberg, and their neighbours Stephanus and Johannes Cilliers.
Outside the court hearing, police erected barbed wire fences to separate a handful of white protesters and two rival black protests by the ruling ANC party and the opposition EFF party.
“We have to show that we support the accused men because of all the farm attacks. Farmers are killed constantly,” said Andre Pienaar, 55, who goaded black protesters as they abused him across the wire barricade.
“There is a genocide going on to wipe out our farmers. We are demonstrating that we are not scared,” added Pienaar, a farm security consultant dressed in para-military fatigues.
Some white protesters waved flags of the old Boer Republic from more than 100 years ago — symbols of their contempt for the new post-apartheid South Africa.
Adding further fuel to the explosive case, Hendrick Prinsloo, a white policeman, was recently added to the list of accused murderers.
Police investigators allege that Prinsloo “joined in the feast” of beating Tangasha and Tjexa, instead of rescuing them.
– ‘Truth must come out’ –
Kobus Dannhauser, a neighbouring farmer and chairman of Parys Agricultural Union, told AFP he was appalled at both the display of old Boer flags and the “Kill the farmers” chants.
“The law must be allowed to go its way and the truth must come out. A life is a life,” he said at the large farmhouse on his 10,000-hectare (25,000-acre) property.
“This is not about racism. This was either a wage dispute or a farm attack.
“Last year South Africa had the most farm attacks ever, but that doesn’t excuse that these guys lost their lives. We totally condemn it.
“The first farmers who caught (Tangasha and Tejexa) tied them up. I think emotions were high, and they did it roughly. Then what happened? That is what I want to hear from the court.”
“Politicians are trying to exploit the case by having these rallies outside court,” he added.
Afriforum, an Afrikaner lobby group, says a record 64 farmers and farm workers — both black and white — were murdered last year in 318 attacks, though the police decline to confirm their figures.
The court hearing extended the suspects’ bail for further police investigations, and the case was adjourned until April 15.
Protesters from all sides vowed to attend every day of the murder trial.
“This is about entrenched racism in the farming community and ill-treatment of our farm workers,” regional ANC secretary Moshe Tladi said as the crowds dispersed.
“The big farmers are all white. Reform is needed.”