Killing of farm workers exposes apartheid’s legacy

Johannesburg – Our farms are killing fields and sites of human rights abuses.

On April 9, Zenzele and Mgcini Coka were killed in cold blood on Pampoenkraal farm in Mkhondo, near Piet Retief in Mpumalanga. Their crime?

They were on the farm looking for a job. On Monday, Cornelius Greyling, 25, Danie Malan, 39, Othard Klingberg, 53 and Ignatius Steinberg, 31, appeared in the Piet Retief magistrate’s court on charges of murder, attempted murder, defeating the ends of justice and kidnapping.

Mpumalanga premier Refilwe Mtshweni- Tsipane expressed concern that the murder of the two brothers was not an isolated case. Greyling, Mtshweni-Tsipane said, had been involved in another incident during which another person was killed at the farm.

The Coka brothers were not the first and, at the rate things are going, the last black people to be allegedly mowed down on our farms by their white employers. Mathenene Ishamael, 55, was shot and wounded by a farmer after he was “mistaken for a monkey” in Ritavi, Limpopo, in March 2017; Stephan Hepburn, 38, shot and killed farmworker Jan Railo, 23, in February 2017, also in Limpopo, while Pieter Doorewaard and Phillip Schutte were convicted of murdering Matlhomola Moshoeu in Coligny after he was allegedly caught stealing sunflowers – just to mention a few examples.

There are many other farm workers who have been callously killed or injured on our farms since our dawn of democracy. Our farms have become the killing fields of unarmed, vulnerable black people.

They have become sites of flagrant human rights abuses, enclaves of white supremacy and brutality.

As a nation, we should hang our heads in shame for forgetting about farm workers. They continue to live in squalor and are exploited day in and day out.

They live in conditions resembling apartheid South Africa. Their rights are trampled on by their white bosses with impunity. Farms, it would seem, are insulated from democratic South Africa, where everyone is equal before the law. Drenched in blood, they are places where black lives don’t matter; concentration camps where black lives are cheap. Farm work is seasonal.

So, it makes sense why the Coka brothers were on the farm looking for work. We should be worried that Greyling, who presumably is a born-free, participated – if indeed he is found guilty – in the murder. This would mean Greyling is an embodiment of how racial hatred is being transferred from one generation to another.

We should also condemn, equally, the killing of farmers, without elevating them above their workers.

That the blood of farm workers continues to be spilled is an indictment on the government’s rural safety strategy.

It is high time that farm workers are accorded the promise of democracy, of a better life for all, and enjoy their human rights. We ought not to forget about our farm workers.

We should never forget the Coka brothers, nor should we forget the many others whose blood has been spilled on our farms.

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