Thousands of farmers and supporters of their cause joined mass rolling convoys around the country as part of #BlackMonda. One of the protests took place at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria. Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/ANA
Thousands of farmers and supporters of their cause joined mass rolling convoys around the country as part of #BlackMonda. One of the protests took place at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria. Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/ANA
Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/ANA
Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/ANA
Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/ANA
Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/ANA
Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/ANA
Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/ANA

Cape Town - What started out as a plea from a close friend of a farmer recently killed in Klapmuts, outside Cape Town, for South Africans to wear black on Monday, to show they have had enough of the scourge of farm murders turned into a racially charged debate which played itself out on social media and other platforms.

Chris Loubser's video that went viral depicted his heartbreak after Joubert Conradie, a 47-year-old wine farmer, was killed by armed robbers just hours before South Africa's annual crime statistics were released.

Dubbed #BlackMonday, the protest gained support from AfriForum, a civil rights group, agricultural unions, and the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and political parties, among others.

Highways were blocked off across the country as farmers used their lorries, trucks and tractors to force a go-slow for motorists in a bid to have their pleas heard.

Read: #BlackMonday: PE farmers say they want equal treatment

#BlackMonday: 'We are standing for the normal person'

Placards reading - "Stop Farm Murders", "Staan op teen plaasmoorde" (stand up against farm murders, and even crosses bearing the words 'Rest in Peace' were carried as thousands raised  their alarm.

While the protests were happening, live tweets from people of different races and political backgrounds signalled just how divisive the issue of land, agriculture and crime is in post-Apartheid South Africa.

The presence of the old South African flag, a symbol of apartheid and the violence inflicted on the black majority, inflamed anti-#BlackMonday sentiment among both white and black South Africans.

"Using the apartheid flag to protest murder is beyond ironic," tweeted Mike da Silva.

Another video posted on Facebook showed a white woman saying she felt more protected under the old flag than the new. 

Even Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa was forced to respond.

"We strongly condemn the racism on display at the #BlackMonday protest with the brandishing of the apartheid flag. This is unacceptable," Mthethwa tweeted.

Also read: #BlackMonday protesters in Pretoria say farmers not safe in SA

#FarmMurders: Mbalula part of the problem, says AfriForum

The issue of land, a political hot potato, also took centre stage given that much of the country's arable land remains in the hands of the white minority, with many blacks despairing of their lives in dense townships.

"How can 1 man own 1000 hectares of land whereas 18 people in townships share 80 hectares of land??" tweeted a user with the twitter handle, @entle_thope 

Others felt that highlighting farm murders, was counterproductive. 

"South Africa has about 19 000 murders a year. This year 71 farmers have been murdered. Why not simply march against all murders," tweeted Keith Adam Mahommed.

The recently released crime stats show 19 016 murders were reported in South Africa during the 2016/17 financial year. Of this figure, 74 people were killed on farms -with some describing this as a drop in the bucket, while farmers' rights groups interpreted the data as indicating as many as 156 farmers murdered per 100 000 people compared to the 34 per 100 000 overall.

Criminologists however say there is no accurate data on exactly how many people live and work on farms, making it difficult to correctly analyse stats.

Leader of the Freedom Front Plus, MP Pieter Groenewald, one of the biggest critics of government's rural safety strategy, said the perception created was that just white farmers were victims of farm attacks.

"The minister [Police Minister Fikile Mbalula] himself, he's accusing me of making it political. He is making politics about it. When there's a problem, they immediately think its only about whites. What about the black farmers that are being murdered?"

Groenewald believes farm attacks was one of the biggest risks to South Africa's food security.

"The reason why we are saying farm murders is so important is you must ask yourself what you had for breakfast this morning. If there's not farmers, the nation is going to starve."

Groenewald believes that were farmers not to take extraordinary measures to protect themselves, many of the 638 attacks on farms in the last financial year could have ended up in murders too. 

Former African Farmers' Association of South Africa secretary general Aggrey Mahanjana said while farm murders were worrying, it did not affect black farmers as badly because of the skewed pattern of land ownership in the country.

"Out of every 100 farmers who have private farms, there will be two black people," said Mahanjana. 

"You must understand, we are a drop in the ocean. Very few black people are farming in isolated farms. We are doing the communal farming."

Mahanjana believes the killing of white farmers is due to owners not knowing the people who work for them. 

"Our workers are our neighbours, are our family people. They won't come and kill you," he told African News Agency (ANA).

Read more: #BlackMonday: 'Producing food has become a life and death business'

#BlackMonday: 'Farmers have 4.5 times more chance of being murdered'

"Many of the white farmers, they employ foreign people from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and so on. When these workers are angry and that you don't pay them, they come and hit you hard."

Whatever the reasons for the farm attacks or how serious different South African view the issue, it appears to have triggered some candid debate among the citizenry - both rural and urban.

Farmers believe those carrying the old Apartheid flags, signifying a time when whites were better protected than blacks, are but a few and that if farm attacks are not addressed, the country faces the very real prospect of losing a productive and vital cog in the economy.

On the other hand, unless the unfair land ownership patterns and economic exclusion are addressed, many South Africans simply do not share the "pain" of farmers, viewing them largely as a privileged white relic from the apartheid era. 

What hasn't helped the farmers' cause has been the recent spate of racist and dehumanising incidents where poor black farm workers have been attacked, assaulted and even killed.

Just this past Friday, two white farmers were sentenced to 11 and 14 years imprisonment, for assaulting a black man, shoving him into a coffin, and threatening to set him alight in a case which made international headlines.