The Senekal moment is a monument to the failure of our 26-year-old democracy

Police officials stand between a group of farmers and members of the EFF during the court appearace of the two accused in the murder of Brendin Horner.

Police officials stand between a group of farmers and members of the EFF during the court appearace of the two accused in the murder of Brendin Horner. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Oct 18, 2020


Tinyiko Maluleke

“Just over a week ago, Brendin Horner, a young farm manager in the Free State, was murdered in an appalling act of cruelty. No matter who we are, no matter what community we live in, no matter our race, creed or language, we should be as deeply affected by the death of Brendin Horner ”, so started a recent letter of the president to his fellow South Africans.

While the matter is still being prosecuted in court, the gory details so far heard of the manner in which Horner was slain, will send a chill down the spine of any normal human being. No human being deserves to die like that.

The question which the president has not probed enough in his letter is how we as a country and as a people, have come to the moment of Senekal. As the president’s letter sinks deeper and deeper into the lament about the gruesome death of Horner - understandably - he suddenly awakens as if from a nightmare, to the reality of “the many South Africans who die violent deaths each year”.

Therein lies part of the meaning of Senekal. It is sad that our country may have come to accept endemic violence as inevitable and perhaps even tolerable, so that it takes such horrific death as that of Horner to cause the president to react as passionately as he did. When a country is accustomed and acculturated to the needless and wanton deaths of its citizens, it begins, unconsciously, to rank the deaths and the killings. The ranking of deaths and killings, like the ranking of human lives, is often done in terms of race, class and gender.

This is how we have come to the moment of Senekal.

It encompasses the horrific killing of Horner on October 1, the provocative display of white supremacy and public violence by farmers from Senekal and surrounding towns on October 6, as well as the EFF march on Senekal on Friday.

Senekal has been long coming. It is not the fault of Senekal that we did not notice it all along. Senekal has been here all along, hiding in plain sight.

If you wish to learn about Senekal, do not bother going to the made-for-tourists website of the Setsoto Municipality. On the glossy website, it is said that Senekal was innocently “founded” on June 7, 1877, and benevolently “named” after the Commandant General Frederick Senekal. Today, Senekal nestles “in the heart of a flourishing and progressive agricultural district”, continues the Setsoto website page, hyperbolically.

There is, however, an alternative set of truths - truths left unsaid by the people who won the big fat tender to write up the slick but rather hollow website. Both the “founding” and the “naming” of Senekal were only possible after a bitter war of resistance which lasted for five years (1854-1858). Under the direction of King Moshoeshoe and his lieutenants Posholi, Letele, Lebenya and Oetsi, the Basotho fought fiercely against the forces of Josias Philip Hoffman, founder of the republic of Orange Free State.

A century and half later, it seems the wounds of animosity between the boers and the locals still fester. It seems that the bitterness has been passed orally from one generation to the next.

While Senekal may form part of a “flourishing” agricultural district as per the website, it is a tad too rich to describe as “progressive”. It seems the residents of the townships of Matwabeng and Tambo Section are not the beneficiaries of the so-called “flourishing and progressive district”.

So, there are several Senekals. There is the imagined Senekal of the ruling elite who design glossy and misleading websites about the town. There is the Senekal of the land and farm owners, the Senekal of the Andre Pienaars of this world - the “flourishing and progressive” Senekal, where the old South African flag flies high and the apartheid-era national anthem is sung with glee and glitz.

There is the Senekal of former SADF Civil Force Colonel Franz Jooste who protested in support of the slain farm manager, proudly donning his apartheid-era kommandokorps uniform, his medals glistering in the morning sun.

There is the Senekal of the landless, the farmworkers and peripatetic squatter who came from nowhere and is going nowhere.

The Senekal moment is a time to recognise the multiplicity of Senekals in our country. Above all, the Senekal moment is a monument to our failure as a 26-year-old democracy.

How come this country has not been able to save someone who was not even born when we voted in 1994 - namely Horner? In more than one way, we have failed to save the life of a young South African.

We literally failed to save his life but we also probably failed to school him into a compelling vision of the new South Africa that Nelson Mandela was trying to build. After all, Horner was a so-called “born free”.

When democratic South Africa was born in 1994, the murder-accused, Sekola Matlaletsa, 44, and Sekwetje Mhlamba, 32, were 18 and 6 years old, respectively. They are of course innocent till proven guilty but we may pause to ask ourselves a few questions. Where did we lose these two, one of whom was a teenager and the other a toddler when we set off on the democratic journey as a country?

It seems to me these two are among millions of black South Africans who have fallen through the cracks of our education system and our highfalutin affirmative action and BEE policies.

If they hadn’t, Mhlamba should be an engineer and Matlaletsa should be a computer boffin. Instead, if the charges being preferred against them are anything to go by, the most prominent skills they have acquired over the past 26 years, are those of stealing stock and killing.

Each in his own unique way, Horner, Mhlamba, Matlaletsa and the 51-year-old Pienaar are a reflection of our collective failure not only to fulfil the promises of our democratic dispensation, but also to eliminate the many Senekals inside and outside us.

* Maluleke is a senior research fellow, University of Pretoria Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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