In Rural South Africa, A Murder Rekindles Racial Tensions

The killing of a white farmworker near Senekal is dividing people once again along racial lines, even if most victims of violent crime — and not just in urban areas — are black.

Supporters of South African white farmers during a protest
Christian Putsch

SENEKAL — Two weeks later, there are still traces of dried blood in the grass.

"He was a hard worker with good manners, a great guy," farmer Gilly Scheepers says, kneeling down and pointing to the spot where his employee Brendin Horner was killed — strangled and stabbed.

Many of the farmers in the area around the town of Senekal knew Horner. He was one of their own. He died at the age of 22, killed, Scheepers suspects, by cattle thieves.

Since his death, murders on South African farms have been in the news more than ever. The Minister of Police visited the area and President Cyril Ramaphosa promised help. Why only now, Scheepers wonders. After so many deaths.

The case was particularly explosive because of the reaction from local farmers. Around 90% of them are Boers — descendants of the settlers from the 18th and 19th centuries. When two suspects were arrested, some of the farmers tried to storm the cells and set a police car on fire. Scheepers says they had a lot of pent-up anger to express.

They're angry about the murder, but also about cattle thieves, who cause farmers serious losses but are protected by corrupt police. Authorities release them, again and again. One of the suspects in Horner's death had been released 16 times; the second three times.

"It's not about blacks versus whites," says Scheepers. And yet, here in South Africa, the political debate, once again, is revolving around exactly that issue.

One of the suspects in Horner's death had been released 16 times.

On Friday, thousands of activists from the opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) dressed in red and marched through the town to demonstrate during a hearing for the suspected perpetrators. Some were singing a Zulu song that is a celebrated cultural relic from the struggle for freedom: "Kill the Boers."

Police were out in force, and they managed to prevent the group from attacking a group of 200 white farmers. So far there has not been much violence, but the protests are not going away. Hundreds more gathered near the town to make their presence felt. Both sides had weapons taken away from them at police checks when entering the area.

"We are protecting government property from the whites," says EFF spokeswoman Delisile Ngwenya, although it is more often EFF activists who are seen taking part in violent protests. "The police shoot at us," she adds. "That doesn't happen to the whites."

In response to the next question, Ngwenya concedes that yes, "It's always about land."

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema — Photo: Thabo Jaiyesimi/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Of the 420 farmers around Senekal, roughly 90% are Boers. Across the whole of South Africa, just under 70% of fertile farmland is owned by whites. It's often a hard job, but the difference in income between the farmers and inhabitants of nearby villages is still huge. It's an ideal breeding ground for the country's many populists.

The Boers are the group that supported apartheid most strongly. Now, more than any other group, they see themselves as victims of the failures of the democratic South Africa.

Herkie Viljoen sits in his garden, with sheep grazing in the background. Apartheid was unjust, he says, and had to be ended. "But it's unacceptable that we should be left to fend for ourselves. That our property rights should be ignored, and that we should always be the scapegoats."

In conservative circles, there are claims of a genocide against white farmers. In response, the the German right-wing party Alternative for Germany called for the country to halt all development assistance to South Africa.

The Boers are the group that supported apartheid most strongly.

The statistics don't bear this out. In the last year, there were 73 murders on farms, a number that has been largely stable for a long time. There has, however, been a significant rise in the number of attacks and thefts in recent years, and that means increased security costs.

Before this murder, no white person had been killed in the Senekal area for nine years. The last time a farmer was murdered in the region was two years ago, and it was one of the few black landowners. A surprising number of white people in Senekal stress that even in rural areas, crime mostly affects black people.

Many "white" interest groups forget this in their righteous anger over the admittedly shockingly high murder rate on farms. In South Africa, where the vast majority of murder victims are black, ignoring this fact verges on an affront.

Viljoen says that he sees himself first and foremost as a South African, then as a Boer. "My ancestors made mistakes, but do we have to repeat the same mistakes?" He says some people "haven't moved on in their thinking" and still look back to the past in anger. "But a Boer is not automatically a racist."

Would he ever leave South Africa? Viljoen struggles for words. "They'd have to kill me first." He pauses again, then his eyes begin to water. "We love this country," he says. "We can't let it go up in flames."

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Merkel's Legacy: The Rise And Stall Of The German Economy

How have 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel changed Germany? The Chancellor accompanied the country's rise to near economic superpower status — and then progress stalled. On technology and beyond, Germany needs real reforms under Merkel's successor.

Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the presentation of the current 2 Euro commemorative coin ''Brandenburg''

Daniel Eckert

BERLIN — Germans are doing better than ever. By many standards, the economy broke records during the reign of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel: private households' financial assets have climbed to a peak; the number of jobs recorded a historic high before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020; the GDP — the sum of all goods and services produced in a period — also reached an all-time high.

And still, while the economic balance sheet of Merkel's 16 years is outstanding if taken at face value, on closer inspection one thing catches the eye: against the backdrop of globalization, Europe's largest economy no longer has the clout it had at the beginning of the century. Germany has fallen behind in key sectors that will shape the future of the world, and even the competitiveness of its manufacturing industries shows unmistakable signs of fatigue.

In 2004, a year before Merkel was first elected Chancellor, the British magazine The Economist branded Germany the "sick man of Europe." Ironically, the previous government, a coalition of center-left and green parties, had already laid the foundations for recovery with some reforms. Facing the threat of high unemployment, unions had held back on wage demands.

"Up until the Covid-19 crisis, Germany had achieved strong economic growth with both high and low unemployment," says Michael Holstein, chief economist at DZ Bank. However, it never made important decisions for its future.

Another economist, Jens Südekum of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, offers a different perspective: "Angela Merkel profited greatly from the preparatory work of her predecessor. This is particularly true regarding the extreme wage restraint practiced in Germany in the early 2000s."

Above all, Germany was helped in the first half of the Merkel era by global economic upheaval. Between the turn of the millennium and the 2011-2012 debt crisis, emerging countries, led by China, experienced unprecedented growth. With many German companies specializing in manufacturing industrial machines and systems, the rise of rapidly industrializing countries was a boon for the country's economy.

Germany dismissed Google as an over-hyped tech company.

Digital competitiveness, on the other hand, was not a big problem in 2005 when Merkel became chancellor. Google went public the year before, but was dismissed as an over-hyped tech company in Germany. Apple's iPhone was not due to hit the market until 2007, then quickly achieved cult status and ushered in a new phase of the global economy.

Germany struggled with the digital economy, partly because of the slow expansion of internet infrastructure in the country. Regulation, lengthy start-up processes and in some cases high taxation contributed to how the former economic wonderland became marginalized in some of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.

Volkswagen's press plant in Zwickau, Germany — Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa/ZUMA

"When it comes to digitization today, Germany has a lot of catching up to do with the relevant infrastructure, such as the expansion of fiber optics, but also with digital administration," says Stefan Kooths, Director of the Economic and Growth Research Center at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel).

For a long time now, the country has made no adjustments to its pension system to ward off the imminent demographic problems caused by an increasingly aging population. "The social security system is not future-proof," says Kooths. The most recent changes have come at the expense of future generations and taxpayers, the economist says.

Low euro exchange rates favored German exports

Nevertheless, things seemed to go well for the German economy at the start of the Merkel era. In part, this can be explained by the economic downturn caused by the euro debt crisis of 2011-2012. Unlike in the previous decade, the low euro exchange rate favored German exports and made money flow into German coffers. And since then-European Central Bank president Mario Draghi's decision to save the euro "whatever it takes" in 2012, this money has become cheaper and cheaper.

In the long run, these factors inflated the prices of real estate and other sectors but failed to contribute to the future viability of the country. "With the financial crisis and the national debt crisis that followed, economic policy got into crisis mode, and it never emerged from it again," says DZ chief economist Holstein. Policy, he explains, was geared towards countering crises and maintaining the status quo. "The goal of remaining competitive fell to the background, as did issues concerning the future."

In the traditional field of manufacturing, the situation deteriorated significantly. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), which regularly measures and compares the competitiveness of industries in different countries, recently concluded that German companies have lost many of the advantages they had gained. The high level of productivity, which used to be one of the country's strengths, faltered in the years before the pandemic.

Kooths, of IfW Kiel, points out that private investment in the German economy has declined in recent years, while the "government quota" in the economy, which describes the amount of government expenditure against the GDP, grew significantly during Merkel's tenure, from 43.5% in 2005 to 46.5% in 2019. Kooths concludes that: "Overall, the state's influence on economic activity has increased significantly."

Another very crucial aspect of competitiveness, at least from the point of view of skilled workers and companies, has been neglected by German politics for years: taxes and social contributions. The country has among the highest taxes on income in Europe, and corporate taxes are also hardly as high as in Germany anywhere in the industrialized world. "In the long run, high tax rates always come at the expense of economic dynamism and can even prevent new companies from being set up," warns Kooths.

Startups can renew an economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity. Between the year 2000 and the Covid-19 crisis, fewer and fewer new companies were created every year. Economists from left to right are unanimous: Angela Merkel is leaving behind a country with considerable need for reform.

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