south african white farmers sentenced for murder of black teenager

March 7, 2019
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Pieter Doorewaard and Phillip Schutte are two white South African farmers who have just been sentenced to 41 years between them for the murder of Matlhomola Moshoeu, a 15-year-old boy, whom they accused of stealing sunflowers from them, reports The New York Times. The boy was killed when the two men threw him off a moving truck, resulting in him breaking his neck. Their reasoning doesn’t hold water for a light slap on the wrist, let alone full-on murder and thankfully Judge Ronald Hendricks agreed, commenting that the actions of the farmers were “disgraceful” and “appalling.”

Doorewaard was sentenced to 18 years in prison and Schutte was sentenced to 23 years, putting an end to a tragic story that erupted their small town of Coligny, sparking protests, riots and the damage of predominantly white-owned businesses. This heartless act doesn’t exist in a vacuum as the tensions in Coligny resemble a microcosm of a larger racial divide instilled by South Africa’s apartheid legacy. That legacy persists to this day in the treatment of Black South Africans in all areas of life, especially the economy. Black South Africans that live in informal settlements rely on getting work from farm owners and white South Africans that own the majority of the businesses in the area. Owing to the largely gestural transition from apartheid to democracy in 1994, Black South Africans still sit at the lower end of the economic hierarchy while white South Africans own 73% of farming land — a negligible shift from 80% of land owned by white South Africans pre-1994.

As the most unequal economy in the world, South Africa’s racial divide often falls along class lines implanted by the apartheid government. A new class of a Black upper class that has grown their own wealth through government tenders, leave a vulnerable majority of Black South Africans at the mercy of a class of white people whose apartheid-shaped attitudes towards Black lives still prospers to this day. Those same attitudes are glaringly apparent in the reasoning provided by the white farmers, who felt that the “stealing of sunflowers” was justification enough to end the life of a teenage boy. Black South Africans are tired of this continued treatment, looking to even the scale of history through economic liberation in the form of “expropriation of land without compensation,” that will seek to redistribute land back to Black South Africans after it was stolen from their ancestors at the beginning of the 20th century.

The expropriation of land movement has white landowners nervous. Naturally. White farmers, with the help of South African right-wing conservative lobby groups, have pushed the narrative of a “white genocide” that claims that white farmers are being murdered in numbers in order to delegitimize Black South African’s claim to their land. Farm murders do occur owing to the lack of security in deserted farmlands but victims are often white and Black — much like 15-year-old Matlhomola Moshoeu. South Africa’s racial wounds are deep and the longer they are kept from healing, the bigger the inequality gap grows. Victims like Moshoeu reveal a country far from the reconciliation it claimed at independence. The boy’s killers may have been brought justice but it will take decades for Black South Africans to receive theirs.