Journos assaulted in Senekal court chaos as farmers go on rampage

One of the farmers who attacked The Citizen's reporter and photographer, damaging their equipment and assaulting one of the women. Picture: Tracy-Lee Stark

The Citizen’s journalist and photographer unwittingly become part of the story when they are assaulted and their property damaged during violent protest in Senekal.

When situations turn volatile there’s always a decision to make as a journalist, whether to stay and cover the violence or get yourself out of harm’s way. Sometimes, however, you’re blindsided and an attack happens before you even realise the danger you are in.

This was the case on Tuesday afternoon, when a crowd of about 1,000 farmers were peacefully protesting outside the Senekal Magistrates Court against the murder of Brendin Horner. One minute it was peaceful, and the next, police, court staff, and journalists were directly in their path as they went on a rampage.

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The protest followed the murder of 22-year-old Horner last week, whose body was found in open field in Paul Roux in the Free State on Friday morning. Horner’s body was discovered hanging from a pole, with his face and head badly injured.

On the day of his death, Horner had celebrated his one-year work anniversary at the farm.

The two suspects in the murder made their first appearance in the Senekal Magistrates Court on Tuesday morning, where the case was postponed to 16 October.

The protest started off rather peacefully, but tempers were palpably high throughout the morning. It started off with more than a thousand protesters consisting of farmers, community members, bikers, and political party representatives gathering outside the court.

The protest was opened with a prayer for the farmers and followed various guest speakers from AfriForum, the Unite Against Farm Murders movement, and various political parties.

Tempers first started to flare when provincial Democratic Alliance (DA) representative Roy Jankielsohn (a farmer himself) took the mic and the angry crowd started chanting and shouting: “Does the DA recognise farm murders?”

This quickly led to the angry farmers entering the court’s premises, chanting: “We want action!”

A group of protestors moved in and around the court and tried to gain access to the holding cells where the two suspects were being held. Pieces of steel from burglar bars were ripped off and banged against a window in an attempt to get to the suspects.

The Citizen’s journalist followed the crowd and climbed on top of a wall to see what they were up to, when she was threatened to put her phone away and told to “f…k off”.

Moments later one of the farmers marched up to her, grabbed the cellphone from her front jacket pocket and snapped it in half before tossing it on the floor.

The Citizen’s photographer was also assaulted during this time, as the protesters tried to confiscate and damage her camera.

“… they requested that no photographs be taken, when I refused the request speaking English, one farmer called me a ‘liberal bitch’ and I was physically assaulted while my camera was grabbed,” photographer Tracy-Lee Stark said.

“They threatened to smash it while pushing me around, and  continuing to physically assault me. Another farmer stepped in and told them to back off. I was told to leave the area immediately with continued shouting that I should remove my liberal self and leave for my own safety.”

Shortly thereafter, a least three gunshots could be heard echoing around the area, and the team decided to leave the area as the violent protestors overturned a police vehicle before torching it.

The farmers had blocked all entrances with their tractors so no one could enter the area. They requested all women to leave the area saying: “You do not want to see what’s going to happen here today”.

A police Nyala attempted to enter the court premises, but was blocked by the angry crowd. Shortly thereafter, a second Nyala arrived and managed to enter the premises, and load the suspects. Shortly thereafter, the suspects were removed, and the crowd dispersed.

According to some protestors, there had been a report of a third suspect being apprehended for the murder.

The case was postponed to 16 October.

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