Not many people had heard of Coligny until 2017, when the murder of 16-year-old Matlhomola Moshoeu by two farmers revived the demons of racism and inequality.
The killing highlighted that a quarter century after the demise of apartheid, the social fabric of the “Rainbow Nation” is still run by race and relations are often marred by suspicion and hostility.
Coligny made international headlines when 16-year-old Moshoeu was accused of stealing sunflowers from a local farm, put into a van and driven to a police station by two farmers Pieter Doorewaard, 26, and Phillip Schutte, 34.
Mosweu allegedly jumped out of the van and suffered neck injuries, dying a short while later. Others say he was thrown out.
A high court judge later found the two guilty of murder, kidnapping and intimidation, calling their actions “disgraceful”.
His death has sparked mass protests, leaving a trail of destruction with houses and trucks torched and shops looted and damaged.
Calm has since returned but the atmosphere in the town remains fragile.
Tewie Pieters, the pastor of the town’s redbrick Dutch Reformed church, last Sunday asked his congregation – about 50 well-to-do whites – to offer prayers for Doorweaard and Schutte, who got 23- and 18-year jail terms for the murder.
Both men are appealing the sentence.
Pastor Tewie Pieters is one of the main players in a reconciliation process between the black and the white communities. (Luca Sola, AFP)
“Before that there was no tensions in Coligny, it was good times,” Pieters said after his sermon.
“Both communities were quite committed for good relations so we were so surprised when those riots happened,” he said. “They just looted and destroyed during one week.”
“Reconciliation means bridge gaps between people, understanding, taking care of each other, listening to others’ frustrations,” he said.
A “peace forum” has been launched with meetings between the communities while damaged buildings are repaired by volunteers.
Retired farmer Henk Myburg said there were conflicting versions of events.
“It was a disaster. Everybody has his own version of what happened. I believe the biggest problem was the rumours and the false stories that were spread,” the 63-year-old said.
“All of us have some mindset about what some others have done. We needed to talk together urgently.”
The grave site of Matlhomola Moshoeu. (Wikus de Wet, AFP)
The town is cut in two by a railway track. On one side lie pretty houses with immaculate gardens housing some 2 500 people, predominantly white.
Shacks meanwhile line Tlhabologang, a black shantytown on the other side that is home to a population 10 times larger.
“I was born here. I don’t want to say that racist people don’t exist, but there are not so much racists,” said Kenneth Ngakane, pastor at an evangelical church in the shantytown.
“People here hire black people. If we say white people must go, we have a very serious problem because black people have no factories in Coligny… we have to work together,” the 41-year-old said.
“It’s normal segregation between rich and poor people”
The yawning gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to bite.
“In the township so many youth are unemployed… This guy is having a degree in psychology and he’s unemployed. There are so many like him. This situation generates anger,” said Stanny Mnyakama, a headmaster and community leader in Tlhabologang.
Nationwide statistics are alarming. A total of 30.5% of the black majority is unemployed, against 8.0% among whites.
The average monthly salary of a black person is R3 000 against R12 500 for a white counterpart.
However, despite this, 60% of South Africans interviewed in 2017 were of the view that race relations had improved since 1994, when the apartheid regime ended, according to the SA Institute for Race Relations.
“There are a number of incidents, they make the headlines, they are dealt with the right way, they are referred to the courts. I don’t think it shows we have a problem, I think it shows that we are a fairly mature society,” said the institute’s director Frans Cronje.
Others dismiss the existence of racism outright like wealthy Coligny farmer Pieter Karsten, who is the father of one of the men jailed for the murder.
“There is no racism here. It’s normal segregation between rich and poor people,” Karsten said.
“The jobs are here but they don’t want to work. They are all used to live on grants,” he said.
“People should stop looking back to what happened before 1994 and start looking forward. The government is doing nothing for them. They should start blaming their own people. Some people are creating racism simply because they think they can get votes in fuelling hate,” he said, blaming the ruling ANC.
The allegation leaves local ANC leader Vermaas Josiah fuming.
“The problem is only those two white men who killed the boy, the recklessness of them. It was a racist act,” he said.
“We didn’t put more fuel on the fire, no. As politicians we were supporting the population because we felt that Matlhomola should not have died but we were not encouraging people to make violence.”
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