North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo has been accused of fanning the flames of racial hatred instead of reducing tensions in the troubled farming town of Coligny.
Mahumapelo was criticised for making “racial remarks” at the funeral last Sunday of Matlhomola Mosweu (16), who was allegedly murdered by two white farmers.
Mahumapelo reportedly referred to white people as “visitors who came empty-handed to South Africa … none of them came with sunflowers or cows”.
After Mosweu’s alleged killers, Pieter Doorewaard and Phillip Schutte, were released on R5 000 bail each on Monday, protests erupted around the town and white-owned properties were torched by angry black residents.
On Friday, Mahumapelo said those who criticised him did not attend the funeral, and he was unapologetic about his remarks.
“Coligny is not going to be built by not telling the truth,” he said.
“It is a fact that, in 1652, the whites came here and did not have any land or sunflowers on their ships. Africans don’t have land, they are poor ... that is why we are going to help the family of Matlhomola in appealing this matter [of bail],” he said.
“We can’t be weak leaders who tremble at the sight of white people. We’re in government and we’re on the side of the poor, and that is why we are going to help Matlhomola’s parents in appealing this matter. But that does not mean that we’re fighting ... we’re not appealing against white people, but a court verdict.”
But North West DA leader Joe McGluwa was having none of it: “Their irresponsible, biased, criminal and unconstitutional remarks from public podiums are uncalled for and they should be held responsible for their actions.”
Meanwhile, Mosweu family spokesperson Stanley Mnyakama said he was convinced that “not every white person in Coligny was racist” after what the family had seen in the days leading up to the funeral.
Mnyakama said that white business people and ordinary residents had come out in support – financially and otherwise – of the dead boy’s family.
“We have had a local white undertaker who offered a full funeral service, but the North West government had already committed to covering that. A local school principal donated a cow, while a local abattoir and a supermarket owner offered some groceries and other assistance – and they are all white,” Mnyakama said.
Local supermarket owner Martin Erasmus reiterated this: “A young boy has lost his life and it is now up to the court to decide who is wrong or not.”
Erasmus said there were still a few individuals in the white community who “can’t accept change”.
Mahumapelo went to Coligny on Friday in a bid to forge better race relations through his government’s reconciliation, healing and renewal programme.
He met with a small group of white residents in a meeting that was closed to the media. He later told reporters that, at the meeting, white residents raised concerns about his statements against whites, but he was unapologetic.
Mahumapelo also said that the white residents “want to work together with everyone to rebuild and bring unity” in Coligny.
“I told them that, in my view, it was wrong for them to sign a petition [in support of the release of the two men on bail]. This sent a message that they were practising white fiefdom here in Coligny,” he said.
While he spoke of the 130 solely white signatures on the petition, Mahumapelo did not say anything about a counter petition signed by 472 mostly black people opposing the bail application.
Since April 20, violent protests in Coligny have seen at least six white-owned houses and several trucks torched. The protests died down after the alleged killers were arrested, but ignited again on Monday after their bail was granted.
Mahumapelo appeared to have appeased black residents at a subsequent meeting on Friday, when he told them that he believed the two men belonged behind bars because it “was no secret” that they committed the alleged murder.
“It is well-known – they handed themselves over to the police, and it is known that they did it,” he said.
“I will continue to repeat that and be prepared to live with the consequences.”
Provincial Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said Mahumapelo’s statements were “racial remarks”.
“I don’t understand why politicians continue to tell people that they are poor and landless because of white people, and so continue to divide us. This thing about Coligny has now become a political issue,” he said.
On appealing the court’s decision to grant the men bail, Groenewald said: “If they are a government with respect for the law, they will not take it on appeal. Everyone is innocent until proven otherwise – that is the case with President Jacob Zuma and the 783 charges, and the case with everyone else. The accused people have constitutional rights too.”
(c) 2017 News24