Two South African white farmers accused of causing the death of a 16-year-old accused of stealing sunflowers were granted bail and released, sparking a wave of protests that were met with police violence.
Anger erupted in the maize-producing town of Coligny, North West, after residents learned of the decision Monday.
Three houses were torched, and white-owned shops were looted.
According to testimony at the court hearing, the two farmers, Pieter Doorewaad and Phillip Schutte, caught the teen, Matlhomola Jonas Mosweu, allegedly stealing sunflowers on a farm near the township where he lived. They put him in the back of their truck to take him to the police station. The farmers then claim he fell off their truck and died, whereas others say he was beaten.
North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo defended the teenager who died “in the hands of white people.”
“There is no confusion in whose hands did Matlhomola lose his life,” the premier said at a funeral service in the Scotland informal settlement in Coligny. “He was in the hands of South Africans who are Afrikaners in Coligny. The courts must look on how he was killed.”
Judge Magaola Foso told the court that he was aware that the case had led to increased tensions in the area but refused to allow it to influence his ruling, the AFP news agency reported.
An autopsy is being conducted.
Journalists who were covering the violence were allegedly attacked by the owners of properties targeted by the rioters. They were accused of inciting violence by covering the events.
Meanwhile farmers in the area are said to be on high alert, worried that they might become the next target as tensions continue. The police say they are monitoring the situation.
The two men are due back in court June 26.
Mahumapelo said a government-led renewal, healing and reconciliation program would be launched in the local municipality. South African Democratic Teachers Union North West Chairman Mxolosi Bomvana said non-racist whites should be seen taking action against racism. “We must march together to fight racism. God has given men life but [in this case] it is not God who has taken life, it is men,” he said.
He also called on community members not to destroy schools and clinics during protests. Mosweu, a grade six pupil at Haakboslaagte Primary School, was buried Sunday in Coligny. More than 1,000 people attended the funeral.