🔒 How world sees SA: Beyerskloof neighbour murder underscores land tensions

The wealthy vineyards of Stellenbosch have hit international headlines – this time not for their award-winning wine, but because of the killing of a wine farmer. The New York Times positions the murder of Stefan Smit, whose farm neighbours world-famous Beyerskloof, as at the centre of land tensions between the ANC and white farmers. Smit had received death threats weeks before a calculated, cold-blooded attack in front of friends. This was soon after he signed a deal to hand over his land to the municipality. Police say his killing may have nothing to do with political tensions in the area. But The New York Times headline leaves the impression that Smit is the victim of unresolved challenges about land ownership: “South African Wine Farmer in Land Dispute Is Shot Dead”. – Jackie Cameron

By Thulasizwe Sithole

The murder of a South African farmer has been highlighted in The New York Times to illustrate the tensions in the country’s land reform challenges.

The leading media outlet tells how South African farmer Stefan Smit whose vineyard in the Stellenbosch wine region had been occupied by shack dwellers since last year has been shot and killed in his home. The murder, it says, has heightened tensions amid a contentious national debate over the ownership of land.

In an email to a local news organisation, Pieter Haasbroek, a friend of Mr. Smit, wrote: “They were busy eating dinner with friends when four masked men came into the house. They shot Smit dead. What we feared came true.”

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Police say it is too soon to say whether the killing was related to the dispute over land or was a random criminal act. Nevertheless, 62-year-old Smit, whose family has grown grapes for generations, has been at the centre of a battle over land ownership.

Also read: Can Thoko Didiza satisfy all sides in the crucial juggling act on land reform?

And, in March, Smit said he had received threats, including one to “burn him alive.”

“A quarter of a century after the end of apartheid, white South Africans, who make up about eight percent of the population, still dominate the economy and own the country’s most productive land,” says The New York Times.

Mr. Smit’s was the second farm killing in the Western Cape province in less than a month, The New York Times quotes Jeanne Boshoff, a spokeswoman for a farming association, Agri Wes-Cape as saying. In a statement addressed to President Cyril Ramaphosa, the group asked why farmers should remain in South Africa if their safety, as well as that of their workers, could not be guaranteed.

The media outlet tells how residents of a nearby black township started moving on to Mr. Smit’s farm last year as the long-running debate over land began heating up in the months before general elections in May, in which voters elected to keep Mr. Ramaphosa in office.

“In December 2017, the long-governing African National Congress, or ANC, endorsed the expropriation of land without compensation, although the policy has yet to become law.

“Mr. Ramaphosa, who supports the policy, has tried to reassure anxious farmers, business groups and foreign investors that it would be carried out without the kind of violent land seizures that occurred in neighbouring Zimbabwe almost two decades ago, a policy that devastated its economy,” it notes.

Also read: WORLDVIEW: It’s time to get real about land reform

The New York Times tells its readers that Ramaphosa visited Beyerskloof, a vineyard next door to Smit’s, in an attempt to allay the concerns of white farmers ahead of national elections earlier this year.

“The land reform process is something we should never fear,” Mr. Ramaphosa was quoted as saying. He reportedly urged farmers to “look at land reform in a positive way.”

In August, Smit’s farm, Louiesenhof, “which borders an overcrowded black township called Kayamandi, became a battleground in the national debate”.

“Overnight, hundreds of township residents invaded a hilly stretch of Mr. Smit’s vineyard and erected shacks on it. In interviews with The New York Times, Mr. Smit said that he could no longer “breathe” on his property and had decided to sell the occupied part to the Stellenbosch municipal government.”

According to government documents, says the newspaper, the municipality and Smit signed an agreement in April that called for the occupied land to be sold to Stellenbosch for R45.7m, or about $3.1m.

“More people have continued to move to that patch of land, where about 2,000 shacks are now located, according to Zola Ndlasi, the township leader who organised the occupation.”

The New York Times quotes local leaders as condemning the killing.

Midas Wanana, a local ANC leader, said the killing was “bad news.”

“He sold already, so why now?” Wanana told The New York Times.

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