Those who saw Ken Eva bludgeoned to death generally agree that the white farm manager sealed his fate with the first few words of his ultimatum to hundreds of black villagers living on the New Venture fruit farm.
Eva began by accusing the eSibhonsweni villagers, deep in KwaZulu-Natal Province, of occupying other people's land because they were living on property to which the farm's white owners hold the title deeds.
"There was uproar after the first sentence when he called them land invaders," said the Reverend Bhekithemba Buthelezi, who attended as a mediator.
The manager demanded that the villagers pay substantial fees to graze livestock and plant crops on soil they say their families have used for generations. Some are even buried there.
"Failing this you leave me no option but to destroy these crops myself," Eva allegedly told the crowd.
He also threatened to seize their cattle and goats.
The villagers saw the ultimatum as an ill-disguised attempt to drive them from their homes. As Eva strode towards his vehicle, brushing off appeals from community leaders to discuss the issue, he was surrounded by angry men. The manager drew his gun and fired a warning shot. No one will say who struck the first blow but within minutes Eva had died under a barrage of clubs and sticks.
"The wording of his demands was provocative," Buthelezi said. "There were a lot of ugly words from them and him. They shouldn't have killed him, but I'm not surprised that they did."
On the face of it, the confrontation between the white owners and black villagers living on the fringes of the property was a dispute as old as South Africa itself. But the tussle over who has the right to live on and farm some of the country's most fertile soil has taken on an added tension as the South African government presses ahead with land reforms intended to right past wrongs.
At the demise of apartheid in 1994, 80 percent of South Africa's farmland was in white hands. The African National Congress (ANC) government wants to see 30 percent of that land transferred to black ownership by 2015 through the return of property to individuals and communities whose land was confiscated under racial laws, and by buying farms from white owners willing to sell. For the first time, black people also have rights to the land they are living on even if they do not own it.
With one eye on the chaotic and violent land transfers in Zimbabwe, South Africa has sought an orderly redistribution. But even supporters say the reform is failing, with just 4 percent of white-owned land transferred so far.
"The land reform program is in deep trouble," said Ben Cousins, director of the land scheme at the University of the Western Cape.
"Progress is limited and slow and there are questions about commercial farming and whether it's suitable for these communities. But we have to get it right, because it's very clear that land is very important at the symbolic level. A lot of South Africans responded very positively to what happened in Zimbabwe because they saw it as a historic injustice being righted."
Most claims are in Limpopo Province, where 70 percent of land is subject to some form of claim.
Dozens of farms have already been handed over to black communities. While some have proved relatively successful, others are in the hands of communities with little experience of intensive farming and businesses quickly ran into trouble.
"Where commercial farming has been run as large business there's a misfit between the enterprise and what rural black people bring," Cousins said. "They lack skills, they lack management experience, they lack investment. A key problem is the [lack of] appropriate support services to these farmers."
Some white farmers have recognized the need for change. A farmer near New Venture split his farm, gave one part to the local community and spends some of his time helping to manage it while the new owners gain experience. But other farmers are more resistant, even resurrecting the forced removals of the apartheid era.
Large numbers of black workers and their families have been driven from land they have lived on for years as some farmers try to forestall claims to parts of their property.
Cousins said farmers have forced nearly 1 million black workers and their families off the farms since the ANC took power in 1994.
"More people have lost access to land than have gained access through land reform," he said.
The eSibhonsweni community claims the land on which it lives belongs to the local Zulu chief. The owner claimed the land was his and the authorities agreed. But the community has lived on it for decades.
Last year Eva destroyed 28 homes belonging to the community claiming that they were encroaching on farm land.
The community chose mother of two Sibahle Gumede, 23, over its older male leader to take on the owners.
"See that old lady there? She was born on this land in 1917. So no one can call us land invaders," Gumede said.
"We never had any problems with the previous owners even under apartheid. We lived here, we kept our cattle and grew our vegetables here. We were buried here. There's the graveyard. Now these new owners want us off," she said.
New Venture farm was bought by Chennells Holdings about five years ago. Its chairman, Mark Chennells, declined to talk about events which led to the killing while it is under investigation.
Gumede said she did not see Eva murdered but she was not surprised; people could not have afforded the grazing fees and would have been forced off.
"People were wondering what was going to happen to their children and the old people. Where they would go. I was shocked. I'm not working and all I have are my animals," she said.
The eSibhonsweni community sought legal advice from the Association for Rural Advancement. Its director, Lisa del Grande, said tensions are underpinned by a fundamental difference of view over what constitutes legitimate ownership.
"It's what people perceive as their rights. The landowner has a title deed, but what does that mean to people who think they were wronged?" she said.
"Many landowners might agree that there has to be greater access to land, but they don't want to recognize that their own claim to the land might have been illegitimate. White South Africans have such a long way to go to get to grips with these issues. These are such different versions of history," del Grande said.
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