White South Africans say they are being oppressed by the government

A group of white South Africans marched Thursday to protest murders of farmers and the "oppression" they say whites suffer, despite remaining the country's most privileged section of society 19 years after the arrival of all-race democracy.

Around 400 Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch settlers, released hundreds of red balloons in Pretoria in memory of white victims of brutal murders, many of them commercial farmers.

The demonstrators said farmers were victims of "inhumane slaughter."

Dressed in red, the group converged at the Union Buildings, the seat of government, chanting slogans like "Stop white genocide!" and brandishing posters that read "No farmer, no food, no future."

They claim whites have suffered since apartheid ended and Afrikaners ceded power to Nelson Mandela's African National Congress party in 1994.

"We call upon the South African government to take action against the inhumane slaughter and oppression of the white South African ethnic minority," urged a memo handed to President Jacob Zuma's office as part of the so-called "Red October" campaign.

Among a raft of demands they also pressed the government for a separate federal Afrikaner state and the criminalisation of the use of words "settlers" and "colonialists" to refer to white South Africans.

"We stayed to become a beautiful new South Africa. Most of us tried to keep (seeing) the positive side and not look at what's happening," said Afrikaans singer Maritza, who attended the march.

But now "everything is going wrong," she added.

The protesters also demanded the abolition of positive-discrimination economic policies that give preference to black people to address centuries of inequality, which they said excluded whites from jobs.

Close to 45 people are murdered in South Africa per day -- one of the highest rates in the world outside war zones.

The overwhelming majority of the victims are blacks, who make up nearly 80 percent of the population.

White households, who account for under 10 percent of the country's 52 million people, earn on average six times more than their black counterparts.

The "Red October" campaign sparked social media attention, including widespread derision.

"They acting like they're the only victims of violent crimes in SA #RedOctober #Idiots," tweeted one user.

"#RedOctober should have been about humanity, not race.. completely unnecessary racial tension splattered all over my newsfeed :(," said another.