South Africa has been stunned by the brutal killing of a farm worker who was literally thrown to the lions after a dispute with his former employer. The country's main labor federation says it is an extreme case but draws attention to the poor treatment of farm workers in many parts of South Africa.

Police have arrested the owner of a game farm and three of his workers for the grisly murder of Nelson Shisane, who was fired from the farm last year and had reportedly returned to collect some of his belongings.

According to police, witnesses say the four men assaulted Mr. Shisane, tied him up and then drove him to a nearby lion-breeding compound. Police say they threw him over the fence into the lion enclosure, where he was mauled and eaten. The police say they have recovered his skull, pieces of his legs, and his bloody clothing. The alleged murder took place last week near the town of Hoedspruit, about 350 kilometers northeast of Johannesburg. It sparked an outcry in the national media after police arrested the alleged killers Monday.

The South African labor minister has expressed shock and anger at the reported incident. The labor department has sent investigators to look into the matter.

The country's largest labor federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, also says it is shocked and appalled by the killing. COSATU spokesman Patrick Craven said it may be an extreme case, but it points to a deeper problem on South African farms. "This is, of course, an absolutely horrific incident and is quite exceptional, but on the other hand is perhaps indicative of the appalling level of labor relations in the South African farming industry. It does seem that many farmers are still living in the old apartheid era, treating their workers little better than slaves, and it creates a climate in which extreme assaults like this can take place," he said.

South African farmers, who are largely white, are often accused of mistreating their workers.

In September, the South African Human Rights Commission published the results of a two-year investigation into the human rights situation in farming communities. It found that South Africa's rural areas lag behind the rest of the country in most of the basic guarantees under the country's constitution. The report said there is general and widespread lack of compliance with South African labor laws.

Mr. Craven said the problem is not with South Africa's laws; the problem is that they are simply ignored in many rural areas, and the government is too often unable to enforce them. "So what we want to see is a huge campaign involving the trade unions, government, and civil society to join together to tackle this problem, to get around to the farms and to check what kind of abuses are taking place, and to make sure that the laws which are already on the statute book are being enforced," he said.

Mr. Craven says the best tribute that the country can pay to the memory of Mr. Shisane is to ensure that a similar atrocity never again occurs on a South African farm.