Farm Attacks in South Africa

This issue about violence against farmers in South Africa has finally bubbled up to get a little media attention, though at first I heard about it through talk radio shows a couple of years ago. Earlier this week, I decided to look into it a little bit; the story I have found is very consistent.

To introduce this topic, I begin with an article called ‘Bury them alive!’: White South Africans fear for their future as horrific farm attacks escalate, from March 25, 2017, by Frank Chung. The article carries this warning: NEARLY every day, horrific acts of rape, torture and murder are carried out on a community under siege. WARNING: Graphic.

The headline tells the story nicely. The article opens with a description of an attack on a farming couple – it is indeed graphic, and includes photos! – then gives some background to the situation. Toward the middle of the article we get to what I think is the key point:

While sometimes farmers and their families are tortured to obtain information, such as the whereabouts of keys to the safe, human rights groups say the excessive brutality may be intended to send a message to the general farming community — get out of our country.

Victims are often restrained, harmed with weapons such as machetes and pitchforks, burned with boiling water or hot irons, dragged behind vehicles and shot. Female victims are often raped during attacks.

Another article appearing in an American journal, Tri-State Livestock News, summarizes the situation. This excerpt is from Leaving home: Some South African farmers exiting the country to avoid brutality by Rebecca Colnar, May 30, 2018:

Farmers in South Africa are becoming increasingly worried about the safety of their farms, their families and themselves. Farmers have been tortured and murdered at high rates since early 2000s and a record of the atrocities was originally kept. However, starting in 2007, the record keeping of the incidents ceased when the government said it would no longer report the statistics on farm murders. However, recently numbers were again released which showed a disturbing increase in attacks in 2017-2018.

Farther down, we get to the real issue:

There seem to be limited statistics on the number of black vs. white farmers. Research indicates white farmers have been the victims of more attacks. The barbarity of the attacks is most disturbing.

“The worst of the matter is not the fact that South African farmers are being attacked and killed, but rather the disproportionate numbers that are involved, the extreme levels of brutality that often accompany these crimes, and the fact that the South African government has largely been in denial about the problem since 2007,” notes Lorraine Claassen of AfriForum, a civil rights organization operating in South Africa with particular focus on the promotion and protection of the rights of minority communities.

According to detailed report from AfriForum, the most common forms of physical torture are beatings, stabbings, burning victims with boiling water, molten plastic and hot clothing irons. It also includes instances of detainment against the victims’ will, and assaults on the sexual integrity of the person.

“Some farmers are even slaughtered like animals or dragged behind their own vehicles (they are tied to the vehicle with a rope and dragged for vast distances),” the report noted. Psychological torture during farm attacks includes belittling, threats, attempted and threatened assault and threats to other family members. The horror is the brutality of the crimes; it’s not simply a few hoodlums who break in and make off with jewelry, electronics and a vehicle.

These are not just murders or attacks; the violence increasingly has a militarized appearance according so some sources, and there seems to be a concerted effort to terrorize the rural farming community into leaving South Africa. And, judging by information in the first article (and elsewhere), it seems to be working; the number of white farmers in South Africa has dropped dramatically, and many South African farms are now up for sale as other farmers want to leave.

In a report (mentioned in both the articles above), The Reality of Farm Tortures in South Africa, from June 26, 2014, we hear about key aspects of the timeline regarding violence against farmers in South Africa. It seems that in the late 1990’s the government acknowledged that farmers are apparently being targeted in a unique manner in violent, murderous attacks. In the mid 2000’s, though, the government eliminated a rural policing militia program known as the “commando system” which, by that time, was primarily focused on the protection of the farming community. After that, farm attacks increased dramatically, but then the government decided to stop releasing statistics on farm attacks.

It is interesting to note that there had been concerns that the commando system mainly focused on the protection of white property owners. In 2001, a committee of inquiry considered testimony from victims and witnesses of farm attacks; as explained in Rural Safety and the Disbandment of the Commando Units in South Africa: A Challenge to Rural Communities and the African National Congress (ANC)?
by Chitja Twala and Marietjie Oelofse (from 2013), despite these concerns, recommendations were to not disband the commando system until something else was set up:

In view of the above cases, the Institute for Security Studies Director J Cilliers cautioned against any plan to abolish commandos before effective alternatives was in place. He stated that the despite their criticisms, the commandos have traditionally been functioning as a blanket of support in rural safety. The President of Agri-South Africa (Agri-SA), J Grobler argued that the disbandment of the commandos would create problems in as far as rural safety was concerned. According to him, the commandos played a significant role in the rural safety plan. Addressing the media he stated: ‘In phasing them out, while experience has shown how difficult they are to replace, will be negative for safety and for the country. It’s the old story of hundreds of plans being hatched while crime continues unabated’ (The Citizen 15 February 2003).

Many farmers, and some representatives of agricultural unions, believed that the attacks were ‘explicitly racial or political’, and aimed at driving farmers off their land.

The situation in South Africa was referenced elsewhere in the mainstream media. For example, consider this excerpt from South Africa farm attacks on the rise – support groups, January 15, 2015:

South Africa generally suffers from high rates of violent crime, with the latest police data showing 32.2 murders per 100,000 people, close to eight times the U.S. rate.

[AfriForum’s deputy chief executive Ernst] Roets said based on an estimate that South Africa has close to 33,000 commercial farmers, the number meant that the murder ratio was 134 per 100,000, four times the national average.

Also, from Inside the ‘most dangerous job in the world’: White farmers in South Africa are FOUR times more likely to be murdered than anyone else – as Peter Dutton vows to ‘fast-track’ them into Australia as refugees, March 23, 2018:

White farmers in South Africa have the most dangerous job in the country, are twice as likely to be murdered than police and are killed at four times the rate of the wider community, a rights group claims.

This week, as the government moves to seize all white-owned land without compensation, civil rights organisation AfriForum claimed there had been 109 attacks which left 15 white farm workers dead so far this year.

This follows 82 killings and 423 attacks in 2016, though none of the figures can be verified because the South African government has refused to release farm murder statistics since 2007.

Some of the killings are reported to have been barbaric, with farm owners tortured, raped, burned alive and slaughtered in front of their families.

‘Some of the murders have been accompanied by gratuitous violence and torture that can only be explained as racial hatred,’ Australian National University international law expert Associate Professor Jolyon Ford told SBS.

It is interesting, though, that since the government, led by the African National Congress (website, Wikipedia), had decided to stop releasing official statistics on these crimes, nearly all the evidence available has had to come from the same few non-governmental sources in South Africa.

That is not to say that the government has not been aware of this, though. In a meeting of the South African Parliament National Assembly’s Police Portfolio Committee, subject Rural Safety Plan: SAPS, African Farmers Association, SA Human Rights Commission briefings from August 26, 2016, we see this referencing attacks on and especially murders of farmers:

The killings were clearly a matter of human rights and the rights of farmers, farm workers and the farming community in general. When one observes the brutality of the killings, it is clear that there is no respect for life, and that perpetrators operate with impunity. The criminal justice system did not appear to provide a deterrent.

They know their judicial system is not working, and they know it is hitting rural areas particularly hard. They also know that, while everyone in these rural areas is in danger, it is particularly South Africans of European descent who are being not just brutally attacked, but terrorized as a community.

And they know this has been going on for more than two decades, with a noteworthy resurgence at about the time the South African government 1) disbanded the rural policing militia and 2) stopped publishing statistics on these crimes.

Of course, that white farmers are being driven by this wave of brutal crime off the very lands that the ANC-led government seeks to seize and “redistribute” is interesting, too.

It is the responsibility of any government to protect its people against crime. When farmers in South Africa are four times as likely to be killed by criminals than anyone else, and when the government is essentially doing nothing about it, that means that the government of South Africa is, at a minimum, criminally negligent under international law.

The fact that the farming families being victimized are predominantly of European descent, and are being driven off their land, in the face of government inaction, suggests that the government is complicit in ethnic cleansing.

Stories I have come across of the frequent involvement of foreigners in these attacks, and of the occasional situation wherein South African Police encounter and identify perpetrators but do not take them into custody, are also interesting.

Back in the day, the ANC had a military wing called Umkhonto we Sizwe that conducted terrorist attacks. It was supported by the Soviet Union, with Cuban proxies militarily involved through Angola; it conducted bombings, and even placed mines in rural areas that killed all – black, white, male, female, adult, child – indiscriminately.

Withdrawal of police protection to make the communities vulnerable, a cessation of publishing statistics to keep crimes quiet, then a spike in attacks on farms with barbaric violence far above and beyond anything necessary for a simple robbery or rape…

“In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt