Sunday, 17 June 2007

Chapter 16: Slaughter: The Farm Murder Plague


Department of Land Affairs minister Ms. Thoko Didiza’s newest expropriation legislation has become law. Amendments to the Land Restitution Act went ahead, despite objections by several institutions, commercial agriculture and some parties.

“The Act was ratified on November 27, in the absence of the President, notwithstanding expectations that ratification was to be debated early in 2004”, declared Mr. Willie Lewies, Transvaal Agricultural Union South Africa (TAU-SA) vice president. South African property is now subject to expropriation by the government. Some “sweetener” clauses were added to this legislation at the last minute, but the bottom line remains – nobody, least of all a South African farmer, possesses secure property rights.

TAU-SA is planning to oppose this unilateral termination of property rights, and has placed accountability for the economic and security consequences of land invasions and trespassing at the door of the State President, claimed Mr. Lewies. Land invasions, intimidation, arson, stock and crop theft, the vagaries of the weather and the devaluation of farm properties – farmers try to cope with these adversities every day. What has become impossible to bear is the emergence of farm murders and attacks as a terrible fact of daily life in the ANC’s new South Africa.

Since the new South African government came to power in 1994, 1 600 farmers (in excess of 2 000 by 2006) have been murdered, and there have been well in excess of 8 000 farm attacks. Some victims have been horribly tortured, and in many instances, nothing was stolen during the perpetration of the crime. (Since the SA government’s ascendance to power in May 1994, a farm murder has occurred on average once every second day, while there have been on average 77 farm attacks per month).

The pervasiveness of these murders and the Mau Mau-type behaviour of the criminals who commit them has alerted the world to what is happening to commercial agriculture in South Africa, especially in light of the catastrophe which has befallen Zimbabwe. Critical eyes have now been fixed on the South African government’s reaction to these murders, and what the regime proposes to do about them.

Not much, it seems. South Africa has become the crime capital of the world. In itself, this is a devastating indictment of the ability of the new SA government to govern. But what is alarming about the farm murder plague is the systematic destruction directed at the very few people who keep over 100 million people in Southern Africa fed. The public outcry about farm murders precipitated the appointment of a commission of enquiry by the government into farm murders, but the commission’s report has been disappointing and frustrating. It has been met with scathing censure in some quarters. Like so many official enquiries in South Africa, this one appears to be something of a whitewash.

It was due for release in August 2003, but was delayed. Apparently two government ministers said they were unhappy with the report, resulting in an outburst of criticism that there would be interference in the final draft. This was denied by the ministers involved. It was claimed the report was referred back to the independent committee, to all intents and purposes thus sullying their independence. Whatever caused the delay, the interpretation of certain facts was disputed. In nearly 90% of the murders, says the report, the motive was robbery. Intimidation was given as the reason for 7,1% of the attacks, while only 2% were attributed to racial motives.

The committee found there was a perception that farmers were rich, and that they had many firearms. The report recommended the government give “urgent attention” to the illegal land invasions which have beset South Africa, as these could have led to farm murders and attacks.
What do we say about farm murders? What have we found throughout South Africa?. It is a fact that most murders are carried out by young black men between the ages of 18 and 30. There is no law and order in the country, an extremely low murder conviction rate (9% as against Japan’s 99%), no jobs for people whom the State President himself describes as “unemployable”, and the belief in many black communities that having a piece of land, even as a subsistence possession, is better than living in a squatter camp.

Murder Rate

The murder rate among South African commercial farmers (who are not all white) is the highest for a specific group in the world – 313 per 100 000. In his keynote book “Farm Attacks and the African Renaissance”, Professor C.J. Moolman outlines the role of land in traditional Africa. He succinctly defines the basic polarity between Western and African cultures. “The livelihood of Blacks has traditionally been, and is currently still in rural areas, intricately connected to their system of land tenure. They erect their dwellings on the land, cultivate it, graze their livestock upon it, and hunt over its surface.”

“They use its water for domestic purposes and for their herds and flocks. They eat the wild fruits and other fruits it produces, and make medicines from its vegetation. They convert its wood into huts, palisades and various utensils, and its reeds and grass into basket-work, thatch and string, and they extract from it metals, clay for their pots, and earth for the floors and walls for their huts.” This describes traditional Africa. But traditional Africa cannot feed itself. There is not one single African country self-sufficient in food. They have to depend on the West for survival. And the West has a completely different approach to food production, and to life itself.
This cultural dichotomy unfortunately occurs in one country – South Africa – and the contents of this book shows clearly that Western commercial farming has rescued South Africa from the fate which befell the rest of the continent.

“Rural land hunger”, says Professor Moolman “cannot be satisfied when its needs for land are based on anything other than agricultural production. Ideologically motivated “liberation of the land” is not an accepted motive for either redistribution of land or the intimidation of white farmers in an effort to force them off their land”. Thus the government’s promise to return the land to the people as outlined in the Freedom Charter is an invitation to famine. By turning a blind eye to land invasions (except of course when the government itself owns the land or where diamond mining is involved), and by withdrawing the commandos from rural areas, the government has exposed the South African commercial farming sector to the current wave of criminality, where hatred, resentment and cruel savagery accompany so many farm murders.
South Africa cannot survive this genocidal wave, and it must be checked. Given the disastrous results of Minister Didiza’s handover of productive farms to unskilled people, many wonder why she insists that 30% of productive farmland will be transferred to emerging farmers before 2015. (We use the term “emerging” with some caution, given that most people who received restitution or redistribution farms were not farmers.)

There is talk that Ms. Didiza knows her policy is a failure, and is prepared to sacrifice 30% of South Africa’s productive farms “in the interests of her party’s idealism and promises”.
It is claimed she believes that the remaining 70% of the farming community will continue operating “and carry us all”. She may be in for a big surprise. A large number of farmers have had enough. Some would sell tomorrow at a fair price, others for what they can get. When four members of your family have been murdered on your farm, it is not really an attractive proposition any more. When you see what has happened to Zimbabwe’s commercial farming community, the future looks bleak, despite government assurances that “it won’t happen here”.
When your grazing is burnt out four times a year, when your crops and stock are stolen, when you can do little to stop squatter invasions on what is after all your private property, and when your chances of being slaughtered in your home are the greatest in the world, why bother?

Then of course there’s the expropriation legislation. Why put your heart and soul into something that can be taken away at the stroke of a pen? Why, indeed! Many farmers soldier on because farming is their life. But their children? Are they attracted to a life of danger, or does a career overseas or in the cities look more alluring? Ms. Didiza should not depend on her 70% back-up. There are no guarantees here.

The Questions

The next question about farm murders is why? The government report declared that most murders and attacks are simply criminal. But Professor Moolman points out the following:
• Why are the attacks and murders on farms so premeditated, while statistics indicate that the overwhelming majority of murders in South Africa are related to alcohol, drug abuse, and interpersonal and domestic conflict?
• Why are farm attacks so extremely brutal which is not the case with the majority of murders in South Africa?
• Why are farm attacks and murders mostly black on white, while this is not necessarily the case in the rest of South Africa? If theft is the most important motive, why are thousands of black shop owners in rural areas not brutalised remotely as much during attacks by gangs as is the white farming community?
• Why are farmers constantly accused of mistreating their workers, thus precipitating farm attacks, while the Helen Suzman Foundation found that 93% of farm workers indicate their relationship with their employers is good?
• Why have bad socio-economic conditions become the reason for attacks, while it is acknowledged that bad socio-economic conditions existed before 1994 in black communities?

Professor Moolman says cases of “senseless killing” have been identified. Criminals wait at the farm house, without taking anything, and then torture and kill the farmer on his return. Other cases reveal a farmer’s family being held hostage until he returns. Some criminals travel vast distances to attack people on farms and then only take firearms or the family car, which is later found abandoned down he road. (See the case of Mrs. Viljoen in the North West chapter). Racial utterances at the crime scene are commonplace.

Gratuitous violence is widespread. If women are present, they are often raped. Torture is now fairly routine, something relatively new in South Africa’s criminal history. Cruelty to animals is recurrent, a hark back to the Mau Mau terror campaign which drove whites off Kenyan farms.
Space prevents us from placing pictures of gruesome farm murders in this book. In any event, out of respect for the families we cannot. Suffice it to say evidence has been placed before the South African public by way of television and the printed media of the sheer savagery of those who inflict pain on innocent people: an elderly farmer whose head was opened by an axe; a lady of 84 who was repeatedly raped. Vicious stabbings are common, as is using a heated iron to burn victims. Some victims have been suffocated, others slashed with a panga (a heavy knife used to cut sugar cane). People have been set alight (including a year-old baby), while others were strangled, garroted, pistol-whipped, mutilated, and dumped into boiling water. Children have been threatened and beaten up, and some youngsters were tied to trees and left to die.

Then there is the post-traumatic stress, the fear of returning to one’s farm, the frequent repeat attacks, sometimes up to four or five times. Teaching people to secure themselves is big business in South Africa. People are warned not to do this or that, to watch for something here, to be vigilant for someone there. Security habits must be cultivated, we are told, and looking over one’s shoulder has become a way of life. Bakkies ( pick-up trucks) are now being advertised as bullet-proof.

Clearly, robbery is not the main motive for farm attacks, and our research shows that farmers feel this to be so. “They want to drive us from our land” we heard continuously. The additional problems of intimidation, crop and stock theft, illegal squatting and expropriation legislation all point to this being a fact.

Recently two men were given life sentences for killing an 81-year-old farmer. Judge J.M.C. Smit told the court that there were “other motives” besides theft. The old farmer was so terribly and brutally assaulted that he died from his wounds. In another similar case, Judge Smit made the same remark. Minister Didiza should remember that attacks on farmers will considerably reduce her remaining 70% of commercial farmers who are expected to feed us all. The way things are going at present, she will be lucky to have any farms left to expropriate!

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