South African farm attacks

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The South African farming community has suffered from attacks for many years.[1] Sources have claimed that the majority of the attackers have been young blacks and that the majority of the victims have been white Afrikaner farmers.[2][3] These claims however have been disputed.[4] While the government has argued that there is no evidence of organized attacks, white farmers believe these attacks are evidence of a campaign to drive them off their land.[5] The disbandment of the Commandos has been linked to the escalating level of farm attacks.[6] In 2010, the issue garnered greater international attention in light of the murder of the far-right political figure Eugène Terre'Blanche on his farm.[7]

Terminology and definition[edit]

South African statutory law does not define a "farm attack" as a specific crime. Rather, the term is used to refer to a number of different crimes committed against persons specifically on commercial farms or smallholdings.

According to the South African Police Service National Operational Co-coordinating Committee:

Attacks on farms and smallholdings refer to acts aimed at the person of residents, workers and visitors to farms and smallholdings, whether with the intent to murder, rape, rob or inflict bodily harm. In addition, all actions aimed at disrupting farming activities as a commercial concern, whether for motives related to ideology, labour disputes, land issues, revenge, grievances, anti-White concerns or intimidation, should be included.[1]

This definition excludes "social fabric crimes", that is those crimes committed by members of the farming community on one another, such as domestic or workplace violence, and focuses on outsiders entering the farms to commit specific criminal acts. The safety and security MEC for Mpumalanga, Dina Pule, has disagreed with this definition and has stated that "farm attacks" only included those cases "where farm residents were murdered, and not cases of robberies or attempted murders."[8] Human Rights Watch has criticized the use of the term "farm attacks", which they regard as "suggesting a terrorist or military purpose", which they consider to not be the primary motivation for most farm attacks.[9][10] As of December 2011, approximately 3,158 - 3,811 White farmers have been murdered in these attacks.[11][12][13]

Committee of Inquiry[edit]

A Committee of Inquiry into Farm Attacks was appointed in 2001 by the National Commissioner of Police. The purpose of the committee was to "inquire into the ongoing spate of attacks on farms, which include violent criminal acts such as murder, robbery, rape, etc, to determine the motives and factors behind these attacks and to make recommendations on their findings".[1] The Committee used the definition for farm attacks as that supplied by the SAPS. The findings were published on 31 July 2003, and the main conclusions of the report were that:

  • Perpetrators tended to be young, unemployed black men overwhelmingly from dysfunctional family backgrounds.
  • Only a small proportion of attacks involved murder.
  • Monetary theft occurred in 31.2% of the attacks,[1] firearms were stolen in 23.0%,[1] and 16.0% of farm attacks involved vehicular thefts.[1] The committee noted that "there is a common misconception that in a large proportion of farm attacks little is stolen"[1] and "various items are stolen in by far the greater majority of cases, and, in those cases where nothing is taken, there is almost always a logical explanation, such as that the attackers had to leave quickly because help arrived."[1]
  • White people were the majority of the victims of these attacks, but others were also victims; in 2001 61% of farm attack victims were White. While this is disproportionate to the overall white population of South Africa (9.2%), it is in line with the demographics of the country's landowners, of which whites are a strong majority.[14]
  • The total number of reported attacks was about 2,500, while farmers’ organizations state the figure to be closer to 3,000.[15]

The Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU) questioned a number of the report's findings, claiming that theft and desire for land did not adequately explain some of the attacks.[16] Additionally, between 2005 and 2009, the rate of rural murders had increased by 25%.[15]

Criticism of response[edit]

The South African government has been criticized both for doing little to prevent farm attacks, and for giving the issue a disproportionate amount of attention:

  • Gideon Meiring, chairperson of the TAU's safety and security committee, criticized the South African Police Service for failing to prevent farm attacks, stating that the police "are not part of the solution but part of the bloody problem".[17] Meiring has assisted farming communities in setting up private armed patrols in their area.
  • Kallie Kriel of AfriForum accused politicians, including Agriculture Minister Lulu Xingwana and her deputy Dirk du Toit, of inciting hatred against farmers, saying "Those who inflame hate and aggression towards farmers have to be regarded as accomplices to the murders of farmers." In particular, Kriel condemned claims that violence against farm workers by farmers was endemic. Kriel also highlighted a court case in which ANC MP Patrick Chauke publicly blamed White people for murders and at which ANC demonstrators displayed slogans such as "One settler, one bullet!", "Kill the Boer, kill the farmer!" and "Maak dood die wit man" (Kill the white man). Simple theft could not be used to explain the full motive of the attacks as it was not necessary to torture or murder victims in order to rob them.[18]
  • Human Rights Watch criticized the government for placing too much emphasis on protecting farmers, at the expense of protecting farm workers from abuse by farm owners. They suggest that "farm attacks" are given a disproportionately high media and political focus. "Murders on farms (of owners, or of workers by owners) are given an individual attention that some other killings are not."[10]
  • In 2004, former South African journalist Jani Allan appeared on the radio show of AmericanJeff Rense . She denounced the attacks and accused the South African government of a genocidal campaign. She encouraged Americans to sponsor the emigration of poverty-stricken Afrikaner families. Ronnie Mamoepa, the spokesperson for the South African foreign affairs department, said the department would refuse to respond to Allan's claims, as this would give her "undue attention she does not deserve". Afrikaner Hermann Giliomee has also slammed Allan. He said Allan should not be taken seriously. While there had been large numbers of farm murders, there was no evidence to prove that the killings were an orchestrated political campaign, he said.[19]


While the police are supposed to regularly visit commercial farms to ensure security, they claim they cannot provide effective protection due to the wide areas that need to be covered and a lack of funding. The protection gap has been filled by 'Farmwatch' groups which link together by radio nearby farmers who can provide mutual assistance, local Commando volunteers, and private security companies. These forces are more likely to be able to respond rapidly to security alarms than widely distributed police stations. The particular mix of groups that operate varies by area, with border zones continuing a strong history of Commando volunteers, while wealthier farmers are more likely to employ private security firms. The police and these groups are linked together as part of the Rural Protection Plan,[20] created in 1997 by President Nelson Mandela.[5] However, in 2003 the government began disbanding commando units, on the pretext that they had been "part of the apartheid state's security apparatus".[21]

The disbandment of the Commandos has been cited as a factor in the escalation of farm attacks.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Farm Attacks - 31 July 2003". Retrieved 7 December 2013. 
  2. ^ Dan McDougall (2010-03-28). "White farmers 'being wiped out'". Sunday Times. Retrieved 2011-05-24. 
  3. ^ Adriana Stuijt (2009-02-17). "Two more S.African farmers killed: death toll now at 3,037". Digital Journal. Retrieved 2011-05-24. 
  4. ^ Nechama, Brodie. "Are SA whites really being killed “like flies”?". Africa Check. Retrieved 7 December 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Suzanne Daley (16 July 1998). "Rural White South Africa: Afraid, and Armed". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-24. 
  6. ^ a b Chitja, Twala; Marietjie Oelofse (2013). "Rural Safety and the Disbandment of the Commando Units in South Africa: A Challenge to Rural Communities and the African National Congress (ANC)?". Stud Tribes Tribals 11 (1): 25–33. Retrieved 7 December 2013. 
  7. ^ Eugene Terre'Blanche, opponent of White farm murders is hacked to death The Guardian. 4 April 2010
  8. ^ Nkosana ka Makaula (2006-09-28). "Farm attack is 'only if fatal'". News24. Archived from the original on 2009-04-16. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b Bronwen Manby (August 2001). Unequal Protection - The State Response to Violent Crime on South African Farms. Human Rights Watch. ISBN 1-56432-263-7. Retrieved 2006-10-28. 
  11. ^ McDougall, Dan (2010-03-28). "White farmers being subject to conditions of genocide". The Times (London). 
  12. ^ "Two more S.African farmers killed: death toll now at 3,037". Digital Journal. Retrieved 2011-11-25. 
  13. ^ "Afrikaner Genocide Archives". Retrieved 2011-11-25. 
  14. ^ Reuters. "Killings of white farmers highlight toxic apartheid legacy in South Africa". Reuters. Retrieved 2012-04-03. 
  15. ^ a b South Africa World Cup 2010... and the shooting's already started Daily Mail. 14 June 2009
  16. ^ "TAU welcomes farm report, but...". News24. 2003-09-25. Retrieved 2005-12-31. 
  17. ^ Sheena Adams (2006-09-23). "Farmer armies in the killing fields". Saturday Star. Retrieved 2006-10-27. 
  18. ^ Gcina Ntsaluba (2008-04-29). "Anti-White hate speech slated". Retrieved 2011-05-24. 
  19. ^ "White people are facing genocide, says Jani Allan". IOL. 2004-06-20. 
  20. ^ Bronwen Manby (2002), "A Failure of Rural Protection", Transformation (49): 92–94, ISSN 0258-7696 
  21. ^ "In-depth: Civilian Protection in Armed Conflict". IRIN. 3 March 2003. 

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