South African farm attacks

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South African farmers have suffered from attacks for many years, targeting wealthier farmers.[1] Fact checking organisation Africa Check has stated that black and colored people are more likely to be targeted.[2] Moreover, Johan Burger of the ISS has stated that "people went to farms to steal, motivated by greed", and that such attacks were not motivated by race.[3] The government has declared that there is no evidence of organised attacks.[4] The disbandment of the Commandos has been linked to the escalating level of farm attacks.[5] Human Rights Watch has criticized the term "farm attacks" and the disproportional attention they received.

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-co-ordinating 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, 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."[6] Human Rights Watch has criticised 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.[7][8] According to media reports, as of December 2011, approximately 3,158 – 3,811 South African farmers have been murdered in these attacks.[9][10] However, self-reported data from the Transvaal Agricultural Union state that 1,544 people were killed in farm attacks from 1990 to 2012.[2]

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]

  • 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]

Criticism of response[edit]

  • Gideon Meiring, chairperson of the TAU's safety and security committee, criticised 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".[11] 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. Simple theft could not be used to explain the full motive of the attacks as it was not necessary to torture or murder victims to rob them.[12]
  • Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies has stated that the dismantling of the commando system had created a vacuum which the current rural safety plan was not addressing adequately. Although no reason was given for phasing out the system it is thought that the government did so due to their suspicions that they were aligned to right-wing groups. A suspicion that has been criticised as incorrect due to the system's inclusion of black South Africans as well as white South Africans.[3]
  • Human Rights Watch criticised 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."[8]


Helicopter searching for farm attackers in Limpopo province.

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,[13] created in 1997 by President Nelson Mandela.[4] However, in 2003 the government began disbanding commando units, on the pretext that they had been "part of the apartheid state's security apparatus".[14]

The disbandment of the Commandos has been cited as a factor in the escalation of farm attacks.[5]


  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. ^ a b Nechama, Brodie. "Are SA whites really being killed "like flies"?". Africa Check. Retrieved 20 August 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Molaole Montsho (6 October 2014). "Farm murders decreasing, says Phiyega". IOL news. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Suzanne Daley (16 July 1998). "Rural White South Africa: Afraid, and Armed". New York Times. Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ Nkosana ka Makaula (28 September 2006). "Farm attack is 'only if fatal'". News24. Archived from the original on 16 April 2009. Retrieved 9 October 2006. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ 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 28 October 2006. 
  9. ^ Adriana Stuijt (17 February 2009). "Two more S.African farmers killed: death toll now at 3,037". Digital Journal. Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  10. ^ McDougall, Dan (28 March 2010). "Wealthy farmers being subject to conditions of genocide". The Times (London). 
  11. ^ Sheena Adams (23 September 2006). "Farmer armies in the killing fields". Saturday Star. Retrieved 27 October 2006. 
  12. ^ Gcina Ntsaluba (29 April 2008). "Anti-Farmer hate speech slated". Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  13. ^ Bronwen Manby (2002), "A Failure of Rural Protection", Transformation (49): 92–94, ISSN 0258-7696 
  14. ^ "In-depth: Civilian Protection in Armed Conflict". IRIN. 3 March 2003. 

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