The South African farming community has suffered from attacks for many years. The majority of the victims have been white farmers, with claims of death tolls of up to 3,000 cited in the national and international media.
Terminology and definition
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-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, racist concerns or intimidation, should be included.
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 a farm attack is "when the sole motive is to take the life of the person who resides on the farm and nothing else." Human Rights Watch has criticised the use of the term "farm attacks", as they suggest this is "reinforcing, through the use of the word "attack", the idea that there is a military or terrorist basis for the crimes, rather than a criminal one." Genocide watch has expressed concern that the brutal murders of ethno European-Farmers in South Africa,"has reached at least level four, Organization, and probably level five, Polarization. Furthermore as early as 2001 genocide watch has stated that,"2.2 percent of ethno-European farmers had already been murdered and more than (5,594/45,000*100=) 12 percent of these farmers had been attacked on their farms". This data was from 2001 since then approximately 2,000 (4-5%) of ethno-European farmers have been murdered in South Africa.
Committee of Inquiry
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." 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, although the rate of murder had increased by 25% since 2005.
- Theft was committed in almost all cases - in cases where no theft appeared to take place, it was usually because the attackers had been disturbed.
- White people were not targeted exclusively; in 2001 61% of farm attack victims were white.
- The total number of attacks was about 2,500, while farmers’ organisations state the figure to be closer to 3,000.
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.
The South African government has been criticised both for not doing more 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, 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". 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 the white community 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.
- 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 many other killings are not."
- In 2004, former South African journalist Jani Allan appeared on the Jeff Rense radio show to 7 million listeners. She denounced the attacks and accused the South African government of a genocidal campaign. She encouraged Americans to sponsor the emigration of poor Afrikaner families. Ronnie Mamoepa, the spokesperson for the South African foreign affairs department, said the department would not respond to Allan's claims, as this would give her "undue attention she does not deserve". Afrikaner intellectual 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.
"Shoot the boer" controversy
In March 2010, at a rally on a university campus, president of the African National Congress Youth League Julius Malema sang the lyrics "shoot the boer" (Dubul' ibhunu – "Boer" is the Afrikaans word for "farmer", but is also used as a derogatory term for any white person). His singing was compared to similar chants by deceased Youth League leader Peter Mokaba in the early 1990s, to "kill the boer", which had previously been defined as hate speech by the South African Human Rights Commission.
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- White supremacist Eugene Terre'Blanche is hacked to death after row with farmworkers The Guardian. 4 April 2010
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- Bronwen Manby (August 2001). Unequal Protection - The State Response to Violent Crime on South African Farms. Human Rights Watch. ISBN 1-56432-263-7. http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/safrica2/. Retrieved 2006-10-28.
- South Africa World Cup 2010... and the shooting's already started Daily Mail. 14 June 2009
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- 'Retaliation may follow Terre'Blanche murderIOL