Leaving home: Some South African farmers exiting the country to avoid brutality
May 30, 2018
Imagine harvesting your soybeans or gathering you cattle while being in fear for your life. Now think about an added fear when you rush out to fight a brush fire – could it be an ambush?
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.
Bennie Kruger, who now farms in South Dakota, left South Africa 12 years ago to escape the violence toward white farmers. In South Africa he and his family raisd sunflowers, corn, soybeans and sorghum. "Things aren't looking good. The last 10-15 years have really been getting out of hand. They are killing a lot of farmers," Kruger says. "The attacks are barbaric but you don't hear that on the news. The sad part is everyone is turning their heads away. The farm where I grew up now has a six-foot electric fence around the place, burglar bars on the windows and vicious dogs. People are fearing for their lives. Three of my closest relatives moved to Australia. That's why I left; I want to farm and raise a family and didn't want to have to do it in that environment."
Kruger notes that the cost to immigrate to the United State is substantial, but he keeps trying to encourage his family to move to either the U.S or Australia and continually worries about them. He says the infrastructure in the South Africa he grew up in was similar to that in the the United States but today the roads are in disrepair and garbage is prevalent. He adds that 30 years ago, "the older people were decent; but now the younger generation is uneducated and doesn't have a clue."
“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.” Lorraine Claassen, AfriForum
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Governmental attempts to curb rural crime began in 1998 at the request of former president Nelson Mandela. The 40-page National Rural Safety Strategy urged rural communities to band together to fight crime, noting that farmers, farmworkers and residents in rural communities are considered soft targets by criminals due to the remoteness of farms and inaccessibility to the police.
The "whys" are still being debated. AfriForum's Alana Bailey explains. "The rumour is spread that farmers maltreat workers and the workers then retaliate. In the first place, there are very active and vocal farm worker unions, so cases of maltreatment rarely remain hidden. Secondly, buyers of farm produce are increasingly playing a positive role by setting minimum standards for (for example) housing for workers before concluding contracts with farmers," she says. "Of course, there will be farmers who exploit workers, like you will find in any labour sector in the world, but it definitely is not as wide-spread as these allegations state. Then it is also true that workers are not all black, farmers not all white, and victims often include more workers than farmers. The perpetrators often also are too young to have known apartheid, or are not South African citizens, or do not know the victims at all, so none of these theories can be applied to most cases."
Whichever the case, some white farmers are not staying.
Carl Kneirim immigrated from South Africa to North Dakota where he has an acreage and works for a local farmer. He also worries about his family left behind. He worries about the expropriation and what it will do to the country if white farmers no longer have their land to produce food for the country. He echoes the belief that white farmers being removed from the farms will cause an economic collapse due to the fact that farm mortgages won't be paid. He also worries about his homeland in general.
"South Africa used to be such a beautiful country. It was the best country in the world," Kneirim says. "But it's not anymore."
Under South Africa's new president President Cyril Ramaphosa, the African National Congress (ANC) has adopted a resolution to redistribute land owned by white farmers back to black South Africans without compensation. Parliament ordered its constitutional committee to report back on the issue by August 30.
The Economic Freedom Fighter head Julius Malema has made expropriation of land without compensations his mission. When this came to light, Australia's home affairs minister Peter Dutton reiterated that the Australian government was looking at fast-tracking in-country persecution visas for white South African farmers to travel to Australia. This started a wave of complaints and denials about the violence toward white farmers, with some people saying incidents were overestimated, with crime on the rise across the country.
In a column by Pieter Groenewald, the Freedom First Plus leader applauded the decision by the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, and the Police Commissioner, General Khehla Sitole, to once again release statistics on farm attacks and murders after eleven years of silence on the matter. The statistics from the report show that the number of attacks and murders that took place in every province since 2012 and shows attacks increased (561 attacks) over the last year (2017/18), while there was a decrease in attacks over the previous three years. Since 2012, there were 3,059 attacks altogether (on average, that is 509.8 per year) in which 338 people were killed (on average, that is 56.3 per year).
"It is regrettable that these statistics were swept under the rug under the administration of former President Jacob Zuma," noted Groenewald in his editorial. "Without the necessary statistics on crime, one is left groping in the dark and then it is not possible to take meaningful action and implement preventative measures.'
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.
According to AfriForum report, torture took place in 13 incidents. This number could be higher as mentioned in the case of rape. Incidents where information was made public was widely reported in the media. In March 2017, Mrs. Niccy Simpson, 64, from Kalbasfontein in Gauteng was assaulted during a six-hour long attack, burnt with an iron and a bag was pulled over her head in an attempt to try to smother her. Her feet were impaled with an electrical drill and the attackers threatened to cut off her legs with a grinding machine. In May 2016, a 68-year-old man was cruelly tortured with a towel that was pushed down his throat and a piece of wire was wrapped around the victim's neck to strangle him. He died during the attack. In June 2016, a couple from Gauteng was burnt with irons during an attack."
Robert Lynn, 66, and Sue Howarth, 64, both British citizens, were attacked on their farm in Dullstroom, Mpumalanga in February 2017. Robert had various knife wounds on his back and legs and he was burnt on his feet, legs and stomach with a blow torch. The attackers left Robert in a field and Sue was found next to the road where she was still alive, with a plastic bag bound over her head. She died from her injuries in the hospital.
Willie Clack raises cattle and hay. He serves as Vice Chairperson of the Red Meat Producers Organisation, and National Chairperson of the Livestock Theft Prevention Forum. Clack said his neighbor farmer and friend was murdered in May 2017, noting it was the first murder in the area in 100 years. "It is of utmost importance that all people in rural areas increase their security," he adds. "Communities are encouraged to become involved with security networks in their area. It is essential to make it as difficult as possible for attackers to gain entrance."
He also noted that statistics on whether there is more violence towards white farmers than black farmers is extremely difficult since statistics on black vs. white farmers aren't available. "That is one of the reasons why we cannot with any certainty claim that the threat to farmers are more than a threat to the general public in SA," Clack said "We just do not have any figures of how many farmers are in SA."
Still, for some, farming in a safe environment trumps living where they were born.