Let's Think

The latest farm murders must become the turning point

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The scourge of farm killings and -attacks was once again prominent in the news this past week in South Africa. The growing list of victims has become totally unacceptable.

This phenomenon, which leaves a string of victims, both black and white, in its wake has become a very serious problem, and been going on for far too long, with the government seemingly unwilling or incapable of addressing it effectively.

It is easy to become emotional about the matter, but finding a workable solution requires clear and sober minds. However, it would on the other hand, be wrong to disregard all emotions – it would not only be impossible, but also an injustice to the victims, their loved ones, and friends.

Irreparable damage

In the past there were public outcries and demonstrations aimed at focusing attention on the problem and prompting government into action – largely without success.

The lack of applying its mind in addressing the matter by government is not only incomprehensible, but also unforgivable.

Government’s failure on this issue is causing irreparable damage to the people of South Africa, and it’s apparent apathy is not going unnoticed abroad, causing harm to the country’s image.

In an article, one of many in the international media, commenting on a farm attack in which a British citizen was victim, wrote: “In any other country, such a crime would be almost unthinkable. But, in South Africa these kinds of farm attacks are happening nearly every day,” and then remarks: ”Due to her British nationality, her murder attracted an unusual amount of overseas media attention.”

The article also states: “Official statistics on farm attacks are non-existent, due to what human rights groups have described as a ‘cover-up’ by the notoriously corrupt — and potentially complicit — South African government.”

Most dangerous occupation

The international media also highlight the fact that farming in South Africa is considered one of the most dangerous occupation in the world – twice as dangerous as being a policeman in South Africa.

The average murder ratio per 100 000 of the population in the world is nine. In South Africa, it is 54 and 138 for the farming community – the highest for any occupation in the world.

The statistics on farm murders, and attacks, often vary due to factors like different methodologies used, however., it does not negate its severity.

Adding to the often senseless debates following the release of statistics, the SAPS since 2007 refused to release any statistics on it. It is, however, said that in total, between 1998 and the end of 2016, 1 848 people died due to farm attacks — 1187 farmers; 490 family members; 147 farm employees; and 24 visitors to farms.

The weekend before last the media reported that a SAPS presentation, which was prohibited from being made public, showed that in the 2016-17 book year farm murders increased by 27,5 % and farm attacks by 22,9 %, compared to an increase of 1,8% in the national murder rate.

Why was the public not to be informed? Was it politically motivated or to prevent the public from catching on to the failure bySAPS to carry out its responsibility?

Disastrous consequences

This situation could have disastrous consequences for the country on issues like food security.

According to Agri SA President, Dan Kriek, 34 000 farmers are suffering the effects of drought, natural disasters, and policy uncertainty. While also trying to protect their lives, they produce food for 55 million South Africans – every farmer feeds 1 600 people per day, and by providing employment to about 700 000 people, agriculture remains one of the biggest employers in the economy.

The situation could soon change dramatically if the number of commercial farmers continues to fall as drastically as it did in recent years. The number of white farmers in South Africa has halved in a little over two decades to just over 30 000. Not only are thousands of farms up for sale, farming is also an aging profession. The average age of 62 of South African farmers is considerably higher than the 55 for a leading food producer like the USA.

The reasons are varied and multi-faceted, but economics, political uncertainty, and the physical security of farmers, their families and workers are major contributing reasons to the rapid decline in the number of farmers, which put food security at risk. 

Possible turning point

Two farm murders in the Western Cape and near Bloemfontein in the Free State, and eight more attacks last week could be the turning point.

The reaction of the South African public was unprecedented. Never before was the response on social media so overwhelming, and the grief, anger and helplessness, but above all demands that steps need to be taken to improve safety on farms while at the same time calling for constraint so poignant. Likewise, the appeals not to make race an issue in a matter that affects all South Africans.

If the government choses to continue keeping ignoring the problem and does not officially announce real commitment and resolve to confront the safety problem of farming and rural communities, they do it at their own peril.

Fact is, there has to date been no official reaction to what has become a national call for action and it appears government is going to persist with its lackadaisical attitude to the issue.

It is also a sad reminder that government remained silent when some senior ANC members, and supporters defiantly used populist slogans such as, ”Kill the farmer, kill the Boer.” And, recently during a parliamentary debate on farm attacks and the plight of farmers, an ANC MP shouted: “Bury them alive!”

The distress caused by the reports of farm murders and -attacks is aggravated by the latest release SAPS crime statistics. It seems the SAPS is losing the war against crime if it requests the army to be deployed to help fighting crime.

It does nothing for public morale and confidence when the police force is discredited as ineffective and untrustworthy while deprived of a professional leadership core by political interference; it’s Minister, described by one journalist as a “twittering clown dressed in designer suits” apparently thinking foul language and empty threats are the best ways to fight crime.

Complete makeover

The SAPS need a complete makeover. The expertise and experience to do it, is available, and there is no shortage of good and honest policemen and women to do the job. Sadly, government seems to lack the political will.

Leadership will have to come from the South African public, which also requires a change in attitude. South Africa is an extremely violent society at war with itself. Farm murders and farm attacks are part of a bigger problem.

It is estimated that about 500 000 South Africans have been murdered since 1994 – one of the highest murder rates in the world - 54 murders per day.

But, we think there are enough good people and goodwill in this country to run it around and make it a better and safer place for all who live in it.

by Garth Cilliers

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