70 farmers killed in 2016 – attacks more sophisticated

With food prices becoming increasingly onerous for many if not most South Africans, the latest report on farm murders by the Transvaal Agricultural Union and AfriForum makes for disturbing reading – although there are a few positive trends being noted. According to a 2015 World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) study 95 percent of the country’s formal sector food is produced by just 3% of the country’s farmers and the government’s antipathy to white farmers and its proposed policies are driving an increasing number of them to leave the country. Thousands of farms are up for sale. Vast swathes of once productive farm land now lie fallow as a result of the ANC’s failed land reform policies and Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti candidly acknowledges that the billions of rands spent in the past two decades have reduced food security because 90% of the farms re-distributed to black farmers are no longer productive. While the ANC constantly berates the white farming community, its own representatives are hardly the ideal role models in this regard.Ed Herbst

Since the beginning of the year 70 people have been murdered in 345 farm attacks and those attacks are becoming ever more sophisticated, military-style raids.

This the highest death toll since 2008 when 79 people were murdered in such attacks and, the number of attacks for the year now totals 16 more than last year.

General Chris van Zyl, Ernst Roets and Lorraine Claassen during the conference in Centurion

This information was released at joint media conference held by the Transvaal Agricultural Union and AfriForum in Centurion on 7 December.

The Transvaal Agricultural Union has tracked farm murders since 1990 and, during this time, 1848 people have been murdered in farm attacks. According to TAU statistics this number included 1187 farmers, 490 members of their families, 147 farm employees and 24 visitors to these farms who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The average age of the murder victims was 56 years.

The highest death toll in a single attack in the past year was six people.

The provincial breakdown of farm attacks as tracked by the TAU from June to December this year is:

Gauteng – 37

OFS – 31

Northwest – 16

KZN – 9

Eastern Cape – 3

Western Cape – 1

Lorraine Claassen of AfriForum’s research unit says most attacks on farms and smallholdings happen between 20:00 and 03:00 and many of the victims were attacked while asleep.

“In 18% of the attacks where injuries were inflicted, firearms were used and in 78% of the investigated cases  where injuries were suffered a variety of weapons was used,” Claassen said, adding that while the incidence of torture of farm attack victims seem to have declined somewhat, some of the attacks were excessively cruel.

She said that in 6% of the attacks, farm employees were also targeted.

Speaking at the media conference, Chris van Zyl, assistant general manager of the TAU, said the use by gangs of increasingly sophisticated weaponry and communication technology in farm attacks was disturbing.

He cited an attack in Sannieshof by three assailants whose modus operandi was captured on CCTV cameras. They used two-way radios and had the means to disarm burglar alarms.

In another attack near Stoffberg in Limpopo, 13 robbers used three vehicles in their attack on a farm

Van Zyl said he was troubled by his perception that the SAPS crime intelligence unit played no significant role in curbing farm attacks.

Read also: Herbst: ANC & Western Cape farmers – an affair set to spark food riots

What was also troubling, he said, was that the poisoning of stock and threats of illegal farm occupations were increasing.

What was encouraging, van Zyl said, was that a significant number of farm attacks were being thwarted by the vigilance of the farming community and the use of WhatsApp by these communities to rapidly communicate the news of attacks.

Farm watch groups were proving very effective and in areas where farmers had become police reservists, the situation had improved, van Zyl said.

In 2014 AfriForum made a submission to the South African Human Rights Commission at National hearing relating to safety and security in farming communities.

At the media conference, Ernst Roets, Deputy CEO of AfriForum, said that in the past year the SAPS had been far more accessible and cooperative when it came to farm attacks and he attributed this to the attitude of Acting National Police Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane who regards farm attacks as a priority crime.

Roets said one could not generalise about farm attacks. Interviews with prisoners who had been found guilty of farm attacks indicated that, in 90% of the cases, access to money, firearms and household goods was the motive rather than ethnic hatred.

For further information on farm murders from a media perspective, see my article, Place of Sorrow, on the Media Online website.

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