South African farm attacks

In the attacks on South African farms, predominantly white farmers and black farm workers[1][2][3][4] are subjected to violent crimes, including murder, assault and robbery. Farm attacks have been described as "frequent" in the post-apartheid period, and some analysts believe they may be linked to racial animosity within South African society.[5][6][7][8] The Government of South Africa, and other analysts, as well as Afrikaner rights group AfriForum maintain that farm attacks are part of a broader crime problem in South Africa, and do not have a racial motivation.[1][9][10][11] Statistics released in 2018 by the South African government showed that while the number of attacks had increased between 2012-18, the number of murders on farms had decreased, year-on-year during the period,[12] and farming organisation AgriSA reported that the murder rate on farms had declined to the lowest level in twenty years,[13] one-third of the level recorded in 1998.[14][4]

A November 2017 analysis by the BBC found that there is insufficient data to estimate a murder rate for South African farmers.[3] Between 1994 and March 2012, there had been 361,015 murders in all of South Africa and between 1990 and March 2012, there had been an estimated 1,544 murders on South African farms of which 208 of the victims were black.[15] The data for farm attacks is self-reported to a commercial farmer's organisation, Transvaal Agricultural Union. The last government analysis of farm attack victims by race was conducted in 2001. In 2001, the year with the highest number of recorded attacks,[14] the police's Crime Information Analysis Centre stated that of the 1,398 people attacked on farms, 61.6% were white, 33.3% were black, 4.4% were Asian and 0.7% were listed as "Other", with murders on farms in 2007 accounting for 0.6% of the national total.[16] Racial statistics around crime are no longer collected by the South African government.[17] In January 2015, AfriForum claimed that there had been an increase in farm attacks and murders in the previous five years.[18]

White farmers have long complained they are at risk of rising levels of violent crime and that their concerns are being ignored by the South African government.[19] The physical isolation of farms,[13] and the perception that farmers have cash (for the payment of wages) and weapons onsite have been described by police as a possible motive for criminal attacks on farms.[20]

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, intimidation, should be included.[11]

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. Dina Pule, the safety and security Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Mpumalanga Province, has disagreed with this definition and has said that "farm attacks" included only those cases "where farm residents were murdered, and not cases of robberies or attempted murders".[21] Human Rights Watch has criticised the use of the term "farm attacks", which they regard as "suggesting a terrorist or military purpose", which they do not believe is the primary motivation for most farm attacks.[22][23]

Possible motives

The South African government believes the chief motive for attacks is robbery.[9][24] This position is shared by Afrikaner rights group Afriforum, which does not believe that there is a racial motive associated with most attacks.[1] 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, to determine the motives and factors behind these attacks and to make recommendations on their findings".[11] Monetary theft occurred in most of the attacks,[11] firearms were stolen in 23.0%,[11] and 16.0% of farm attacks involved vehicular thefts.[11] The committee noted that "there is a common misconception that in a large proportion of farm attacks little is stolen"[11] 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."[11]

The Natives' Land Act, adopted in 1913, awarded the ownership of 87 percent of land to South Africans of European descent. The modern discontent among black South Africans has caused populists to call for a confiscation of white-owned farms in the north.[9] The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, founded by Julius Malema, demanded redistribution of the land and wealth.[25] Human rights groups have stated that the extreme brutality may be intended to send a message of "get out of our country" to the general farming community.[26] The numbers of farm attacks have been linked to increasing anti-white hate speech, particularly from the ruling party African National Congress.[26]

Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has said that attacks were motivated not by race but by greed.[10] The South African Police Service declared in 1998 that there had been no evidence at the time of systematic organised attacks, although the matter was being investigated by special investigators.[27]


According to Tshego's (Short G / Sterling) media reports, as of December 2011, approximately 3,158 – 3,811 South African farmers have been killed in these attacks.[28][29] Self-reported data from the Transvaal Agricultural Union state that 1,544 people were killed in farm attacks from 1990 to 2012.[15] In 2012, Reuters reported that the number of farmers of European descent had decreased by one third since 1997, and that news headlines about farm killings provided incentive for them to sell their properties.[9]

Farm murders and attacks between 1996-2007 & 2010-2016[30] South African Police Service statistics
Period Number of murders Number of reported attacks
1996/1997 84 433
1997/1998 142 490
1998/1999 144 827
1999/2000 144 823
2000/2001 147 908
2001/2002 140 1 069
2002/2003 103 903
2003/2004 88 773
2004/2005 82 694
2005/2006 88 636
2006/2007 86 794
2010/2011 80 532
2011/2012 56 523
2012/2013 59 566
2013/2014 57 517
2014/2015 60 490
2015/2016 49 446
2016/2017 74 357
Murders per province and by farm type in 2016/17[30]
Province Farm Smallholding Total
Gauteng 4 17 21
KwaZulu-Natal 11 0 11
Limpopo 5 3 8
Mpumalanga 10 2 12
Northern Cape 0 1 1
Northwest 4 5 9
Eastern Cape 3 0 3
Free State 5 1 6
Western Cape 1 2 3
Total 43 31 74

Criticism of response

Gideon Meiring, chairperson of the Transvaal Agricultural Union'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".[31] 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.[32]

Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies has said that the government's 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, observers believed that the government did so due to suspicions that the commandos were aligned to right-wing groups. Critics have said this is incorrect, as the system included both black South Africans as well as whites as troops.[10]

Human Rights Watch has described a general trend of escalation in "farm attacks" since 1994, and noted a lack of government response to them. The HRW study however found the failures of the government response to be in its inadequacies to protect black farm residents. "In practice, however, the plan has significantly increased insecurity for black residents of and visitors to commercial farming areas, as they have become the targets of sometimes indiscriminate "anti-crime" initiatives... In addition, the rural protection plan has largely failed to respond to crime committed against black farm residents, in particular crime committed by white farm owners."[22]


While the police are supposed to regularly visit commercial farms to ensure security, they say they cannot provide effective protection due to the wide areas that need to be covered and a lack of funding. 'Farmwatch' groups have been formed with the intention of filling this protection gap. These groups use radio to coordinate mutual assistance between farmers, local Commando volunteers, and private security companies. The particular mix of groups that operate has varied by area, with wealthier farmers being more likely to employ private security firms. The police and these groups are linked together as part of the Rural Protection Plan,[33] created in 1997 by President Nelson Mandela.[27]

In 2003 the government began disbanding commando units, saying they had been "part of the apartheid state's security apparatus".[34] A 2013 study from the University of the Free State concluded that this disbanding compromised rural security, as police have prioritized South Africa's urban crime problems.[35]

Protest action

A spike in violent attacks on farmers in February 2017 led to one of the country's largest prayer meetings being held on 22–23 April 2017 in Bloemfontein, attracting over 1,000,000 participants.[37]

Following the murder of Klapmuts farmer Joubert Conradie in October 2017, a protest convoy was organised on 30 October 2017. Known as #BlackMonday the convoy ran from Stellenbosch to Cape Town and attracted an estimated 10,000 protesters.[38] The protest convoy was criticised by the South African Police Service for disrupting traffic.[39] The protest convoy was also criticised by the African National Congress and the EFF for the display by some protesters of the apartheid era South African flag and alleged that the protesters were only concerned about the death of white farmers and did not include black members of the farming community.[40][41] These photos were later confirmed to have been used out of context and inappropriately linked to the protests by Nickolaus Bauer, a reporter from eNCA. The eNCA released an official apology regarding the untruthful reporting.[42] The Nelson Mandela Foundation also criticised the event for being polarising, describing the protesters' "expressions of 'us' and 'them'" as "worrisome".[43]

International reaction

The Suidlanders, a survivalist Afrikaner group preparing for a race war,[44] and that believes in the prophesies of Siener van Rensburg[45][46][47] has taken credit for publicising the issue internationally after undertaking a tour of the United States in 2017.[48] In 2018, Afriforum leaders also embarked on a tour of the US to "raise awareness" about farm attacks in South Africa and land expropriation.[49][50]


After an Australian journalist was given a guided tour of South Africa by Afriforum,[49][50] stories about attacks on white farmers appeared in News Corp Australia newpapers claiming that white South Africans were "trapped like frogs in boiling water"[51] and that the South African government was "notoriously corrupt" and "potentially complicit" in the attacks[26] and stating that the farmers were being "persecuted" because of their race.[52][53]

In March 2018, Australia's Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton proposed fast-tracking[54] White South African farmers as refugees,[55][56] stating that "they need help from a civilised country",[55][56] amid pressure by the South African Australian community for a special immigration intake for their family members.[51][53] Dutton's proposal reportedly got support from some of his party's backbenchers and Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm,[57] however, Leyonhjelm later clarified that he thought that South African farmers could be admitted under existing family reunification and skilled visa programmes, and that he did not believe that they qualified as refugees.[58] National Party of Australia MP Andrew Broad warned that the mass migration of South African farmers would result in food shortages in South Africa.[59]

The Australian High Commisioner was subjected to a démarche by the South African foreign ministry, which expressed offence at Dutton's statements, and demanded a retraction,[60][61] stating that "there is no reason for any government in the world to suspect that a section of South Africans is under danger from their own democratically elected government".[62] Afrikaner groups including AfriForum, as well as the Suidlanders, who took credit for Dutton's offer,[48] rejected the idea of Afrikaners becoming refugees.[48]

Australia's ruling Coalition MPs subsequently stated that white farmers were entitled to apply for humanitarian visas, without necessarily meeting the definition of "refugees", describing the situation as "difficult" and "unique" but without calling for a special category of visa to be created.[63] The Australian government reportedly effectively retracted Dutton's offer, and responded to the démarche with a letter that "satisfied" the South African foreign ministry,[64] with the South African government officially "welcoming" the letter, and stating again that " one is being persecuted in South Africa, including white farmers".[65][66] However, Dutton reiterated his position that the farmers were persecuted, denied any retraction, and insisted that the Australian government was looking at "several" individual cases that may qualify for humanitarian visas.[67] In April 2018, it emerged that Dutton's department had previously blocked asylum applications by a white farmer, and another white South African woman on the basis that "the vast majority of crimes against whites are not racially motivated", and on the basis that there was no evidence of racial persecution, with the decisions upheld by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.[68]

United States

In August 2018, Fox News host Tucker Carlson commented that the South African government had disproportionately targeted white farmers during its ongoing land reform efforts due to anti-white racism. He also criticized political "elites", who are purportedly concerned about racism, "paying no attention" to the "racist government of South Africa".[69][70][71] However, BBC News, CBS News, Associated Press, PolitiFact, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal described Carlson's segment as false or misleading.[70][71][72][73][74][75][76] Following the segment in a controversial tweet,[77] President Donald Trump instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers, saying, “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers” .[69][70][71] The South African government reacted to Trump's statement, saying that they rejected his perception which seeks to "divide our nation".[78] The South African Afrikaner group AfriForum took credit for Carlson and Trump's statements, saying it believed that its campaign to influence American politics had succeeded.[71]

Political officers of the American embassy in South Africa investigated the claims, consulting farmers, police, and academics for further information. In a cable sent to the State Department, they concluded that there was "no evidence that murders on farms specifically target white people or are politically motivated" and that "[s]ome journalists and lobby groups have simplified complex land disputes to serve their own ends".[4]

White genocide conspiracy theory

The idea of a "white genocide" in South Africa has been promoted by right-wing groups in South Africa and is a frequent talking point among white nationalists.[70][73][74][79] There are no reliable figures that suggest that white farmers are at greater risk of being killed than the average South African.[70][71][75] Some South African blacks have sought to retake land which they have made claims to, but South African police have stopped such ad hoc attempts at appropriating land.[76]

See also


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