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Protecting our farmers

24 June 2012, 09:34

We need a formal solution to the wave of farm attacks in SA and we need it now.

I believe that in the interests of food - and national - security for all South Africans the government needs to implement a full-time security system whereby farmers and their families can be both protected and enabled to continue providing food for the nation. If we lose our farmers, we lose everything so many fought and died for over the past 350 years.

We have peacekeeping forces in Africa ostensibly preventing some or other warring faction from attacking another and yet we’re unable to protect our own farmers, how ridiculous is that? Approximately 1,200 farmers have been killed in attacks on South African farms and if this is not an attack on our food security then I don’t know what is.

We have a defence force, mostly sitting idle in barracks, and it would not take much in the way of planning and logistics – if done properly – to set up a system whereby an armed detachment is available, either on call or in place, to protect each and every farmhouse on a 24/7 basis. The assailants are still poorly armed and relatively disorganized – thankfully so for now but this is bound to change – and trained soldiers, in prepared defences, could easily see them off with little effort. The costs involved should be minimal, the troops involved being paid anyway, and better they serve than sit, as any old soldier will tell you.

There are something like 45,000 commercially operated farms currently in South Africa and even with 2 soldiers per farm this would only entail 90,000 troops. Given that many of these farms are large, and easily defended within recognized farming communities with their own defensive strategies already in place, a lot less troops would probably be necessary. It would only need a couple of skirmishes between troops and armed gangs to get the message across and the pressure would then diminish.

Intelligent defensive and patrolling strategies would further reduce the number of troops needed and these could be rotated and criss-crossed which would have the added effect of intimidating potential assailants.

Besides, we’re already doing it to protect the rhino, why not the farmers who are even more valuable?

Such defensive strategies were in place back in the bad old days in Namibia, Zim and SA and it would take little to renew them, many farmers themselves having been involved in similar operations back in those days. Training too would not need to be extensive, any soldier worth his salt able to defend a perimeter in the middle of the night against untrained guerrillas.

Just the visible presence of armed soldiers in farming areas – prioritized and manned according to various criteria - and the deterrent they pose should be enough to see off all but the most violent and organized gangs of potential attackers. By working in conjunction with both the SAPS and other armed response affiliates an early warning network could be installed which would take the heat off the individual farmer, and his family, and also guarantee on-going production and habitation of the farms.

We have not yet got to the stage where these “terrorists” begin laying land mines on farm roads, or setting up offensive ambushes, but with farms, particularly those inhabited by senior citizens, under increasing attack by desperate gangs of probably unemployed and desperate people this could well become the scenario of the not too distant future. The last thing we need is for this to become an organized assault on our food security but if the current assailants discover that there is profit to be made from it, this could well happen.

This is not war talk, this is simply a matter of rather being forearmed and forewarned than caught unawares and unprepared as so many of the elderly farmers are tragically discovering. I also realize that the farming communities are organized and doing their level best to protect themselves but this is really a national issue and national government need to be driving it.

If they aren't then it would be easy to imagine that another agenda is in play and we wouldn't want that, would we?

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