Calm action is needed

2014-03-19 00:00

THE South African civil-rights movement AfriForum recently released a statement screaming that farmers are under attack and should therefore mobilise and prepare themselves.

The group’s statement came, it said, as a result of land invasions, farm attacks and the recent murder of the Schutte family in Richmond.

Seventy-seven-year-old Eckhardt Schutte, his wife Elizabeth (66) and their son Lutz (33) were about to celebrate Eckhardt’s birthday when they were killed. Lutz, we understand, had flown in from Germany specifically to celebrate his father’s birthday. He never went back.

“It is quite clear that [the] government has totally forsaken farmers. Farmers will have to safeguard their own lives and property from now on. It is vitally important that farmers join security networks,” said Ian Cameron, head of community safety at AfriForum.

The call to improve rural security and security around farms is genuine, and should top the to-do list of our provincial government.

In the past few years, this province has witnessed many murders, some of them the most brutal in the country. And if research by agricultural unions is anything to go by, farmers are most likely to be attacked in KwaZulu-Natal.

Koos Marais, of the security desk of KwaNalu, said recently that farmers are viewed as easy targets because they are far away from the police and communication is difficult. He said his office recorded 57 incidents on farms that included 10 murders and 47 other attacks last year.

These are high numbers indeed.

On September 27 last year, Eston farmer Mick Hampson was shot dead. Last Saturday, the Weekend Witness reported on the chilling details of his death, which came from the murderer himself.

Prior to that, timber harvester Dan Knight was brutally murdered and his partner, Beth Butcher, was forced to listen to and watch the horror attack.

And very few could forget the farm attack in Mooi River that left three people dead and others orphaned.

Lorraine Karg (58) was found by her husband in their garden with her throat cut. Nearby were the bodies of two workers — a woman (24), who had gunshot wounds, and a man (65), with multiple stab wounds.

Many agricultural experts agree that most farm attacks are not motivated by complex issues like unresolved land claims; they are motivated by greed and criminality. So the problem has been identified, yet we do not seem to be anywhere near a solution.

The question is how the community and the government should team up to deal with farm security. So far, our government has struggled to come up with anything solid relating to farm security. To date (it could be my ignorance here), I have not heard of any white paper or any strategies being brought forward to deal specifically with the issue of rural violence.

Every time a farmer, his family and his employees are killed, politicians stand in front of cameras condemning the attack and vowing to leave no stone unturned until the perpetrators are caught — until the next attack, of course.

AfriForum is correct in calling for farmers to be vigilant, but should not exclude those who live on or close to farms. Implying that farmers will come under attack from black youths looking for land and that they should prepare themselves for widespread land invasions, Zimbabwe-style, is just being alarmist.

This is unlikely to happen for two reasons.

Firstly, South Africa is largely still governed by the rule of law and, secondly, contrary to the popular belief that young black South Africans want land, they actually want jobs, preferably under the bright lights of the city.

The “mobilise and prepare” comments should not be a call for farmers to take up arms and shoot anything that moves. We’ve had many stories where farmers have killed young black men, mistaking them for dogs or other animals.

Farm security is a delicate issue that will only be dealt with properly through the inclusion of all those affected. The alarmist approach that pits farmers and their communities against one another breeds paranoia and unfounded hatred, which only make the situation worse.

• Thamsanqa Magubane is a reporter at The Witness.

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