What makes farm attacks different- South Africa

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With a dramatic increase in farm attacks and murders, and while public discourse in this regard has been intensifying in South Africa as well as abroad, one of the most polarising issues is the question of whether this atrocity simply is an extension of general lawlessness in rural areas.

A good many political commentators, journalists and even agricultural unions are downplaying this phenomenon as the same tragedy that is taking place in townships and cities on a daily basis; people are robbed and murdered for a cell phone or a negligible amount of money. Numerically speaking, gang-related violence on the Cape Flats is even worse than the phenomenon of farm murders, it is said, and here, too, women and children are becoming the victims of endemic crime, the same as on farms.

Especially on social media, people complaining about farm murders are being vilified for “claiming special attention for the agricultural community”, while city dwellers and in particular residents of townships are killed every day as well.

However, farm attacks and especially farm murders are not the same as the other run-away statistics that once again are gradually returning South Africa to the level of a pariah state. At most it is equally tragic, equally damaging to families and communities, and equally requiring urgent attention. There are, however, three aspects in particular that distinguish farm murders from the rest, thereby rendering foreign intervention and special preventive measures essential.

Firstly, nobody is publicly asking for township or gang murders to be committed. There is no popular incitement to urban murders. This crime is not the theme of political speeches, neither do the masses chant “Kill a city dweller, kill a township family”. There is no deliberate creating a political climate that encourages it, as there is in the case of farm murders.

Secondly, robberies and urban murders are not committed with the same level of brutal torture. Children are not forced to watch while their mother is being raped; her eyes are not gouged out, and Grandma is not mutilated by a steel drill through her knees. On 4 June this year, AfriForum pointed out with absolutely shocking figures that in almost half of the incidents of this inhuman violence nothing was even stolen. This is murder for the joy of it.

Thirdly, following township murders there is no thunderous applause, especially on social media. Hundreds of radical Twitter accounts, with or without pseudonyms, welcome every report of yet another gruesome torture or murder scene and call for more of it, without any consequences. Law enforcers apparently lack the intention, ability or will to do anything about it.

What can be done about it?

Firstly, the ANC government has to admit the problem. Without such admission, no solution will be possible. This is not likely to happen by itself. Social, political and particularly foreign pressure will have to be used to get the ANC to do so.

Secondly, the ANC has to get its own act together and publicly turn its back on slogans from its mental legacy, such as “Kill the farmer, kill the boer”. The ANC should go even further and, like Mandela, should say this chanting will no longer be tolerated. It is fundamentally wrong, in spite of the South African Human Rights Commission’s controversial finding in this regard. South Africa does not have to have itself defined by hijacked section 9 institutions, especially seeing that international opinion is already beginning to refer to it as a crime against humanity.

What is needed now is action. A specialist unit should be established that can also take pre-emptive action through intelligence linking. It is unforgiveable that after 15 years no progress has been made with regard to the commitment by the police following the dissolution of the commandos, namely to establish a reservist force. In light of President Ramaphosa’s denial of farm attacks at the UN in New York last year, and the ANC government’s blatant failure to take tangible steps in this regard, he surely cannot be shocked if increasing numbers of South Africans and the international community are smelling a rat?

I often wish political commentators and the security ministers, or the President himself, would only once visit such a farm murder scene. They should smell it and see it: the bestial brutality of the torture, and the blood on the ceiling and the walls.

Only then they will be qualified to talk about the similarities and differences between farm murders and other crime.

Dr Theo de Jager is Board Chairman of Saai