Have South Africa’s commercial farmers declined from 120,000 in 1994 to 38,000? DA MP’s claim is misleading

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Violent attacks on South African farms have again been in the headlines, following the murder of a young farm manager in early October 2020.

Four weeks before Brendin Horner’s death, the country’s parliament debated farm murders at the request of the official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). Dianne Kohler Barnard, a DA member of parliament, spoke of “the recent scourge of farm attacks and murders of farmers and farmworkers”.

She claimed that due to this “from 120,000 commercial farmers, we are down to 38,000”. 

Is there evidence to show that the number of commercial farmers in South Africa has fallen as much? We checked. 

‘Widely quoted’ statistic
Kohler Barnard told Africa Check that the figure of 120,000 commercial farmers was for 1994. She said it had been “widely quoted”. 

In particular, she pointed to a 2015 policy brief published by Farmers Weekly, an agricultural magazine in South Africa. 

In the article, the publication said the brief was written for the Transvaal Agricultural Union of South Africa (TLU SA) by Frans Cronje. He is the chief executive of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a research and policy organisation based in Johannesburg. TLU SA is an organisation that advocates for farmers in the country. 

When Africa Check contacted the IRR, analyst Gabriel Crouse first said that the figure of 120,000 commercial farmers in 1994 seemed “excessive”.