Statistical analysis shows that South African farmers are three times more likely than ordinary citizens to be the victims of violent crime, and it is twice as dangerous to produce food than it is to be a policeman. Approximately two thousand farmers and farmworkers have been killed or maimed during the past two decades in South-Africa. In many instances the lives of the victims who survive will never be the same. Their quality of life is often radically diminished. Many suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder after having been brutalized- sometimes for hours on end while their close family members were forced to watch.
Yet a large percentage of farmers keep on farming. When recalling these horrific violent crimes, you see the trauma in the victims’ eyes and body language. You hear it in their voices.
In my book Farm Killings – victims tell their stories, I told the stories of ten families from farms in different parts of the country. Farm killers are cruel. Many are habitual criminals with no mercy for their victims.
Why on earth would the farmers carry on farming after their farms have been turned into blood farms and murder farms?
Because some survivors believe that they still have a purpose on earth. They can still create jobs and contribute to food security. While some feel they have been betrayed by their own employees, others feel that they cannot leave their faithful farmworkers whose families have worked on the farms for generations, in the lurch. So they stay. They do not want to do anything else. Farming runs in their blood.
I have often been asked why I focus on farm attacks, since housebreaking is equally rife, but to my mind there’s a difference because farmers are isolated by distance. Screams for help go unheard and the gangs have no reason to hurry. Farms are easily accessible like businesses usually are. It covers wide areas.
I’ve also been asked about the main motives for an attack, and whether racial hatred could be the driving force. Revenge for having been fired may be a reason. There was also one case of hatred, specifically a hatred of white Afrikaners. Stock theft and drug-running are rife at the Lesotho border farms, but more commonly the rationale is to simply obtain money and guns. Drugs, greed, cruelty and evil turn men into monsters.
People wonder about the human relations between farmers and workers, yet generally the relationships appear to be friendly, so much so that some farmworkers become victims themselves. Others seem to be quislings, aiding the gangs.
Every victim reacts in his or her own way. One farmer sacked all his workers, moved elsewhere, and now copes without workers. Nobody now knows where he keeps the safe and his firearms, he told me. He now lives in peace. Another farmer, a victim of cross-border raids, sold his family farm and started afresh on a bare piece of ground without a home, water or amenities, well away from the border. Like a born pioneer. Others turned to religion and experienced a new sense of nearness to God and even distributed Bibles to their attackers.
Amidst blood chilling stories about so much evil, it was uplifting to hear how friends, neighbours, and sometimes an entire community would react, doing as much as they possibly could to stand by the victims. If we are forced to accept that evil exists, then we need to acknowledge that its counterpart does so as well. It was inspiring, in addition, to see the willpower and determination of the farmers.
There were heart-warming stories. A farmer’s wife told me how a farmworker carried her to the ambulance after she had been shot. When she returned home, all the female farmworkers gathered around her bed to pray for her.
I admire the courage of the farmers.
One formidable woman farmer had to witness how the family’s beloved animal herder was cold-bloodedly shot by the farm killers in her cattle kraal, right in front of her eyes. After the murder she was abducted by the killers in her own car. Fighting like a lioness from the backseat, she kicked the driver in his head as hard as she could. He lost control of the car which overturned. The attackers fled and she managed to escape. She attributes her survival to the fact that she must have used all her guardian angels on that day.
In another incident, a farmer’s wife was abducted by farm attackers who were careering along at a hair-raising 130 km an hour. Her armed hijackers held guns to her head. When her son returned home from town in his pickup and tried to push the car off the road, the criminals opened fire at him. Worried about her son’s safety, she distracted the hijackers by jumping out of the car. She survived, but after 18 years still suffers psychologically telling me: “When night falls, I am consumed by fear and the night stretches endlessly before me.”
An Overberg farmer unhesitatingly went to help a neighbour during a farm attack and miraculously survived two gunshot wounds, both fired at close range. He underwent many operations to fix his shattered jaw and back. He endures pain daily, but the community donated a golf cart to him, so he carries on farming. Like the author Ian Fleming, who wrote the James Bond books, he believes that you only live twice. A lady whose husband became a hemiplegic and suffered brain damage after being attacked viciously, had to become a farmer herself. Several years later their son was attacked on the same idyllic Western Cape farm. Yet she counts her blessings because they are alive.
A farmer’s wife on a Lesotho border farm crawled past the body of her husband, her hands tied behind her back after the attackers who shot her husband dead, had left the farm. She said: ”It isn’t him lying there, I told myself the first time I saw his body. It’s not my husband. I think God gave me strength.”
A very religious Free State farmer fell to his knees and impassionedly started praying out loud when his attackers wanted to shoot him in the shower cubicle where they had cornered him. Moments earlier they’d killed his father and wounded his mother, with some of the horror witnessed by his brother’s three terrified children. The next moment he saw a radiant light and the same hands which aimed the pistol at him lifted him out of shower. His life was saved. It was nothing short of a miracle.
A Tzaneen chicken farmer was shot in the arm and four times in the head after which he was left for dead under a rubbish heap. He survived. His arm is not functional, but he only needed to rub ointment onto his head as those gunshots wounds were superficial. He continued farming, but switched to cucumbers and Arabic horses, adding drily that you do not shoot a Boer (farmer) in the head. You shoot him in the heart.
An elderly farmer whose wife of 34 years was killed by being stabbed in the neck during a triple farm murder (two employees were also brutally killed), was so overcome with grief that he had to leave the room when his daughter described to me how he had found his wife’s body under a tree. Yet he continues farming in Kwazulu Natal as well as in Congo-Brazzaville.
I visited a farm in Brits, North West Province, where a 25-year old man asked his gravely wounded father just after a farm attack; “Dad, will they put me in jail? I’ve killed someone.” The young man shot one of the intruders dead in order to save the lives of his mother and three siblings. Walking through their farmhouse, I was struck by the row of five mattresses on the lounge floor where the whole family huddle at night in an attempt to ward off their fears and nightmares.
This to me symbolized the indescribable trauma of farm attacks.
There are hundreds of similar untold stories in South Africa. Stories that will never be published in the media.
To me these farmers are heroes.
I could not sum up the contents of my book better than Dr Johan Burger of the Institute of Security Studies did. He said the book raises three major points: the utter brutality of farm attackers; the defencelessness of the innocent victims and the inexplicable power of faith and forgiveness.
57 700 000 (mid 2018 estimate)
4.0% y/y in January 2019 (CPI) & +4.1 y/y in January 2019 (PPI)
1.4% q/q (4th quarter of 2018)
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