Subscribe to the bi-annual report
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Assessing and promoting civil and minority rights in South Africa.

[Source: South African Monitor.]

Then president Nelson Mandela stated at the Summit on Rural Safety in 1998: “Beyond the immediate human suffering, lack of security and stability in our rural and farming community causes serious disruption to our economy.” [1] Ten years later, more farmers in the small community of about 30 000 commercial farmers than ever are being attacked, tortured and killed in South Africa. [2]

More than 4 500 attacks have been recorded in the period 1990 to 2017, with a conservatively estimated 1 930 farmers and farm workers being killed. [3] These attacks are being perpetrated against members of all groups, including both farm workers and farm owners. Most of the victims of such attacks are Afrikaner farmers and their families, but black victims constitute a third of the overall numbers. Many permanent and temporary workers and their families also lose their source of livelihood as a result of a farmer’s death. [4]

Farm attacks and brutal farm murders threaten local citizens and foreigners, as well as food security in South Africa. In February 2017, Sue Howarth, a British citizen, was killed in her farmhouse by masked assailants after being tortured with a blow-torch. In April 2017, Dutch citizen Peet van Es was killed by five attackers on his farm after being tortured for five hours.

For years, the ANC government has been unable to make a committed effort to provide security to the valuable farming communities. However, reports by Western media [5] and responses by senior Australian decisionmakers condemning the dire situation of farmers in South Africa, indicate that international consciousness about the problem can no longer be prevented. [6]

The ANC’s commitment to a policy of expropriation of farmers’ land without compensation has reinforced wider concerns about a further weakening of property rights in South Africa, also in urban areas. However, there are many ways in which farm murders too have a negative effect, not only on the victims, their families and close communities, but also on the broader economy:

1. Farm murders strike at the heart of a distinctive competitive advantage of South Africa in broader Africa

International policymakers and business analysts consider agriculture and agribusiness as key sectors in the socio-economic development of many countries of Africa. [7] However, the continent’s capacity is often underdeveloped, resulting in it being the recipient of development aid. In the case of South Africa, a unique agricultural sector has been developed in one of Africa’s often arid and more challenging countries to farm. The unique value of this historical exception to the economy has in recent years often been overlooked due to domestic political agendas and campaigns.

2. Farm murders weaken the contribution of agriculture to the national economy and rural economies [8]

The contribution of agriculture and agribusiness to the national economy has been almost 2.5% of the GDP for years. Examples of agribusinesses include farming operations, input manufacturers, input suppliers and co-operatives, food processors, distributors and traders, and others. Agricultural linkages can be divided into four main groups, namely production, consumption, productivity and factor market linkages.

In terms of national production linkages, the agricultural sector and the sectors with which it has the strongest linkages represent around 7% of the total economy. Production linkages represent the backward and forward linkages between the agricultural sector and rest of the economy. The backward linkages arise through the inputs bought by the agricultural sector from the primary and manufacturing sectors, and the forward linkages through the agricultural products supplied to the manufacturing sector for further processing.

Consumption linkages represent the spending of farm families on locally produced consumer goods. The sector has strong linkages with the rural non-farm economy, which helps to restabilize the sometimes depopulating or stagnating smaller towns in the vast areas of South Africa.

Productivity linkages represent the non-market linkages between the agricultural and non-farm economy. Examples include the positive effect of lower food prices, which impacts on worker nutrition and productivity. Food security and political stability, the beneficial effects of knowledge flows that accelerate productivity growth in both agriculture and non-farm production, and the beneficial effects of the agricultural sector on the rural non-farm economy are also included.

The South African agricultural sector does not play a growth-leading or initiating role in the economy, due to its relative size. As a result, the growth impact of agricultural exports and linkages with the rest of the economy on a national level is significant, but limited. However, the sector plays a growth-enabling role, by supplying food to consumers at the lowest possible price by either producing it domestically or affording food imports with the exchange earned in the export of agricultural produce.

3. Farm murders lead to a serious loss of job opportunities

Factor market linkages represent the impact of agricultural income on the rest of the economy. This includes the investment of farm income in non-farm investments, and other factor flows, such the flow of capital and labour to the rest of the economy.

Statistics on agricultural employment differ according to definition and source, but it is safe to say that the sector employs around 700 000 workers. The agricultural sector is also labour-intensive compared to other sectors, because it employs about 4,6% of the total labour force. The mining and manufacturing sectors, in comparison, represent 8,5% and 12,5% of the economy, whilst employing only 2,3% and 11,8% of the labour force respectively. The agricultural sector therefore uses two units of labour per unit of value added, whilst the ratio is 0,3 and 0,94 for the mining and manufacturing sectors.

This makes the sector one of the biggest employers in the economy. During a period of high unemployment and underemployment of about 27% in South Africa, including more than 60% youth unemployment, the stabilizing role of agriculture in providing jobs cannot be emphasized enough.

4. Farm murders have a significant negative impact on provincial economies and rural social orders

In some provinces, the impact of farm murders on employment, social capital and the local economy is particularly significant. More than 18% of job opportunities in the Western Cape province are in agriculture or agribusiness. [9] The Western Cape accounts for about 60% of South Africa’s agricultural exports. The local manufacturing sector obtains up to 70% of its inputs from agriculture or agribusiness.

Dimensions related to agriculture also reinforce the context of local and international tourism. Tens of thousands of German, French, Dutch, British and other citizens reside in the Western Cape and elsewhere in South Africa, many of them also as farm owners.

The high levels of social capital reflected in the agricultural sector of the Western Cape played a major role in the fast mobilization of provincial urban and rural communities to protest against the brutal murder of Joubert Conradie on 24 October 2017. Conradie, a married father of two children, was killed by a gang consisting of several attackers on the farm near Paarl where he was born.

Conradie’s murder sparked national protests against the inability of the ANC government to protect farmers and other citizens against violent crime on 30 October 2017. On that date, thousands of people protested peacefully in what became known as “Black Monday”. The protests constituted some of the largest multiracial protests in South Africa against farm murders and violent crime since 1994 and included blockades of roads in many parts of South Africa. [10]

Farm murders also seriously rupture the social capital and economies of families and small communities in several rural areas in the northern provinces of South Africa, where underdevelopment and stagnant small towns already present challenges.

5. Farm murders weaken the multiplier effect that bigger agricultural output could have for the struggling economy [11]

The abovementioned approach of linkages, though correct, is limited, because it simply looks at the direct contribution of the sector to the GDP. One could also use multipliers to estimate the indirect impact of changes in the sector on the rest of the economy. These multipliers, calculated from national statistics, show that primary agriculture has a backward linkage of 2,14. This constitutes the fifth highest result in a grouping of twenty sectors of the economy.

Thus, a R1 million increase in demand for agricultural output will increase the combined output of the other production sectors in the economy by R2,14 million (inclusive of the original R1 million of the agricultural sector output). The closely related food, beverage and tobacco industry is calculated at 2,3, in the third position.

The calculated forward linkage of the sector is 1,81. If there is a R1 million increase in the cost of value added in the agricultural sector, then the combined value of output of the other sectors in the economy will increase by R1,81 million as a result of price increases.

Agriculture was the best performer across the first three quarters of 2017 and was the largest contributor to the country’s two percent GDP growth in the third quarter. [12]

6. Farm murders hasten the onset of food insecurity [13]

In general, food security is defined as having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. According to Statistics South Africa, the typical South African household spends more than 70% of its food budget on four main food groups: Meat (25%), bread and cereals (26%), milk, cheese and eggs (9%), and vegetables (10%).

An analysis of the combined net trade (net export tons less the net import tons) of the main items in each of the four groups provides a good indication of the country’s food self-sufficiency status. The trend is downward over time. South Africa is currently not self-sufficient in terms of the main food items consumed since the mid-1990s. A nationally representative survey of 2014 revealed that there were 7 million individuals who reported experiencing feeling hungry. [14]

South Africa’s population has grown by more than 20% since 1994 to an estimated 57 million people. It is set to grow much further still in coming years and decades. [15] Food security and affordable food produced by the agricultural sector are already at risk. The ANC government’s refusal to ensure proper rural protection or to properly assist farming communities in strengthening their security will only reinforce the risk of food insecurity in South Africa.


2. See, pp. 23-25.
3. Dirk Hermann, Chris van Zyl & Ilze Nieuwoudt, Treurgrond [Land of sorrow] (Kraal, Pretoria, 2013);; figures provided by crime analyst Lorraine Claasen, February 2018. These figures are the result of statistics kept and verified by the Transvaal Agricultural Union and the civil rights organisation AfriForum, also compared to police statistics. Not all incidents are reported to the police however, and some are excluded because of differing interpretations of the definition of a farm attck or murder. Also see
4. “Widow pours out her heart”, The Witness, 23 October 2014; “Ixopo farm attackers jailed for life”, Media 24, 31 October 2014.
8. This section is based on
11. This section is based on
13. This section is based on

South Africa at a Glance
57 700 000 (mid 2018 estimate)
4.5% y/y in May 2019 (CPI) & +6.4 y/y in May 2019 (PPI)
-3.2% q/q (1st quarter of 2019)
More information: Click here!