Genocide on the farms? Show us the facts

25 March 2018 - 00:00
Four people have been arrested for farm attacks in Limpopo.
SAPS Police Tape Four people have been arrested for farm attacks in Limpopo.
Image: Supplied

A week ago I had one of those moments on social media when you get turned on for nothing. Well, almost nothing.

I had responded to a tweet from Ian Cameron, who is the head of community safety for AfriForum. He tweeted: "FARM ATTACKS There have been 109 farm attacks and 15 farm murders in #South Africa since 1 January 2018. #FarmAttacks #Farm Murders #LandExpropriation #LandExpropriationWithoutCompensation." Quite a mouthful.

But I've been watching this farm murder story with growing unease for months.

"That is absolutely awful," I replied. "Is it improper to ask the ages of the victims and what it is they were farming and where?" I was quickly lashed with right-wing vitriol, all now blocked, never to bother me again. But clearly I had crossed a line.

The line is you don't question the "white genocide" story in South Africa without a very rough response. It has obviously been carefully sold to the Australian government, which appears to have bought it. The British, too, are being sucked into this fabrication.

I didn't get a reply to my question. AfriForum announced it would reveal more tomorrow. Why wait? Every time I see a picture of white farmers beaten up by black attackers they are relatively elderly. Surely they are not still actively farming? So I started looking for details and I tell you, they are impossible to find. AfriForum and various farmer associations have numbers and the police sort of have numbers, but they are all over the place.

No one agrees on exactly what a farm murder is. Worse, there's no agreement on what constitutes a farm. The best resource, Africa Check, has tried hard to nail it down. Is the rate of murders on farms higher than the national rate? No clear answer.

Africa Check's Kate Wilkinson tried to get to a number last year. She recalled a Freedom Front Plus calculation of the farm murder rate of 133 per 100000 people, vastly higher than the annual national average of 33 per 100000.

Another MP calculated it at 97 per 100000. One of the intractable problems with the farm murder story is that in order to raise the ratio, you just have to count one farmer per farm, rather than all the family and labourers on it.

But the numbers, whatever they are, don't help if you don't know where they occurred, let alone what the victims were farming. There's a big difference between a 5000ha cabbage farm in Limpopo and a smallholding in Muldersdrift. Murders on either would be termed "farm murders" by people campaigning for recognition of farm attacks as a special category of crime.

I have a deep sympathy for people who are attacked. The violence in the farm assaults is appalling and there is no justifying it. But so is it appalling on the Cape Flats. It's appalling in rural Transkei and in downtown Johannesburg.

What is required is an open account of each unnatural death on every farm for the past decade. It shouldn't be difficult. Was it a farm or a peri-urban smallholding, for a start? What happened to the farm following the murder? What was being farmed on it? How old were the victims (people who creep around others in order to kill them are normally cowards - what are the ages of the dead and wounded)?

These should be easy questions to answer. The fact is, as you can see from all the hashtags on Cameron's tweet, that farm murders and expropriation of land are being wrapped into a perfect storm for the Ramaphosa administration. The president is going to have to deal with the issue even if elements of it are exaggerated. Only the facts will do. A judicial commission of inquiry would quickly get to the truth.

One truth is that agricultural production in South Africa has exploded since the advent of democracy in 1994. The gross value of farm production, according to agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo, has grown from R28-billion in 1994 to R246-billion now in nominal terms. Adjusted for inflation, output had more than doubled, to R263-billion, by 2016.

You can't achieve numbers like that in the middle of a farmer genocide.

Face it, though, Europeans didn't arrive here with the noblest of intentions. Centuries later, white people in South Africa still don't sleep easy. With the land question now palpably spreading fear, South Africa is once again approaching a watershed. Will we get it right this time? Can we fix this so we can all live here? The certainty is that without leadership from all sides, we will fail. And the stakes are seriously high.