Evidence presented to last month’s Human Rights Commission hearing on the safety and security of farming communities has widened the context of this continuum of mass murder. It also helps to explain why the ANC government does not care.
Let’s begin with the submission of TAU SA, an organisation representing farmers. It was presented by General Chris van Zyl, a member of senior management specializing in rural safety. His military background places him in a unique position to expand the context to where it all started.
I was reporting from London in the mid-eighties and South Africa was on the TV screens every night, often as the main news. From there it looked as if the entire country was in a state of revolution, with angry, marching crowds, sjambokking police, tear smoke, bombs and, every now and again, people dying.
South Africans knew that these incidents were mostly isolated and often far-between – today in Cape Town and tomorrow maybe in Tembisa – but on the TV screens it all happened in South Africa and the entire country seemed to be on the run.
However, it is true that the United Democratic Front (UDF) was having considerable success in mobilising large numbers of people to rid South Africa of apartheid and the National Party government. It truly was a mass movement.
The ANC, on the other hand, was not. It only became a mass movement when it usurped the UDF. Nevertheless, the ANC strategy of total war was steadily being implemented and showing results. And in total war, of course, there is no room for sentiments such as the distinction between military and civilian targets.
Farmers were first identified as legitimate targets in Radio Freedom broadcasts during 1986 (as quoted by James Myburgh on Politicsweb, 20 September 2011.) On the ground, it was already happening. The first landmine explosion on a rural road was on 26 November 1985 and the second the next day. The first bomb claimed a passenger’s life and the second a tractor driver’s. Both were black. Par for the course in total war.
(But such murderous callousness is no longer part of the ANC psyche, not in 2014, right? On the contrary. Earlier this month, in a township where people had been without water for five days as a result of ANC mismanagement, trucks delivering water were chased away by ANC cadres. Why? Because the trucks were organised by the DA.)
Back to the early nineties. Statistics on farm attacks, says Van Zyl, showed a steady increase in numbers as well as in fatalities. And here is the point: the extreme violence against people living on South African farms continued unbroken beyond the inclusive elections of 1994 that brought the ANC to power.
As the numbers of the dead rose, organised farming approached government. At first, during the Mandela presidency, they received a concerned response and in 1997 a rural safety strategy was produced, combining the resources of the police and the defence force. A presence was created in rural areas nationwide and Van Zyl regards specifically the commando system as positive: “The mere fact that Commando members were predominantly local residents who knew the area and who served on a voluntary basis without expecting compensation, was a huge advantage.”
In 1998 President Mandela initiated a summit to address rural safety in general and violence against people living on farms in particular. But the climate changed under his successors, as the submission by civil rights organisation Afriforum shows. Now responsible government was steadily being replaced by denial and neglect.
First to go was the commandos, scrapped by Pres. Thabo Mbeki on 14 February 2003. The ANC explained with much show of concern that service delivery would not be impacted as the police would go on a recruitment drive and replace the skills and knowledge lost. This promise, as happens with many ANC promises, came to nothing.
The results were as expected. The murderers soon realised that their rural targets were more vulnerable than before and used Mbeki’s intervention to their advantage. By the 2006/2007 fiscal year, farm attacks were escalating by almost 25%.
So what did the government do? Did they react responsibly to this glaring proof of their failure and rectify the mistake? Did they improve protection for the growing number of victims? No. They started hiding the evidence. That was the last time official statistics on farm attacks was made public.
When Steve Biko died while in the heartless care of the police on 12 September 1977, The minister of justice at the time was Adv. Jimmy Kruger, a Pretoria lawyer and long-time member of the ruling National Party. The news of Biko’s death and the circumstances surrounding it caused an uproar in South Africa and news media the world over. When Kruger was asked for his response, he became instantly infamous by saying, “It leaves me cold.”
This is the direct translation of a common Afrikaans expression, meaning “it means nothing to me” or maybe “I couldn’t care less,” or even “I don’t give a damn.” However strongly it was meant, the minister’s sentiments were unacceptable and deeply shocking. His words became a landmark in the history and demise of apartheid.
Fast forward to South Africa in the 21st century under the ANC governments of President Thabo Mbeki and President Jacob Zuma and we have come full circle. Farmers, sometimes their families, sometimes their employees, are murdered and maimed at a rate that would constitute a full-scale government crisis in any civilised country. Not so in South Africa.
Here the ANC government either does not respond at all, or they lie by pretending that there is no real problem, or they claim that citizens concerned about the murders are just seeking publicity.
Some examples provided by Afriforum:
- On 17 January 2013, after Belinda van Noord’s father and brother were murdered on their farm near Brits, she presented a portfolio of 100 letters by victims of farm attacks to the secretary of the police minister, as arranged in advance. Half an hour before this happened, the minister issued a media statement calling the initiative a publicity stunt and stating that he did not take it seriously. It meant nothing to him. Ms Van Noord received no further response from the police.
- On 19 June 2012 a thousand people marched to the president’s office to demand action, with no visible result. A year later Afriforum presented a conference where gross negligence in police investigations of farm murders was exposed. The minister’s spokesman called the initiative racist. Nothing further was done.
- On 24 May 2012 Afriforum held a wreath-laying ceremony in front of the minister of police’s office. A total of 1,445 roses were displayed, one for every farmer murdered – as recorded in the book Land of Sorrow, published by Kraal (the second edition lists 1,610 farm murders.) A memorandum was handed to the minister’s secretary, appealing for farm murders to be declared a priority crime and for specialised police units. Receipt was acknowledged. No action followed.
Many more examples are listed. And, given that government evidently does not care about the well-being or even the lives of the country’s farmers, politicians have found farmers an easy, unprotected target. One example:
On 5 June 2012 ANC Youth League leader Ronald Lamola said the safety of “the Van Tonders and the Van der Merwes” could not be guaranteed while whites refused to hand over their farms to blacks. A few hours later Arina Muller, 29, was shot point-blank on a smallholding just a few kilometres from where Lamola spoke.
The ANC was left cold.