South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa rejected claims that recent attacks on farmers should be viewed as racial actions, according to his comments distributed in a weekly newsletter.
"Contrary to the irresponsible claims of some lobby groups, killings on farms are not ethnic cleansing”, the President wrote. "They are not genocidal. They are acts of criminality and must be treated as such."
According to South Africa’s leader, it was naïve to assume that “relations in farming communities have been harmonious” in the past three decades since the end of apartheid. However, the President pointed out, it is the black and poor who have remained the main victims of violence in the country.
“The claim that violent crime on farms is part of an orchestrated campaign by blacks to drive white farmers off their land is simply not borne out by fact”, he said.
His comments come after a group of white farmers stormed a courthouse in the Free State province on Tuesday during a first court hearing in relation to the murder of local farmer, Brendin Horner.
The man, 21, was brutally tortured and killed on 1 October. Two black suspects, alleged to be livestock thieves, have now been charged with his murder. The demonstration led to shots being fired and a police van being burnt, as the protesters were trying to get to suspects, allegedly to carry out justice themselves. The leader of the rioters, Andre Pienaar, was eventually charged with terrorism on Friday.
In his newsletter, Ramaphosa referred to Horner’s murder as “the brutal killing” but condemned “the spectacle of white farmers” which he said “has opened up wounds that go back many generations”.
Horner’s murder and other attacks on farms was branded by civil rights group AfriForum as “a form of terror”. The group has been representing the interests of the country’s minority white population, telling AFP that 292 attacks on rural farmers have been recorded this year, 38 of which resulted in murders that have been carried out across all races.
“Not all farm murders are racially motivated, but race is not irrelevant. It is wrong to state that farm murders are by definition racially motivated. It is, however, just as wrong to try to present farm murders simply as ‘ordinary crimes’ or to state that race is in truth irrelevant”, the group’s deputy chief executive Ernst Roets recently said.
Ramaphosa has been one of the key pushers for the policy of land redistribution, after his election as President in February 2018 when he replaced South Africa’s previous head, Jacob Zuma. The new President announced a plan to make necessary changes to South Africa’s constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation. This move was widely condemned by the farming community where most fertile land is believed to be owned by the country’s white minority.
According to the 2019 census, more than 80% of South Africa’s nearly 58 million population is black, with whites accounting for only between 8% and 9% of the country’s inhabitants.