The splash of violence has triggered uproar on social media, with many users blaming the authorities for turning a blind eye to racial murders. Currently the South African government is looking into constitutional reform that would let land to be expropriated from white farmers without compensation.
Radio Sputnik discussed this with Paul Toohey, chief reporter for the News Corp Australia Network and author of the report "Silent slaughter: South Africa's farmers being attacked, forced from land".
Paul Toohey: I think they have been doing it for many years, in a sense. South Africa has gun laws which are not unlike the United States which means that you procure arms and protect yourself. But in many ways they go a lot further in South Africa, building electric fences, particularly if you live on farmlands and taking all sorts of extreme measures will only buy you a certain amount of time when people come under attack so regularly over the people that build networks among farmers to ensure that they get some sort of protection, sort of response because the police are very unreliable. They need to talk among themselves and be in contact with each other to generate some sort of response if an attack occurs, which is extremely regular over there.
Sputnik: You’re saying that this is something that’s been happening over time for quite a while but is this perhaps an unusual spike of violence?
Paul Toohey: I think what’s happened is the attacks, the murders were quite high like 10-15 years ago, as high they are now, however the number of overall attacks each year against farmers are nothing like they ever were in the past, as they are now like these 400 plus attacks last year. And that’s not murders, but attacks on farms. That’s well on track to be a record year this year. I think what is disturbing to so many white farmers, and not just white farmers but black employees of white farmers, is the level of cruelty that accompanies some of these attacks; the levels of aggravation if you will. We’ve met people who have been tortured with household irons burned on their legs, shot at close range, watching family members executed in front of their eyes for no apparent reason. People not actually taking anything of any value and just executing people; which has led to an apprehension of fear that attacks are actually to send a message to white farmers that they are not welcome on the land anymore.
Sputnik: Why aren’t the authorities taking any measures?
Paul Toohey: On the one hand, the police force is subject to an empowerment movement, which means people are rapidly thrown into the job if they are black and on a program in South Africa which means they’re not necessarily highly skilled and highly trained. Overall, there’s a political narrative over there which comes, not just from minor parties but from the major party the ANC as well, which doesn’t send a strong message. Farmers, whether they’re white or black, are obviously very important to the South African economy and should be supported. There is a narrative that white farmers are on black land and they need to get off it.
Sputnik: In your view are the crimes against white farmers encouraged by the government’s so-called land grabs?
Paul Toohey: I think the government doesn’t directly encourage this. I guess there’re two things that are happening in South Africa. There are the land grabs that are encouraged by Julius Malema’s EFF, which simply encourage people to go down sit down on land and occupy it. And the government of Cyril Ramaphosa, the new president, on the record has been against that. But at the same time, the government of Ramaphosa is on the record as saying that they will expropriate land without compensation, and particularly they’re talking about white held land and farmland. So these two elements working together are a narrative that causes a lot of fear. If a white farmer said to himself, “Well, the situation so serious, I should sell my land and get off it,” they’re in a very bad position, because if the expropriation is going to come about, meaning that the land is going to be taken from them anyway, the market is obviously very depleted and there’s not much cause for them. I mean they are not going to be able to sell their land for a reasonable value anyway. The white farmers are in a very difficult position.
Sputnik: Sounds like a very deplorable situation. I was going to ask you what future do white South Africans have in the country, considering all this violence and the threats to property rights; but it looks pretty bleak.
Paul Toohey: What they need is a government to say “whoever you are, white or black, there’s not going to be a program of expropriation of land without compensation.” But the government, unfortunately, is not saying that.
Sputnik: So as far as I understand you’re saying that the only way out is to raise more awareness and then perhaps finally push through for different legislation that will protect them?
Paul Toohey: I guess the ultimate thing to do would be not to legislate, but to push through any expropriation legislate. And secondly, to have some sort of campaign on the part of the government which said you’re valued and you’re valued and welcome in this country. Now, even if the government did that, there are minor parties which are, you know, the ANC is not the only party in South Africa anymore there are different parties emerging; one of them is the EFF, which is a very virulent party, which is certainly effectively encouraging people to have a different view about African farmers.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.