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South Africa – Farm attacks controversy

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The Afrikaner and the European far right are mobilizing international attention around the victims of the farm attacks, which they claim is the beginning of a “Boer genocide”. In March, 48 members of the European Parliament from 19 countries have condemned the murders of white farmers in South Africa in a statement of protest written by three far right MPs: Philip Claeys (Vlaams Belang, Belgium), Andreas Mölzer (FPÖ, Austria) and Fiorello Provera (Lega Nord, Italy).

sa2The statement was issued one month after a conference over the issue by the Transvaal Agricultural Union’s (TAU) Assistant General Manager, Henk van de Graaf, at the European Parliament in Brussels during which he called for personal sanctions against South African government officials if they do not address farm murders sufficiently. In February, the International Criminal Court (ICC) also received evidence concerning two complaints against 12 South African top politicians – including president Jacob Zuma and the former leader of the African National Congress Youth league, Julius Malema – on charges of genocide hate-speech and human-rights violations, says van de Graaf.
Part of the evidences consists in documents showing that Malema has been inciting ANC militants to kill Afrikaner farmers with the “genocide hate speech chant “Dubhula iBhunu” (Shoot the Boer in Zulu language)”. Since 1994, 1,554 documented cases of murders of white farmers or members of their family during farm attacks have been recorded, says van de Graaf, comparing the figure with the toll of 24 white farmers who were murdered in Zimbabwe since 2000 during incidents related to the invasion of commercial farms. According to van de Graaf, the first complaint to the ICC came in 2010 from an unidentified white farmer from Rustenburg in the North West Province. The office of the prosecutor of the ICC also received a second complaint from the “Pro-Afrikaans Action Group” in May 2011 against Malema and other ANC leaders. Among evidences of the murders, the documentary presented at the European Parliament showed the corpses of farmers and relatives who had been hacked by machetes and which were bearing dozens of injuries made with a fork. The whole issue has gained momentum since the assassination in 2010 of former far right leader Eugène Terre Blanche, founder of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, by two of his employees. Blanche’s political ambition was the creation of a separate Afrikaner state, the Volkstaat.
The issue has also drawn attention gained in United States. In September 2011, the American NGO “Genocide Watch” decided to upgrade South Africa to stage 6 (preparation), including the identification of targets, the drawing up of death lists, and targeted attacks. But since then, after a Johannesburg court’s ruling that Malema’s singing of the “shoot the Boer” song constitutes “hate speech” in violation of South African law and the issuance of an injunction prohibiting Malema from singing the song and his suspension from the ANC and his removal as President of the ANC Youth League, the NGO has returned South Africa to stage 5 (polarization).
Other sources disagree with the characterization of the attacks as racist. A South African police commission of investigation concluded in 2001 that 61% of the victims during farm attacks were whites. Tony Ehrenreich, the secretary of the Congress of the South African Trade Unions in the Western Cape Province considers that the marginalization and the bad treatment inflicted to the farm workers are the causes of the climate of instability in rural areas.
sa3There might be more consensus on the findings of the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) that each farm attack is costing the South African economy 1.93 million rands (252 000 dollars). Henk van de Graaf points out that “it takes up to eight years for a farm to get back into full production after a farm murder”.
Yet, nobody can deny that the background of this violence is the failure of the land reform. In a recent report on the sector, the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) stressed that insecurity in terms of land tenure sets limits to production and productivity. The Bank also points out that between 2002 and 2006, the number of households which had access to agricultural land has even decreased by 400,000 units to 1.4 million. Accordingly, after 15 years of land reform, only 4 million hectares, less than 5% of the land owned by white commercial farmers, were transferred to Blacks. This clearly indicates that the 30% target set for 2014 will not be met. The author of a book entitled ‘The Great South African land scandal” published in 2004, Philip Du Toit, expresses the fear that the destabilization of white farmers could have damaging consequences on the country’s food self-sufficiency and for neighbouring countries since Africa absorbs about 20% of South Africa’s total exports.
The trouble is that the prosperity of the sector is quite fragile. During 20 years, between 1975 and 1995, the fixed capital has decreased in real terms. In addition, according to the DBSA, the South African agricultural sector is performing less in terms of productivity than some of its major competitors, such as Argentina or New Zealand.
Unless the government, the police and social services get more involved in curbing the problem of land attacks, both on the repression and prevention fronts, tensions could exacerbate, because Henk van de Graaf’s organisation is not particularly moderate. During the Brussels conference he said he was planning to mobilize TAU affiliates to organize demonstration of tractors or roadblocks. But the long-term objectives are political. Van de Graaf advocates a Southern Sudan solution, in other words the establishment of a separate state, in line with Terre Blanche’s Volkstaat. “We think the time has come for us to stand our right to an internationally recognized self-determination” says van de Graaf who reminds that last September, Afrikaners elected their representatives in a so-called Volksraad (Afrikaner people’s parliament) led by Andries Breytenbach. However, he fails to say that only 23,000 people cast their votes, out of a potential total of 700,000. Yet, time is nevertheless running short to calm down tensions. Indeed, excitement is increasing among the ranks TAU and related groups.  “The farmers are structuring themselves in self-defence units” explains van De Graaf. Former South African Defence Force colonel Gideon Meiring, the chairman of TAU’s Security Commission is helping farmers to set up private armed patrols and radio networks. And private security companies are proliferating to replace the police commandos which were securing farms and were dismantled after 2003 under the pretext that they had been part of the apartheid repressive apparatus.

François Misser

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