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Monday, October 26, 2009

SA Farm Attack Report [10]: Literature Review

Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Farm Attacks, 31 July 2003

Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Farm Attacks

31 July 2003



Farm Murders in South Africa (Carte Blanche 1/2)

Farm Murders in South Africa (Carte Blanche 2/2)

There is a fairly large body of literature dealing with farm attacks and related issues such as land reform in South Africa. Some of this literature is in the form of reports by the South African Police Service (SAPS), the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and intelligence structures. There are also a number of publications by academics and researchers on farm attacks in general, as well as some original research on specific aspects, such as the Rural Safety Plan, offenders who have been convicted of farm attacks, issues relating to farmers and farm workers, land reform and the related issue of property rights. A number of short papers and news releases by representatives of farming associations, and topical articles published in magazines, commenting on the phenomenon of farm attacks and suggesting possible counter measures, were also drawn to the attention of the Committee.

The Committee regarded as essential to review all this literature. Firstly, they have information obtained by research which would have been impossible for the Committee to repeat. Secondly, the Committee had to evaluate the conclusions expressed, since later writers often seem to have based their views upon earlier unsubstantiated opinions. The brief of the Committee was to research and the review therefore includes, where deemed pertinent, a critique of this literature. The Committee also tries to indicate why it agrees or does not agree with some of those opinions.

It is convenient to review the various publications under the following rubrics:
  • Reports by security force and intelligence structures.
  • The causes and prevention of farm attacks.
  • Farm attacks in relation to the land issue.
  • Relationship between farmers and farm workers.
  • The Rural Safety Plan.

It should be noted, however, that the publications reviewed are not the only ones perused by the Committee. The Committee also took note of other reports, books, articles and even newspaper commentaries. Some of them are listed in the bibliography, but time and space do not allow them to be discussed here.


In 1997, in the context of growing demands from farming bodies that the Government should take action on farm attacks, a working group consisting of representatives of the SAPS, the SANDF and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) was formed under the auspices of the National Intelligence Coordinating Committee (NICOC), with a view to gathering and analyzing available information on farm attacks. The initial NICOC report, in December 1997, and was followed by several other reports by the National Intelligence Coordinating Committee (NICOC), the National Operational Coordinating Committee (NOCOC), the Crime Information Management Centre (CIMC), the Crime information Analysis Centre (CIAC) and the SAND.

NICOC: Attacks on members of the farming community (Interdepartmental report, 1997-12-07)

The report (p 10) provides the first formulation of the definition of ‘farm attacks’, which in essence became the accepted definition and which still remains in use today.1 Farm attacks are described as ‘attacks on farms and smallholdings as referring to acts aimed against the person of residents on such premises, whether with the intent to murder, rape, rob, steal or inflict bodily harm. In addition to the aforementioned, all actions aimed at harming farming activities as a commercial concern, whether for motives related to ideology, labour relations, land issues, revenge, grievances or racist concerns, for example, malicious damage to property, arson or intimidation also received attention’. However, what is generally referred to as ‘social fabric crime’, i.e. ‘cases related to domestic violence, drunkenness or the “normal” social inter-action between people’ is excluded from the ‘farm attack’ category.

The methods used by NICOC included the re-evaluation of case dockets, the collation of available statistics, an analysis of media reports and ‘overt intelligence, as well as follow- up investigations in areas in which attacks had taken place. Their findings can be summarised as follows:
  • From the ‘limited available statistics for the first nine months of 1997’, it appeared (p 4) that the majority of the 290 reported attacks, in which 61 people had died, had taken place in Mpumalanga, with a ‘significant number’ occurring in all the other provinces, except the Western and Northern Cape. However, citing problems with the provision of information on crime by the SAPS, the report stressed that these statistics were not reliable.

  • Viciousness ‘often’ characterised crimes against the farming community, thus drawing attention to them. According to preliminary results obtained from docket analyses by provincial offices of CIMC, premeditated murders seem to account for a small percentage of murders in South Africa (p 5), with the majority of murders seemingly associated with ‘social phenomena’ such as drug and alcohol abuse, domestic and inter-personal violence. (Unfortunately no factual information to substantiate this conclusion is provided.) Since the ‘commercial farming community’ only constituted a small percentage of South Africa’s population, their being targeted in an ‘apparently’ premeditated (and vicious) manner, underlined the seriousness of the situation. (It seems that sight is lost of the fact that attacks on smallholdings are included in NICOC’s own definition.)

  • A common theme in attacks was robbery, with firearms, cash and vehicles stolen. In some cases there seemed to be a revenge motive

  • However, in some of the attacks analysed, nothing had been taken, but the farmer had been killed, and some of the attacks seemed to have been carried out with ‘military precision’, with perpetrators (usually in groups) originating from outside of the area of the attack, even, allegedly, from great distances away (p 5-6). (The phrase ‘military precision’ became a catch phrase often used to describe farm attacks in general, although completely without justification.)

  • Some of these attacks appeared to be of an extremely brutal nature, involving the torture and rape of victims. (No statistics or examples are provided by way of substantiation, although other evidence does seem to support this.) There is also speculation about ‘racial hatred, retribution and/or sheer terrorism’. However, it was acknowledged that black farmers and workers, too, might be attacked.

  • Older, more vulnerable people were often targeted, and some of the victims were prominent farmers in their areas who might, it was suggested, be perceived as better off.

  • There is also mention of cases in which attackers had been ‘pretending’ to be security force members.

The report speculates about possible motives (p 8), noting that whilst some can be identified from investigations and ‘circumstantial’ evidence, others ‘should be viewed against the background of perceptions/viewpoints held by various individuals and members or organisations (presumably farmers) which cannot be ignored’. (This statement is somewhat illogical, since motives should surely be deduced from the actions of those carrying out the attacks.) Such motives might be criminal, or – referring to allegations by farmers - related to the ‘elimination of farmers’ or ‘land-related issues’. Reference is made to farmers’ perceptions that there is a campaign to drive them off their land, which they link to, amongst other things, the pre-1994 anti-farmer rhetoric by liberation movements, more recent anti-farmer utterances by NGOs, and intimidatory tactics such as the hacking to death of cattle. While there was ‘no direct correlation with attacks’, inflammatory statements by political leaders - one Thomas Likotsi, Free State leader of the PAC, is cited – or NGO leaders, there was a possibility that ‘dissident’ APLA/MK operatives might be implicated in attacks (p 15).

The report also refers to alternative viewpoints that ‘certain elements’ within the agricultural sector and right-wing groupings were using the attacks as a way of whipping up emotions for their own political agendas, possibly with a view to discrediting the government, and justifying taking the law into their own hands.

The report discusses the likely negative consequences of farm attacks for the country – including lack of investor confidence, increased vigilantism coupled with a deterioration in public confidence in the security community - and identifies problems, such as a supposed lack of intelligence capacity. It concludes with recommendations that a central database be established, and that there should be continued collaboration with agricultural NGOs and the national team established to investigate farm attacks.

NICOC: Attacks on farms and smallholdings (Status report, 1998-01-27)

The second ‘status report’, brought out in January 1998, was largely devoted to attempts by the intelligence community to identify perpetrators involved in farm attacks, and an analysis of trends. Thus far, it noted, it had not been possible to prove any link between any specific group or organization, or any conspiracy behind the attacks. In the discussion of trends, some assertions of previous reports are repeated insofar as the pre-planning of attacks and levels of violence are concerned. It is also averred that ‘in almost every case, the degree of violence…completely excessive (and) if a female is present she is usually raped’. (Again, however, there is no substantiating evidence. The allegation that female victims are usually raped during farm attacks was also an unwanted generalisation that was to be perpetuated.)

The report states that there were ‘very few’ cases which might be grudge-related and that crime was the main factor in the attacks. There was only one case (in the Northern Cape) in which the accused had claimed that it had been their intention to force the farmer off the land. No political link was established in a Free State case in which an APLA slogan had been painted on the wall at a murder scene (the specifics of the case are not given). Nevertheless, in some of the cases, it was alleged by the accused that the reason why they had committed the murder was that the white farmers were occupying land which historically belonged to them. However, no further details relating to these cases are provided, and it is conceded that ‘no clear motive has as yet been established in connection with numerous unsolved cases of attacks..…. while some outstanding questions still remain with regard to some other cases’. In conclusion, ‘action steps’ planned by this inter-departmental committee are outlined, including the continued gathering and processing of information, and close collaboration with Assistant Commissioner Britz and Director Seyisi, who would ‘re-evaluate all cases pertaining to attacks….since 1 January 1997 and…personally attend to any new cases reported’ (p 7-8). The findings of these two senior detectives were given in a report which appeared several months later.

SAPS: Attacks on farms and smallholdings (Departmental report compiled by Ass. Comm. K.J. Britz and Dir. M.E Seyisi., August 1998)

Assistant Commissioner ‘Suiker’ Britz and Director Errol Seyisi, who had been appointed by the President to coordinate investigations into crimes against the farming community, conducted an ‘in depth’ investigation of farm attacks between 1 January 1998 and 31 May 1998. After completing and submitting an incident report for all crimes falling under the rubric of ‘farm attacks’, investigating officers were required to complete specially designed questionnaires (Annexure A of the report), which were then evaluated and analysed at weekly meetings of the SAPS, SANDF, NIA, NOCOC and SAAU (South African Agricultural Union) Working Group. According to their report (p 2), some questionnaires were still outstanding at the time of writing the report.

With a view to detecting motives for the attacks, the 191 suspects arrested for the cases analysed had been subject to ‘thorough investigation’, and had been ‘questioned by different role players’. All information received, including from SAAU, had been thoroughly investigated.

A detailed breakdown of incidents each month, including per province, for the five month period is provided (p 3-8), followed by a discussion (p12) of motives:

Of the 305 attacks during this period in question 199 took place on farms and 106 on smallholdings. With a few exceptions, the motive was robbery or, in a few cases, revenge. The report notes the problems inherent in conflating attacks on farms and smallholdings (p 18-19) and points to the need to distinguish between them. Research showed that a ‘large percentage’ of people attacking farms came from the ‘target farm or vicinity’ or were linked to it in some way. The isolation of farms also rendered them ‘soft targets’. In contrast, many of the attacks on smallholdings were carried out by people from nearby townships or informal settlements.

In only three of the 305 cases, the report avers, were there ‘possible’ other motives, viz an attack in the Free State in which one of the suspects was a member of APLA, who had spent some time in the SANDF (although the attack had apparently been planned by a former employee), a case in the North West in which an arrested suspect, although claiming to be an APLA member, denied having committed the crime in the name of the organization, and a Northern Cape case in which, although the suspect had commented that farmers should be killed, the motive appeared to be robbery.

In response to issues raised by the SAAU, the report stresses that the main motive for the attacks appeared criminal, pointing out that all murders were brutal. It also suggests various reasons why attackers might lie in wait for a farmer and/or kill him, e.g. they might need the key of a safe or car in his possession, or might fear being identified. Nor is there anything abnormal about urban-rural links, such as those between former employees and urban criminals, since this type of migration has been a feature of South African life since the 19th century. While conceding that racial tensions, or revenge motives generated by dismissals, might play a part, the motive in ‘99% of attacks’ appeared criminal (p 18), and the investigators found no evidence of hit squads or other sinister forces orchestrating attacks.

In their concluding recommendations, Britz and Seyisi, whilst not minimizing the seriousness of farm attacks, warn against politicising the issue – including through ‘irresponsible comments’ – and recommend that the Rural Safety Plan, commando and farm guard systems, be supported and ‘utilised optimally’, and that ‘loyal employees’ be apprised of potential threat and drawn into preventive strategies. Whilst there was no indication that motives other than criminality played a part in farm attacks, investigations were continuing.

CIAC: Attacks on farms and smallholdings (in Quarterly Crime Report, September 1998, p 20.)

The Crime Information Analysis Centre (CIAC), which used to be the Crime Information Management Centre (CIMC) prior to 1998, compiled five reports which dealt specifically with farm attacks: two in 1998, two in 1999 and the latest in 2002. The first, which formed part of their Quarterly Crime Report, covers 1997 and also makes certain comparisons with the first six months of 1998. It starts with the important caveat (p 20) that the SAPS crime code list does not include a category for ‘attacks on farms and smallholdings’, and that, since the occupation of the victims and description of premises on which the crime took place is not given in crime data submitted to this component of the SAPS for analysis, police statistics are ‘dependent on ad hoc reports from ground level in SAPS and the statistics provided refer only to those cases which have in this way come to the attention of CIMC’.

From the reported attacks (eleven of which were on uninhabited premises), the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga experienced most incidents in 1997, with the Northern and Western Cape experiencing relatively few such attacks. The report continues that although statistics for 1998 were still being processed, preliminary figures for that year suggested a sharp increase in the number of such attacks.

A number of themes of earlier NICOC reports – including the ‘social fabric’ nature of the vast majority of murders in South Africa, and the ‘obvious degree of violence’ in farm attacks – are re-iterated (p 24, 29), without any substantiating facts or the provision of more detailed information. However, the generally brutal nature of crime in SA is subsequently pointed out (p 40), together with possible reasons for this phenomenon.

Although armed robbery was the main crime committed against farmers (breakdowns are given on p 29), the report notes that in over one fifth of reported incidents nothing had been stolen, and suggests possible reasons such as failure to gain access to homestead, or motives such as ‘revenge, land disputes….’. Stock theft, too, remained a problem.

The report provides a breakdown of characteristics of farm attacks, such as the percentage of attacks in which firearms had been used (two thirds of attacks), the race of victims (20% were black), and the nationality of attackers (in 1997 the overwhelming majority had been South African). Although the report draws attention to there having been a degree of negligence in some cases, it stresses that the intention was to alert potential victims rather than attribute blame. A breakdown of distances of farms which had been targeted from the nearest public road is also given (in 70% of cases this had been within 4 km). According to investigating officers, motives for attacks were ‘financial gain’ in the overwhelming majority of cases, with relatively few being attributed to grudge or revenge factors – and one (p 32) to a land dispute. The report also looks at the profiles of perpetrators, noting that a small percentage had been employees.

CIAC: Attacks on farms and smallholdings (Compiled by Supt. J.C. Strauss, December 1998.)

The second of the 1998 reports focuses primarily on the first six months of that year, but comparisons are made with 1997 trends. There was still no provision for ‘farm violence’ as a SAPS crime code category, and information in this report came come from questionnaires completed by the SAPS. The report refers to logistical and methodological problems in the processing of data, e.g. the lack of data typists and statisticians.

During the first six months of 1998, Gauteng, Kwazulu-Natal and Mpumalanga had experienced most of the attacks, with relatively few occurring in the Northern Cape. (Breakdowns are given on p 3-10.) Comments made in previous reports mentioned above recur, including those concerning the ‘massive increase’ of incidents of attacks and murders between 1997 and 1998 (pp 11, 12 and 25), and the fact that ‘headline murders’ (hijackings, taxi-related, cash-in-transit, etc., into which category farm attacks fell), constituted only a small percentage of all murders.

The main findings of this report, which did not differ significantly from those of earlier security agency reports, were as follows:
  • Armed robbery, committed in 58% of attacks, was the most common crime, followed by attempted murder (21%), murder (17%) and burglary (15%).
  • In 27% of the incidents nothing was stolen, and various possible reasons (e.g. resistance by victims, or thieves being taken by surprise before anything could be taken) were advanced.
  • A breakdown of the time of day in which attacks took place is given (e.g. 44% occurred between 16:00 and 24:00), but no clear pattern emerged regarding specific days of the week on which attacks were more likely to occur.
  • In 58% of the cases victims were attacked inside their homes (in two thirds of these cases the attackers had gained unforced entry), and in 45% of the cases the attacks took place outside (the total of 103% arises from the fact that in some cases in which there were multiple victims attacked some were inside and some were outside.
  • In 26% of the cases victims were ambushed by attackers lying in wait, in the farmyard, at farm entrances, inside the homestead, or in outhouses.
  • Firearms were used in approximately two thirds of attacks.
  • Almost 23% of the victims, including almost 17% of those murdered, were black.
  • The overwhelming majority of the 332 suspects arrested were South Africans; only nine were not.
  • More than three quarters of the suspected attackers were under the age of 30, and 48 (of the 332) had one or more previous convictions.
  • Over 70% of the victims were over the age of 50.

The report concludes with a warning regarding ‘ill considered public utterances’, and stresses the need for information to be given to the police from ‘the ground’.

CIAC: Attacks on farms and smallholdings (Report No 1 of 1999, compiled by Supt. J.C. Strauss, May 1999)

The report covers the period 1998 and the first quarter of 1999. It again starts by referring to the problems in obtaining accurate information and statistics about farm attacks (p 1): ‘The continuing critical lack of personnel and information processing technology is compounded by the incompleteness of and other deficiencies pertaining to some of the questionnaires and incident reports returned to this office from ground level and used as the basis of present research.’

Nevertheless, available statistics showed that there had been a ‘more or less consistent increase in farm attacks since January 1997’, with a decrease after the October 1998 Rural Summit, followed by an increase to an ‘all time high’ in March 1999 (the report asks whether the summit could have inhibited attacks, but does not suggest any mechanisms by which this could have happened). Despite problems with the quality of information processing, however, it avers (p 7) that there is no reason to suspect significant deviations from earlier trends.

Statistics provided (p 3-5) show that Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal recorded the highest number of incidents (184 and 162 respectively during the latter part of 1998), followed by Mpumalanga province (110). In what appears a slight shift in emphasis, compared with earlier assertions about the brutality of attacks, it is suggested that if attacks should turn out to be more brutal than other types of crime then there might be a racial or ideological element present. (Italics added.)

This report was written immediately before the June 1999 elections and – referring to alleged continuing intimidation of farmers, including by ‘driving cattle onto property to stage land invasions’ – it warns against political parties making inflammatory statements (p17).

Another area of focus in this report is the type of security measures (such as the presence of dogs, security gates, burglar proofing, external lighting and the carrying of firearms) taken by farmers, based on questionnaire-based research on 207 farms in the Eastern Cape. It concludes that, although farmers generally have the means of communicating with the outside world, they are not sufficiently security conscious, and recommendations regarding security measures are made.2

CIAC: Attacks on farms and smallholdings: 1 January – 30 June 1999 (Compiled by Supt J.C. Strauss, September 1999)

This report was very much an interim report, comparing statistics for the first six months of the years 1997 to 1999. Noting that the increase of 4,5% in farm murders in the first half of 1999 was, relative to the same period in 1998, four times higher than the increase in the overall murder rate in the country, the report starts by claiming that farm attacks escalated out of proportion to the general crime rate in the country. However, after reaching a peak in March 1999, attacks ‘stabilised at high levels’ for the following three months. During these months the worst affected provinces were Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal (p 1-4). The geographical spread of attacks is given on p 4-9.

Further findings (p 10-11), in which no distinct changes were noted since the previous report, were:
  • Some of the attacks had clearly been well planned and preceded by reconnaissance, so farmers should be on the look out for signs indicating an attack.
  • The distribution of attacks suggested that they sometimes occurred in ‘clusters’ (no examples are given) which might suggest that criminal gangs were targeting specific areas (p 9).
  • In a few cases workers had supplied information to criminals; however, workers themselves were also victims.
  • Investigations into police complicity were continuing. (Further details are not given.)
  • Stock theft remained a problem.
  • Many of the attacks were still of a very brutal nature, with ‘several instances of people being shot after they had been tied up’ having occurred and ‘from evidence in court cases …... it does seem as if a deep-seated hatred plays a role in some of these cases’. (Unfortunately not examples are given.)
  • Even a high conviction rate did not seem to deter attackers.

SANDF: Attacks on farms and smallholdings: November 1998 – 15 March 1999 (Research report compiled by Brig. Gen. J.F. Lusse.)

This report contains information of relevance for the Rural Protection Plan which, implemented in October 1997, aimed to ‘encourage all role players concerned with rural safety to work together in a co-ordinated manner, and engage in joint planning, action and monitoring to combat crime in the country’s rural areas’.3

The information used in the report had been gathered from commanders of nine SANDF regions, who had been requested by the Chief Joint Operations to submit information on every attack in their areas of responsibility during November 1998 to March 1999.

According to figures provided by NOCOC there had been 283 attacks, in which 46 people had died and 154 had been injured during the period in question. Seventy three of these 284 incidents had been reported to SANDF structures via commando involvement and, of these 55 ‘case studies’ which were suitable for research purposes, had been received. In other words, 75% of the cases reported to the SANDF is analysed in the report.

Of the victims in these attacks, 21 were active in commando or police reservist structures, and in only one instance a commando member was killed in an attack (p 2); however, ‘in 11 incidents (20%) the attacks were repelled by the victims with loss of life among the assailants’ (p 3).

This report describes how the commando system was activated in cases of attack – primarily through the NEAR radio system (in the vast majority of cases telephone connections had been severed prior to the attack) – as well as the extent to which security measures was in place, and/or utilized, and the location on the farm on which the attack occurred (e.g. in the house or at a farm stall). It notes that firearms were used in 56% of the incidents.

Regarding victims, all were been between the ages of 49 and 84, with 69% being older than 60 years. According to this report (p 6) the incidence of rape in these cases was high:

‘In 35 incidents (64%) the women were raped by the assailants and in six incidents (11%) 13 (sic) the victims were forced to act degradedly…..In 48 incidents (87%) there were a total of 49 women among the victims of which 36 (73%) were raped….’ (The pie chart providing a breakdown of the type of crime (p 7) uses the words ‘sexually assaulted’ and ‘degradedly assaulted’ as opposed to ‘rape’.)

The profile of attackers provided by this report is similar to CIAC reports: In most cases there were three or more, aged 31 or younger. However, unlike the other reports which suggest that relatively few of the attackers were known to the assailants, attackers were known to the victims in three quarters of the cases analysed in this research, and violence may have been used in an attempt to silence them. As indicated by the ages of the victims, the elderly appeared particularly vulnerable to attack.

In discussing possible motives, the report posits only one instance which appeared political, in which the victim had been killed because he had allegedly ‘lived with a woman of colour’ (p 5). Revenge was the presumed motive in 18% of the attacks (p 5), with the 80% remaining incidents being attributed to crime, with firearms, vehicles, cash and jewelry the main items stolen. Intriguingly, single action shotguns were left behind when hand weapons and/or automatic rifles were stolen, suggesting that attackers possessed some basic knowledge about guns.

For the first time in the literature emanating from security structures there is mention of ‘battle indicators’ such as the staking out of the farm targeted, the questioning of employees, approaches to the farmer (for example, to purchase a commodity), some type of threatening behaviour by unknown persons prior to the attack, or disquiet amongst farm workers in the days preceding the incident (p 8).

The report concludes with recommendations concerning improving protection through training farmers to recognize omens in the form of battle indicators, and greater involvement in, and improvement of, the commando system in the Rural Protection Plan.

CIAC Report: Attacks on farms and smallholdings: 2001 (Compiled by Supt. J.C. Strauss and N. J. Grobler, August 2002)

This report has not yet been made public because some of the information is still to be verified. CIAC has kindly made the report available to the Committee, however, with the caveat that the information is to be regarded as provisional only. The report is the best of all official reports brought out so far: It is well-structured and contains very useful information not available previously. The report is referred to extensively in other sections of the Committee’s own report, and will therefore be reviewed here only briefly.

The report indicates that the number of incidents during 2001 exceeded the one thousand number for the first time, standing at 1011, which was an 11.6% increase on the previous year. Murders only increased marginally, however, and stood at 147 against 144 for 2000. In fact, the figure for murder has remained at between 140 and 150 since 1998 (p 8).

Important statistics on victims are given for the first time, with a breakdown of the figures for the various provinces. The total number of victims came to 1398. Apart from those killed, 484 of the victims were injured seriously. Furthermore, an analysis of the age, gender, as well as of the race of the victims, is made. (This was obviously in response to the allegation that white farmers are being targeted in farm attacks.) It is also indicated how many farm workers or their families were attacked.

For the first time, also, the report distinguishes (p 9) between farms and smallholdings, indicating that 37.7% of the attacks occurred on smallholdings.4 The report analyses the time and place (e.g. inside the house) of the attacks, weapons used by the attackers and the items robbed. It also analyses the main offences committed and remarks (page 16) on ‘the disproportionate number of violent crimes accompanying attacks on farms and smallholdings’.

The reports concludes (p 18) by stating that the SAPS is ‘remarkably successful in apprehending the criminals involved in attacks on farms and smallholdings and in many provinces the chances of such criminals escaping justice are very slim indeed’. (Unfortunately no statistics are given.) It says that the trends during 2001 did not indicate any significant new developments, although more farm workers and foreigners seemed to have been involved in farm attacks.

The report says that there is no concrete evidence of a coordinated onslaught against the farming community, but it warns against the threat of intimidation, arson and theft of stock and crops, which are forcing some farmers off their land. On the plus side the implementation of the Rural Protection Plan, the gathering of prior information, the vigilance of potential victims and the involvement of the SANDF have had a positive effect.

Summary of security agency literature

In summary, there are common themes in the above-mentioned reports:
  • The overwhelming majority of farm attacks are attributed to criminal motives (robbery of guns, cash, cars etc) with some cases in which there is a revenge motive.
  • The majority of victims are middle aged and elderly and thus seen as ‘soft targets’.
  • Perpetrators usually operate in groups and there may be urban-rural links; in some instances intelligence for the attack is provided by employees or ex-employees, and there is evidence of planning taking place before the actual attack.
  • There is mention of isolated cases in which there are possible political motives, but in none of these instances was any link to organizational structures proven.
  • There is a problem in conflating smallholdings and farms for statistical and analytical purposes.
  • Those targeted include black as well as white victims

However, in general there are also points of criticism of these reports:
  • The compilation of the statistical information, which is of central importance to the analysis, has not always been satisfactory. The latest CIAC report has taken a new direction, however.
  • There is a tendency to make ready generalizations without substantiation. For example, assertions are made about women being ‘usually’ raped, but there is little statistical detail to substantiate this. Nor is there any exposition as to why farm attacks are supposedly more brutal than other crimes, except in the last CIAC report. At the same time, not only are these statistics widely cited, usually uncritically, but these unsubstantiated generalizations are often picked up and used, selectively, to support interpretations that there is a hidden political agenda to attacks, as will be indicated below.


Louw A.: A Framework for Solving Farm Attacks? (in Nedcor ISS Crime Index No 5, 1998, p 7.)

In her article Louw compares the statistics for attacks in different provinces for the period January to September 1997 and 1998. She notes that just over a third of these attacks took place on small holdings, accounting for just over forty percent of people killed during the January – May 1998 period. (It is not clear where Louw got the statistics from.) Louw argues that it is essential to separate attacks on smallholdings from those on farms if a strategy to counter farm attacks is to be formulated, because there are differences in dealing with crime in urban and rural areas. Furthermore, attacks on farms should be viewed and dealt with in the broader context of crime and safety in rural areas generally.

Of the deaths during this period, 31 had occurred on farms and assuming, says Louw, that the population universe of farmers, workers and their dependents was 4,5 million (she does not indicate how she arrived at this figure), the farm attack murder rate is actually 0,6 people per 100 000 of the population for that period. In contrast, she notes, the general murder rate for January to March 1998 was actually much higher – 13 per 100 000. This reasoning is erroneous, of course, since by definition all social fabric crimes are excluded from the farm attack category. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to establish the total number of ppersons on South African farms.5

Shaw M.: A Grim Harvest : Countering Attacks on Farms and Smallholdings. (Crime and Conflict No 15, Autumn 1999)

Drawing uncritically on statistics from relevant CIAC reports, Shaw compares attacks on farms and smallholdings for the months January to September 1997 and 1998. He provides a succinct overview of findings presented in these reports before going on to discuss the high profile Rural Safety and Security Summit which had been held in October 1998, as a result of allegations that the State was failing to address what farmers had claimed was a campaign to drive them off their land.

Referring to the Summit as a success (p 7-8), he notes the formation of three working groups, each with areas of responsibility, to take the process initiated at the Summit further, i.e. those looking at communication and research, operational responses relating to the Rural Protection Plan, and rural safety policy. While the Rural Safety Task Team had been working with ‘some success’ in reducing attacks on farmers, Shaw identifies two areas of concern relating to, firstly, the need to focus also on continuing attacks on small holdings and, secondly, reservations relating to the composition of the Task Team, in which government participants are ‘over represented’, whilst there are problems in securing representation of small farmers and landless people.

Visser J.M.: Violent attacks on farmers in South Africa (ISSUP Bulletin, University of Pretoria, March 1998)

This overview of farm attacks was written by South African Agricultural Union official J.M. Visser in his personal capacity. He illustrates his article with a breakdown of attacks on farms during the 1994-1997 period, which is not sourced, but is presumably from records kept by the agricultural union, since there are no pre-1997 statistics in CIAC and NOCOC reports.6 The statistics used show a wildly fluctuating pattern in the number of farm attacks between 1994 and 1997, but a noticeable increase in the number of murders during this period (from 92 in 1994 to 142 in 1997). Since he is able to give a breakdown of the days of the week on which most attacks had occurred, he is presumably drawing on a detailed database. For reasons discussed elsewhere7, however, the validity of the 1996 and 1997 figures must be called into question.

Possible factors giving rise to attacks on farmers - the culture of violence, poverty and unemployment, revenge, access to firearms, organized crime, illegal immigrants, gang-related crimes and inflammatory statements – are discussed briefly (p 2-5), followed by a breakdown of the type of attacks taking place. In addition to attacks on farmers and workers, robbery and hijacking he notes also the incidence of arson and stock theft (p 5-6); the latter, he notes, is becoming increasingly problematic, leading many farmers to abandon this type of farming. (Stock theft, it should be noted, is a tremendous problem to black subsistence and white commercial farmers alike.)

Broad characteristics of attacks are summarized under ‘Extent of the attacks’ (p 7), followed by a discussion of the factors which increase victims’ vulnerability (p 8-9), the times (months, days of the week) at which attacks have been most likely to take place and the modus operandi of the victims. There is also a brief overview of the Rural Safety Plan.

There is a considerable degree of overlap with information contained in the security agency reports referred to above, including a reference to cases in which political overtones appear in the rhetoric of the attackers (p 8). There is, unfortunately, also a general lack of specificity with regard to some of the assertions made, making follow up difficult. For example, no examples of instances in which ‘land is reclaimed by emotional or unstable claimants’ (p 9) are given, and nor are the cases in which ‘attackers pretend to be members of the security forces and are even dressed in uniform to mislead the householder’ (p 10-11) detailed.

Naude W. and Van Rensburg L.: Farm attacks in rural South Africa – an economic explanation. (African Insight, Vol 29. Nos 3-4, January 2000.)

In this paper the authors, researchers from the University of Potchefstroom, provide a detailed breakdown of the type of economic factors - poverty, unemployment and gross inequality – which they consider, to be extremely likely to fuel an escalation of violent crime, including farm attacks, in rural areas. Their analysis is based on data relating to the North West Province, where agricultural production is a significant contributor to earnings in this sector nationally. Whilst there would, they note, be certain variables which would be specific to this province, a number of factors impacting upon increasing levels of poverty there – including GEAR macro economic policy and the possible effect of legislation relating to farm workers, such as the Land Tenure Act – would also apply to the country as a whole.

Against the background of steady cutbacks in the agricultural, mining and construction sectors during the past two decades, and existing widespread rural poverty (statistics are cited), the authors predict that unemployment will increase, especially for low-skilled male employees, including migrants to urban areas. Whilst there is, as elsewhere, increasing ‘within race’ inequality, there were still glaring discrepancies between white and black farmers as racial categories, the historical legacy of underdevelopment of black agriculture remained, with African farmers falling into a ‘peasant’ or subsistence and not ‘commercial’ category.

To remedy the situation, thereby averting what the authors argue is a ‘likely ……. escalation of crime in rural areas’ (p 55), they suggest a number of initiatives which could be taken by commercial farmers, business and Government:
  • Developing and strengthening ‘off farm economic activities’ and rural markets.
  • The promotion of small-scale farming and strengthening black-owned or joint venture commercial agricultural projects.
  • Improving business opportunities in rural areas.
  • Employment subsidies to encourage employment in commercial agriculture.
  • The development of rural tourism.
  • Strengthening local government and its role in developing social and economic infrastructure.
  • Investment in human capital through education and training.

The authors make specific recommendations (p 55) regarding the role of commercial farmers in improving the living conditions of their workers, and assisting with ‘social infrastructure’, such as medical and educational facilities and insurance to rural inhabitants’ – arguing that it is in the interests of farmers’ security, and rural safety generally, to promote the type of economic development they advocate.

Mistry D. and Dhlamini J.: Perpetrators of Farm Attacks: An Offender Profile. (Institute for Human Rights and Criminal Justice Studies, March 2001)

The authors of this study are attached to the Institute for Human Rights and Criminal Justice Studies of Technikon SA. The study is based on research they had undertaken to develop an offender profile, with a view to determining the motivation underlying violent attacks on farms.

Forty-eight offenders who had committed such crimes between January 1997 and February 1998, and who were, in 2000, serving prison sentences, were interviewed. Offenders were asked questions about
  • their family background,
  • the circumstances surrounding the attacks,
  • their emotional state before, during and after the attack,
  • their reasons for targeting particular farms,
  • their knowledge about security on those farms,
  • their involvement in other crimes,
  • their views about their sentences, and
  • possible ways of preventing similar attacks

It was found that the offender who was involved in farm attacks was a young, single, unemployed black South African male between the ages of 15 and 35 with an unstable family background (raised by a single parent, grandparents or relatives).

The motive in most (90%) cases was robbery. A small percentage (6%) of offenders said they had grudges against the victims targeted. The rest did not know why they went to the farms. Victims in robbery-motivated attacks were injured or killed if they were not co-operating, retaliated, or could identify the offenders. Younger offenders were often anxious and panicked during the attacks, also resulting in victims being injured or killed.

Many (48%) of the farms were targeted because offenders had information about the availability of money and lack of security on those farms. Present or previous employees had often told offenders that farmers kept money in safes in their homes. It is not clear whether or not employees provided information because they were disgruntled, or whether they were unaware that the offenders might attack farms.

Offenders motivated by robbery took between three to seven days to plan their attacks, often camping nearby. Most offenders (67%) traveled less than 40km to the farms they attacked. Half of all offenders had lived on a farm at some point in their lives. The majority of offenders had illegal firearms and knives at their disposal during the attacks. The main target of robberies was money rather than firearms. If there was no disturbance, however, they stole whatever items were available.

The majority (73%) of offenders had never heard of the commando system, despite the introduction of the Rural Safety Plan in late 1997. They did not worry about the possibility of being caught by police. They felt police stations were too far away from farms. They did not worry about being shot by victims either. This was because attacks were planned so that victims would be surprised and unlikely to retaliate successfully.

More than half (54%) of all offenders had previous convictions. A third had previously committed similar farm attacks. However, most offenders under 18 years of age were first-time offenders. Offenders did not believe harsh sentences to be a deterrent, as they did not expect to get caught at the time the crimes were committed.

The authors concluded that farm attacks were not generally politically or racially motivated but rather that, for the criminally inclined in depressed rural areas, farms were logical targets of relative wealth.

Short-term recommendations for farm attacks, the authors suggested, should thus focus on measures to reduce the relative ‘attractiveness’ of farms in terms of attack. Security should be improved as many farms had very little security. Incentives for attacks should be removed by ensuring that money was not kept on farms, and that this fact was known. Farm workers

should be enlisted on the side of their employers, with a view to (a) their reporting suspicious persons camping nearby, and (b) preventing them giving out information that might lead to attacks. Content farm workers with a stake in the survival of farming operations were more likely to assist in this regard.

In the long term, however, measures to address rural unemployment and poverty, and to reduce the number of persons growing up in unstable families, were needed.

The most serious criticism against the methodology used in the study is that the researchers had to rely to a large extent on the word of the perpetrators – a fact acknowledged by the authors (p 16). In one case (p 41) three attackers aged between 20 and 23 attacked a 75 year old farmer who was lying under a tree. The one attacker simply went straight to the farmer and stabbed him to death without saying a word because, he says, he panicked since there was not supposed to be someone home and it was the first time he had been involved in such an attack. It is difficult to see why the three could not simply have overpowered the victim. There are other cases, too, where unconvincing explanations are given, e.g. p 38 to 39, where the farm worker inflicted several stab wounds on a farmer’s wife, killing her in an obvious revenge attack. His explanation is that he did not realize the victim was a woman.

Although the researchers had access to the police dockets on the cases, they unfortunately experienced great difficulty in getting hold of the official court records. They were also hamstrung by the fact that, although they could ask probing questions, it would have been improper for them to cross-examine the interviewees to reveal any mendacity on their part. On the other hand, the way in which the perpetrators rationalized their actions is revealing in itself (p 16). Furthermore, many of the perpetrators were obviously truthful during the interviews. In short, it is a very useful study.


Haefele B.W.: Violent attacks on farmers in South Africa: is there a hidden agenda? (Centre for Military Studies, University of Stellenbosch, 1999)

This 1999 conference paper,8 written by a researcher at the Centre for Military Studies at the University of Stellenbosch, is largely a reworking of material from security agency reports and the article by Visser, all of which are summarized above – even to the extent of pieces of it having been copied, word for word, from these sources. For example, on page 4 the following is found: ‘In analyzing the possible motives for the attacks on the farming community……some of the motives can be identified from investigations and others deducted (sic) from circumstantial evidence. Other motives have to be viewed against the background of perceptions held by various individuals and members …….’ Apart from the omission of one word (viewpoints) and the misspelling of another (‘deduced’) it is exactly the same as point 15 on page 8 of the NICOC report of 5 December 1997. The paper is also riddled with unsubstantiated generalizations.

After citing increases in crime, including farm attacks, in recent years and referring to characteristics of, and possible motives for, farm attacks (p 1-6), Haefele proceeds to explore the ‘land issue’ as a possible motive for attacks. He presents a brief, grossly oversimplified picture of farming in nineteenth century South Africa – which totally ignores an important body of research by historians and anthropologists on the important economic role played by black peasant farmers during that period.9 He moves on to look at the period after the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, in which the infamous Land Acts were enacted (his treatment of this period is, again, greatly oversimplified) before touching on the death blows dealt to black peasant farmers after the advent of apartheid in 1948. He then turns his attention to the present Government’s land affairs policy, as embodied in the Land Affairs White Paper dealing with reform and restitution (p 7). He avers, however, that although the Department of Land Affairs has made progress, ‘it seems as if a sinister force is hindering the reconciliation and reconstruction of agriculture in South Africa’, for 507 farmers and their families had been murdered in 1158 attacks between April 1994 and June 1998.10

The author goes on to suggest that competing claims – for example, between different communities, or between men and women, or ‘members of communal property associations, who move as group onto a previously white-owned farm, and the resident farm workers, who may be deprived of access to land’ (p 8) – may hamper the land reform process. The crux of his argument appears to be that, because of this land reform programme ‘(t)ensions are running high and people are emotionally aroused. Further statements regarding the ownership of farms and which are widely published in both the electronic and printed media, can create a climate for attacks on farmers’ (ibid).

Why, if people – according to the argument he puts forward – are fighting among themselves for the spoils of land reform, they should attack farmers, is not explained, nor is any evidence produced to show a link between people who are suffering from relative deprivation because of land redistribution and attacks on farmers.

The paper then jumps to the subject of the Rural Safety Plan, questioning whether – in the light of the reported dramatic rise in attacks between 1997 and 1998 – it is a success, or whether citizens, lacking protection from the State, need to turn to private security companies such as Executive Outcomes, which had reduced stock theft in the Eastern Cape. In his conclusions, the author concedes that ‘(b)ecause of limited evidence, it is dangerous to draw conclusions regarding the land claim issue’. However, without providing any examples by way of substantiation, he then goes on to claim that ‘attacks may be aimed at farmers living on former tribal land which had been expropriated under the previous dispensation. Previous owners may reclaim their land and this can give rise to the farm attacks’.11

Moolman C.J.: Farm attacks and the African Renaissance. (2000)

This monograph by criminologist, Prof C J Moolman, is the most detailed, scholarly and comprehensive attempt to explain the phenomenon of farm attacks. This is a very important work which merits close consideration. Unfortunately space permits only a broad summary of the most salient features of his detailed argument.

Arguing that farm attacks should be viewed against the broader political background (p 2), Moolman situates them within the context of the African Renaissance, referring to historical and cosmological factors, as well as contemporary land issues in South Africa. The author draws on the crime and intelligence reports discussed above, as well as agricultural organizations (SAAU/AgriSA and TAU), for statistics for the period 1991-1999. He also conducted independent research using a variety of methods, such as sifting through media reports and relevant literature. He also conducted interviews with members of the police and farming communities as well as with various with other well-informed people, such as a specialist in indigenous law, traditional leaders, and anthropologists (p 10).

Moolman argues that explanations provided by police and intelligence structures (which are referred to in some detail, e.g. Chapters 5, 6 and 7) and other researchers, cannot account for the steep increase in farm attacks in recent years, and the premeditated and brutal nature of these attacks. The driving force behind these attacks, he avers, is located in African nationalism, which is a product of a clash of African and Western cultures (p 167), and the political resistance spawned by colonialism and apartheid. The focal point of the present struggle is land, in the context of expectations of land restitution engendered in the course of the liberation struggle, the policy of the post-1994 Government and the tardiness of this Government in implementing this policy.

Central to Moolman’s argument is the concept of ‘mindset’ (p 20, 73-76). There is a European mindset, characterized by, amongst other things, individualism, enterprise, free market economy and technological innovation. This type of mindset is associated with white commercial farming. In contrast, central to the African mindset is communalism, shared access to land, the inheritance of land, and a type of mystical relationship between humans and land (a person without land is not human). There are also important linkages between land and world view/cosmology, especially through ancestors. There is a ‘high level of unadaptability of African cosmology to Western capitalistic thinking’ (p 49). This type of mindset is associated with subsistence farming and ‘barter economy’. Tradition keeps this communalistic type of society functioning: ‘If the African society wishes to survive, it will have to move away from the traditional way of thinking on farming’ (p 76).

The European and African mindsets are thus diametrically opposed – but there is a third mindset which, while deriving from ‘western’ Marxist theory, has become intertwined with the African mindset during the crucial struggle phase, i.e. the Socialist mindset, which posits landowners and exploiters and landless as exploited.12 According to this view, violent struggle would be a legitimate way of rectifying an unjust system. Moolman does note, however, that this mindset, with its emphasis on contradiction and confrontation, is opposed to the ‘consensus’ values of the African mindset; it is also inimical to the demands of the world economy (p 75-76).

The struggle over the land, Moolman argues, has already begun, and is manifested in farm attacks. Referring to events in Zimbabwe where, in 2000, the invasion of white farms was starting to gain momentum, and to press reports of similar threats in two South African provinces (KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga), he cites a warning arising out of research on land policy in other developing countries,13 that ‘if the redistribution of land does not progress fast enough, international experience and research indicates that the disappointed masses will view invasion of land as the only effective solution’ (p 70-71).

Moolman supports his arguments about continuing struggles around land by citing submissions to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee by especially the Pan African Congress (PAC) and Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA), which, he suggests, were conspicuous for their lack of remorse for the attacks on civilians and farmers during the liberation struggle. He also refers to post-1994 speeches, including in Parliament, by ANC and PAC politicians concerning the theft of land by whites. He notes, too, that during farm attacks ‘in many cases one or both parents are being tortured or killed in front of their children’ (but examples are not given), and cites reports of political utterances at crime scenes, and allegations of PAC plotting, mentioned in NICOC reports. Why, he asks, are the thousands of black-owned shops in rural areas not subject to such attacks?

Amongst the numerous concluding recommendations, many of which deal with the security of farmers, is the exhortation that the Government should speed up the land distribution process and work to improve ‘racial perceptions and relations’ (p 182-184).

A critique of Moolman’s arguments.

Firstly, it must be stressed, Moolman’s monograph is a very important contribution to debates around farm attacks, highlighting as it does the crucial factor of land redress in South Africa. The present criticism is based not on the logic of his argument – for the inferences he draws flow logically from the sources he cites – but on the sources themselves. Furthermore, in scientific enquiry it is accepted that the value of a hypothesis (such as that put forward by Moolman) lies not in whether it is right or wrong, but in the debates it generates and the further research and understanding of issues to which it leads – criteria which this monograph meets admirably.

This work draws heavily on inferences drawn from statistics which are not necessarily reliable, as well as unsubstantiated generalizations in reports by agencies such as NICOC and CIAC. However, since the premises on which Moolman’s mindset theory rests are accepted uncritically by a significant sector of South African society (e.g. the memorandum compiled by Action Stop Farm Attacks referred to below) it is crucial that they be subject to close scrutiny and evaluation.

Moolman notes, quite correctly (e.g. p 2 and18) that the ‘separateness’ of apartheid extended to social isolation, and lack of communication, between people of different race groups. Since politics pervaded South African society, there were also important intra-racial divides, especially in academia. This divide was conspicuous in anthropology, from which Moolman draws extensively in order to build his argument about an ‘African’ mindset. Of importance here was the split between anthropologists at English medium universities and anthropologists from most (but not all) Afrikaans-speaking universities in 1980, over academic support for, and legitimization of, apartheid by a number of Afrikaans-speaking anthropologists. Social scientists in the latter category found themselves largely cut adrift from international disciplinary debates. This rift was healed only comparatively recently.14

It is unfortunate that much of the academic literature cited by Moolman is outdated and/or the subject of heavy criticism within the discipline itself. (Credo Mutwa, for example, although a successful and talented author, is not universally considered a credible source in academic writing about contemporary South African society.) Furthermore, the ‘structural functional’ study of ‘tribes’ in the period 1920s to 1950s has convincingly been shown to have played into the hands of colonialism by artificially isolating these units from the economic and political context of which they were an integral part.15

At the heart of a great deal of misunderstanding about the nature of society in Africa is the concept ‘culture’. Culture is not a ‘thing’ which has any existence of its own; it is simply a label for what anthropologists have observed people have in common and, in recent years, definitions have focused on ideas and understandings (knowledge, beliefs, norms, values) about the world which are shared by a group of people. There has, unfortunately, been a tendency amongst some anthropologists in South Africa to conflate culture (which is learned) with race (which is genetic). This theoretical approach is known as ethnos theory, which has its roots in the scientific racism of 19th century, and was dominant in pre-World War II Germany where some South African anthropologists studied. This view of culture, which was supported by a number of influential Afrikaans-speaking academics during the apartheid era, and which was used to justify ‘separate development’, receives no support whatsoever from mainstream social science anywhere in the world. Culture itself is learned in the process of socialization, and is always highly variable, since within a particular society people may differ in their interpretations of norms, values etc, with socio-economic status (class) being a significant factor in intra-societal differences. Culture also changes constantly as new ideas, technologies, etc, are introduced.16

Furthermore, for some time now, but especially during the past two decades, a vast body of research has significantly altered earlier perspectives on the nature of indigenous African society, including in South Africa. Some examples of this thinking are as follows:
  • ‘Tribes’as supposedly fixed and bounded units were largely creations of colonialism used for, amongst other things, purposes of administering subject populations more effectively.17
  • The nature of traditional leadership (which did not exist in many African societies possessing alternative political institutions) was transformed by colonialism. A chief became a cog in the colonial (and, in South Africa, apartheid) bureaucratic administration, responsible to politicians and not to his (most were men) constituencies, i.e. no longer ‘a chief by his people.’18 In all societies tradition itself is never static but dynamic and constantly changing,. However, conservative politicians often appeal to ‘tradition’ to try to validate their own (undemocratic) claims to political office.19
  • People in Africa, as elsewhere, engage in what anthropologists term ‘situational selection’, i.e. drawing on different sets of ‘cultural’ ideas (in the sense of shared understandings) in their daily lives. For example, in South Africa the religious observations of many black people comfortably combine devout Christianity and ancestral veneration.20
  • It is a myth that black farmers only arrived in the Southern African region around the 16th and 17th centuries. Quite apart from recent work by historians, including those focusing on oral history, there is a growing body of archaeological evidence about the antiquity of arming communities in the sub-continent, including evidence that such activities were taking place in what is now KwaZulu-Natal almost two thousand years ago.21

Central to Moolman’s argument is the assumption that there is an inherent contradiction between African cultural beliefs and capitalism.22 There is a considerable body of literature, however, which demonstrates that this assumption is false. In the Eastern Cape, for example, a relatively prosperous class of peasant farmers supplied food for the market in the mid nineteenth century, until the British colonial government intervened. Not wishing to disadvantage white settlers, and needing cheap labour for white farms and, by the 1860s and 1870s, the mines, it took steps to discourage black farmers (through e.g. punitive land acts and taxes) and to promote white farming through the provision of infrastructure, capital, transport networks and markets. In what is now Lesotho, too, described as the ‘granary of Africa’ in the mid nineteenth century, the strategic development of roads, markets and other infrastructure benefiting South Africa after the discovery of minerals was to turn this land-locked country into a labour reservoir for the mines.23 While these examples refer specifically to South Africa, there is a great deal of research which shows that, all over the continent, black Africans have responded positively to market incentives, often - given the vagaries of world markets - to the detriment of crops grown for home consumption.24 Nor is there any evidence that the ‘socialist’ mindset to which Moolman and others refer has taken a firm hold: Although socialist-type rhetoric may be employed, research suggests that capitalist rather than socialist values dominate.25

However, despite these criticisms it is important to stress the changing nature of culture in response to changing economic, political and environmental constraints. After over a century of colonial and apartheid land policies, with the accompanying overcrowding and underdevelopment of reserve and homeland areas, a situation which approximates what is described as a ‘traditional African’ approach to land obtains, especially in terms of overgrazing and land degradation. However, this situation is fully explicable if the broader socio-economic and political context - rather than anything inherent in African culture - is taken into account.

Finally, the issue of what constitutes ‘African’ philosophy is the subject of continuing academic debate, with allegations by, amongst others, black African scholars that many of the views popularly projected as ‘African’ are, in fact, Eurocentric in origin.26 Also fiercely contested is the subject of African identity. An important contributor to this debate is Ghanaian Kwame Appiah, author of the highly acclaimed book In my father’s house, who argues that Pan Africanism, which equated Africanism with skin colour, stemmed not from Africans themselves but from European colonialism.27 A particularly acrimonious Internet exchange between Nobel literature laureate, Nigerian Wole Soyinka, and prominent academic, author, and producer of BBC series ‘The Africans’, Kenyan-born Ali Mazrui, is illustrative of the lack of consensus on what constitutes ‘Africanness’.28

Action Stop Farm Attacks: A memorandum on farm attacks and the implications thereof to commercial food production and agriculture in South Africa. (7 November 2000)

This memorandum, including an addendum, which was compiled by the umbrella organization Action Stop Farm Attacks in 2000, also posits a possible link between farm killings and land, and presents arguments similar to those advanced by Moolman. It was compiled to draw the ‘disastrous consequences of the continuous farm attacks and murders in the farming community’, to the attention of the international community. Its arguments rest on statistics from police reports referred to above, as well as those provided by the Transvaal Agricultural Union. Despite a reported decline in murders in South Africa during the previous five years, these statistics showed a staggering increase in attacks during the first four months of 1998, as compared with earlier averages.

In the addendum (p 9) certain inferences are drawn from the statistical data: Firstly, the figures suggested that a white commercial farmer in South Africa has a ‘1 in 100’ chance of being murdered in the next four years’ (i.e. after 2000). Many more were likely to be injured.

This conclusion was based on the fact that, according to Statistics South Africa, the country had 57 980 commercial farming units. Between 1991 and 1999 there had been 898 farm murders, so at least two farmers were murdered every week. During these nine years there had been 4 604 attacks on farms, so a large number of farmers had also been injured. Thus, it is concluded that the probability of a commercial farmer in South Africa being either murdered or injured during the next nine years was 7,9%. Farmers were thus at a far higher risk than any other category of civilians. (The argument is faulty in that in terms of the definition of farm attacks the victims also include persons other than white commercial farmers.)

The framework adopted by the memorandum is ‘geo-political’, and the perspective is described as ‘multi-disciplinary’ (p 1). The disjointed and sometimes repetitive nature of the paper suggests that it was written by more than one person. Most of the material is drawn from earlier reports and publications. Since descriptions of the nature of farm attacks, perceptions about attacks, possible motives, and the statistics used, are essentially the same as contained in earlier literature discussed above, such as Moolman’s work, this summary will focus primarily on the central theme of the memorandum, viz. the relationship between different ‘mindsets’ and approaches to the use of land, and the way in which the land question is inextricably linked to farm attacks, which is encapsulated in the conclusion (p 7) that ‘the land reform issue may be directly connected to the killing of those who oppose the sharing of the land or the desertion of commercial farms’.

In outlining the geo-political context in which attacks occurred, the historical background of colonization is described, by drawing on historically inaccurate and discredited explanations of settlement patterns of ‘Bantu’29, which assert that colonization by white and black settlers in South Africa occurred contemporaneously. The alienation of land, it continues, was forbidden, and this was written into the laws of the colonial governments and those of the Boer Republics of the Free State and Transvaal, an approach which was incorporated into the Natives Land Act of 1913.

This sweeping assertion concerning land, like that positing simultaneous settlement by blacks and whites, is a gross oversimplification of a far more complex position: In the nineteenth century, the policies of the two British colonies (Cape and Natal) differed from those of the two Boer Republics (Transvaal and Orange Free State). In the British colonies blacks could purchase land until 1913, and special ‘reserves’ were set aside for their occupation. In the Boer republics, the white farmers often took over land (sometimes with permissions of chiefs) on which blacks were already living; the black residents might then pay the farmer a form of rent through labour or the provision of part of their crops (the ‘share cropping’ relationship). In the Boer republics it was virtually impossible for blacks to own land, and very little was set aside for their use in the form of ‘reserves’.30

The argument advanced in the memorandum is that colonization brought together two separate socio-cultural groupings, characterized by Afro-centric and Euro-centric mindsets whose differing approaches to land became integral to the liberation struggle, in the course of which the Socialist mindset (with its dichotomy of exploitative landowners versus the exploited landless) became integral to the political agenda. Given the ‘communalistic’ nature of this overlapping (African and socialist) mindset, and African values, this agenda emphasizes the redistribution of land at the expense of its productivity, which has ominous economic implications, for ‘(n)either Africa nor Socialism has made any significant contribution to the world economy’ (p 6). Furthermore, the ‘struggle mentality’ which marks this position is inimical to the demands of the world economy, which emphasizes ‘productivity, quality, timely delivery, competitive cost structure and product diversity’ – summed up as ‘expertise and effective management’ – a concept not ‘fully understood’ by those with ‘traditional African and/or Socialist mindsets’ (p 6).

The issue, the memorandum stresses, is not simply land distribution, but reform, in the sense that there is an ‘all-inclusive policy aimed at restructuring of land through the elimination of large and medium properties’, i.e. a reversion to smaller portions of land supporting families or collectivities as opposed to large commercial farming activities. Reference is made to examples of (presumably similar) land reform programmes found in Latin America, East Asia and Africa (p 7).

Once again these distorted, inaccurate stereotypes of black farmers are used to argue that ‘reform’ as presently constituted cannot take place because African culture is an obstacle to large-scale commercial farming – an argument that completely ignores the published work referred to above. The paper’s conclusions about the link between struggles over land reform and farm attacks are reinforced by reference to factors mentioned in other literature summarized above, including the alleged ‘military precision’ of attacks, the ‘hatred’ inferred from testimony heard by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, the ready availability of automatic and semi-automatic weapons linked to the liberation struggle, and the expertise of many hundreds of ‘soldiers ‘ in that struggle who had been integrated into, and then discharged from the SANDF (p 8-11). Furthermore, it argues, the violence, although spreading elsewhere, was mainly seen in the most productive, northern and eastern, regions of the country (p 10). Also provided, by way of substantiation, is a breakdown, per province, of farm attacks and land claims lodged with the Department of Land Affairs (in the 1997-1999 period). In the seven provinces with the highest number of rural land claims (relative to urban claims), there is, the memorandum argues, a correlation of 0.893 between farm attacks and total land claims. ‘As the number of land claims increases in a province so does the farm attacks’ (Addendum p 9.) (It should perhaps be noted that a correlation, whilst suggestive, does not necessarily mean that there is any causal relationship between two variables, such as land claims and farm attacks.)

After pointing (p 11) to the serious implications of the attacks for the country’s food production – including loss of jobs, technological expertise, mounting debts and deteriorating inter-racial relationships - the memorandum suggests that, since the Government appears unable to protect them, farmers should be ‘self sufficient in a supportive and resilient way’ in taking care of their own future’.

This ‘new role of commercial agriculture’ (p 12-13) would involve not only the use of expertise to sustain viable food production, but also the stabilization of the situation either with or without the security forces. It would also involve being a ‘bridgehead’ in rural development programmes around food production, and in preventing the degradation of rural infrastructure. Commercial agriculture is seen as the ‘kingpin for the implementation of foreign development programmes’ wishing to prevent disease, hunger and malnutrition ‘in certain regions of Africa’. It should be based on ‘the maintenance of an equilibrium between the Euro-centric approach towards soil and production and the Afro-centric concept of land’.

It was to these ends that Action: Stop farm attacks was seeking international co-operation to prevent the devastating consequences resulting from the destabilization of commercial agriculture and the farming community’ (p 13).

Van de Graaf H. and Jordaan C.L.: Property Rights in South Africa (Transvaal Agricultural Union, 1999)

The publication Property Rights in South Africa is a compilation of presentations at an International Conference on Property Rights held in South Africa in March 1999, and was commissioned by the Transvaal Agricultural Union. The conference was organized by the TAU and the Agricultural Employers Union (AEO), an organization formed in 1990 and chaired by Mr. Werner Weber. In addition to presentations on land reform in Brazil, the Philippines, Colombia, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa, there are also chapters giving perspectives on this issue by a strategist, an anthropologist and a criminologist. The focus is not on rural and farm land exclusively, but is also intended to address issues relating to land in urban areas (p 50-53). Land belonging to churches is also seen to be vulnerable to possible state intervention, and there is a strong pro-Christian, anti-socialist theme to the book, epitomized by Schmieder (p 54), who talks about defending South Africans ‘against the ravages of socialist confiscatory land reform’, and against the socialists who ‘are always lurking in the shadows’. It is clear from the introductory section that, in addition to the organizers of the conference (TAE and AEO), a conservative international Christian organization called Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) played an important role in this conference, and a number of the speakers are affiliated to it. A brief and critical overview of contents of this book of the greatest salience to the work of the Committee follows.

The first section is devoted to an historical overview of land occupation and property rights in South Africa, given by Prof R D Coertze (p 6-45), former head of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Pretoria who, together with his father, was the most prominent proponent of ‘ethnos’ theory. Drawing attention to relevant sections of South Africa’s constitution and arguing that ‘the aim of a general reform of property rights is left to the inconstancy of the ruling politicians’ (p 7), Coertze stresses the crucial role of ‘knowledge of the history of land occupation and the movement of different groups’ in debating ownership and the right to occupy land. He proceeds to provide a detailed (if somewhat selective) description of historical settlement patterns of black horticulturalists and farmers in the various regions of the country. He also provides (p 10-12) breakdowns of land allocated to blacks in terms of the 1913 and 1936 land legislation, as well as the total area which the 1953 Tomlinson Commission31 had estimated was still to be transferred to blacks. Referring to the Tomlinson report, he argues that 1986 ‘all the land determined by the quota for each province had been bought’.

A detailed critique of Coertze’s account of historical processes is beyond the scope of this report but, insofar as its relevance for debates around issues of land redress is concerned, it is seriously flawed. Firstly, it justifies the apartheid status quo by distorting history, ignoring the important archaeological and historical work showing the antiquity of black farming communities in South Africa. Secondly, in discussing various regions, it omits relatively recent but crucial published work by historians on black societies in southern Africa.32, choosing instead to focus on outdated and discredited sources. Even more importantly, there is no discussion of the forced relocation of three to four million people during the homeland ‘consolidation’ period from the 1960s onwards which is, given the extent of the dispossession, of central importance in redressing past injustices.33 Finally, although not stated explicitly, the inference (especially given the almost exclusive focus on black land occupation in the 19th century) is that blacks will not manage the land productively, in terms of ‘western technology’ (p 44) until such time as ‘educating and reforming the people who must occupy, cultivate and conserve the land’ is concerned. While it is true that education and training in farming techniques should be an important component of land reform programme, Coertze’s failure to acknowledge the successes of black peasant farmers in the 19th century gives the impression that he, like Moolman cited above, sees black ‘culture’ as a stumbling block to reform.

There are common threads between TFP representatives from America (Steven Schmieder, Chapter 2) and Spain (Jose Medina, Chapter 6). Both draw on the works of TFP founder, Prof Plinio Coerrea de Oliveira (which works draw on biblical injunctions, Christian philosophers and papal encyclicals) to argue that ‘the institution of private property is rooted in human nature and the Law of God’ (Schmieder, p 56), and is a basic pillar of Christian civilization (Medina, p 91). A challenge to private property is equated with an onslaught on the sanctity of the family (p 57), and both authors urge vigilance, debate around, and defence of ‘principles…..that are at the heart of the Christian Civilisation’ (p 108). Railing against the evils of ‘self-managing Socialism’, a concept defined in the same volume by Jordaan (p 138), Medina laments that it remains alive and well in Europe, including in Spain, where TFP met with some success in opposing land reform in the Aragon region (p 102-3).

In similar vein is the contribution by by the medical doctor and sociologist, Dr Carlos Picanco, (Chapter 3) on the ‘disaster’ of socialist land reform in Brazil, followed by an overview of the ‘Bitter Fruits of Land Reform in the Phillipines’, given by Bong Eublera, a banking expert on property rights and President of the St Thomas Aquinas Youth Association for a Christian Civilisation (Chapter 4). Included in this overview is a summary of the aims of the country’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, introduced by the government of former president Corazon Aquino, with the view to promoting a more equitable access to land (p 80). Eublera argues that the goal is actually the abolition of private property. He links food shortages in the country to this agrarian reform programme, however, without producing any supporting evidence.

Chapter 5, by social scientist Andreas Louzao of Colombia, is on ‘Political Violence and Land Reform’ in his country. Two pages are devoted to events in Colombia, and two to those in Chile, where TFP have been active in opposing socialist attempts at land reform. In Colombia, he argues, it was the communists who started the violence in the 1960s and who were the first producers and distributors of narcotics. This allegation is factually inaccurate, since the country has a long history of producing and distributing narcotics.34 In Chile, the ‘leftist’ government of Allende is said to have ‘collapsed’, which is a blatant distortion of the overthrow of his regime, and his murder and that of thousands of other Chileans, by the military dictatorship of branded war criminal General Augusto Pinochet.35

Land reform in Sub-Saharan Africa is the focus of Chapter 7, with Zimbabwean scientist, farmer, and one-time Director of the Commercial Farmers’ Union, David Hasluc, providing an overview, illustrated with various statistics (p113 and 118) of the land reform process in Zimbabwe. He notes that, by 1998, serious concerns were being voiced, both in that country and abroad, over President Mugabe’s proposed takeover of 5 million hectares of commercial farm land – which was linked by academic Robin Palmer to ‘(l)ack of funds, lack of planning, lack of capacity, lack of accountability…..’( p119). In suggesting a way forward, Hasluc suggests that land reform programmes in general should:
  • integrate land reform into land and macro economic policy aimed at poverty reduction;
  • involve wider consultation, including with civil society, taking into account donors’ experience elsewhere;
  • aim for gender representivity, including in the planning process;
  • ensure efficient planning and implementation by a single agency to avoid bureaucratic overlap;
  • be marked by ‘transparent, fair and sustainable’ implementation following due legal process; and
  • lead to increased national agricultural input during the implementation of the reform policy.

In Chapter 8, labour lawyer and Director of Legal Services of one of the conference organizers, the Agricultural Employers’ Organisation of South Africa (AEO), Philip du Toit, provides a legal perspective on Land Reform in South Africa, which takes into account relevant constitutional principles and the three pieces of post-1994 legislation relating to Labour Tenants, Occupiers, and Squatters, respectively.

Arguing that the Constitution ‘places an onus on the Minister of Land Affairs to deal with redistribution, restitution and tender reform’, Du Toit warns of the need to ensure that constitutional rights (farming and individual) are protected, especially given possible changes in legislation vesting administrative functions relating to land under the exclusive control of the Director-General of Land Affairs and his bureaucracy (p 124). If that happens, he warns, the State becomes ‘investigator, prosecutor and adjudicator of its own case’, sidelining the Land Claims Court. Already, he continues, owners facing land claims may be threatened, or have people squatting illegally on their land. In this regard the passing of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act in 1998 has favoured the illegal occupant at the expense of the owner of the property (p 126 and 130-1). People facing claims may also suffer financially for they cannot make improvements without permission of the Commissioner, and are unable to access loans from banks. Commissioners themselves may experience problems in separating legitimate claimants from those who do not comply with the provisions of the relevant Act.

After giving a brief description of the three Acts which govern land reform (the Labour Tenants Act, No 3 of 1996; the Occupiers (Extension of Security of Tenure) Act, No 62, of 1997 and the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land) Act No 19 of 1998), Du Toit argues that not only are they open to abuse, but they are not ‘laws which meet the limitation criteria contained in Section 36(1) of the Constitution’ 36.

Du Toit concludes with a warning of possible adverse consequences of government policy, such as
  • the destruction of the rural economy;
  • fostering ‘animosity’ through interference in labour matters;
  • impacting negatively on employment in rural areas – with all the attendant consequences;
  • undermining the ability of farmers to compete successfully in international markets;
  • creating ‘legal uncertainty’ through laws concerning property rights, and placing legal constraints on people selling property;
  • the squandering of tax payers’ money;
  • interference in matters which fall within the ambit of courts; and
  • placing a financial burden on land owners.

Section C, ‘Perspectives on the Land Reform Program’, starts (Chapter 9) with a ‘Strategic Perspective’ by geo-strategist and generalist, Dr Chris Jordaan, and three panel members, (Gen George Meiring, Lt Gen Koos Bisschoff and Dr Jaap Meijer whose input is noted in the suggested Strategy with which the chapter concludes. Dr Jordaan prefaces his discussion with a specific reference to the ‘uncertain conditions in the agricultural environment….characterized by the murders on farmers, the occupation of agricultural land, and the judicial and constitutional pressure applied to landownership’ (p136). Extremely brief overviews of land reform in four Latin American countries - El Salvador (early 1980s), Chile (1960s to 1973), Peru (1960s) and Mexico (1915-1970) - are provided (p 139-141). The consequences of this ‘self-managing socialism’ (p 142-144), it is argued, were ‘disastrous’ (p138), with studies in other countries, such as Japan, India and Pakistan, showing the positive effects of private agricultural production (p 141).

Turning to the South African situation, the ideals of the Freedom Charter, it is averred, were written into the country’s constitution (specifically Chapter 2 Section 25), and are the driving forces behind the country’s land reform policy, which is based on myths such as that white farmers have all the land. (Eight ‘myths’ are listed, p 146-7). The real aim, however (disguised by ‘revolutionary psychological warfare’) was to gain support for the type of land reform idealized by ‘Socialists and Communists in different countries and continents’ (p 146).

The lessons learned from two African examples of the implementation of such policy – Zimbabwe and Mozambique – should not be lost on South Africans, and a comprehensive strategy based on Christian principles should be formulated, bearing in mind the long term economic problems created by land reform. (These are detailed on p 149 and are essentially the same as those listed by Du Toit, referred to above.) The threat is perceived (according to Gen George Meiring) as a Total Onslaught (‘the onslaught is a total threat to the whole way of life of the farming community’) from those with an ideological standpoint of Self-Managing Socialism and Liberation Theology, to which the murder of farmers is linked. Land reform intensifies this threat, and the ‘largest and most comprehensive support must be activated at national and transnational levels’ (p 149).

There is also a suggestion (with input by Lt Gen Bisschoff) that farmers have the land base, the expertise (both technological and managerial) as well as the ability to access ‘timely and accurate strategic intelligence’ to form a considerable and credible power bloc, locally, nationally and transnationally, in order to stand united, apolitically, against ‘the threat against property rights and unjust agrarian reform’. It is further suggested, citing ‘strategic elements’ indicated by the head of AEO legal services, Du Toit, that the approach should include ‘coercive law enforcement’, the use of legal mechanisms, and the exploitation of weaknesses in the Government’s programmes (p 150-1). TAU and AEO are exhorted to make ‘a strategy to combat the ill effects of land reform and specifically the onslaught on the land and property right of the South African farmer, and more precisely the “Afrikanerboer”… the highest priority’ (p 151).

Chapter 10 presents another anthropological perspective by Prof Frik de Beer, Prof L P Vorster (both of UNSIA) and Prof R D Coertze (the author of the first section, p 6-45, summarized above). Referring to the various presentations made about the socialist onslaught conflicting with biblical injunctions, they indicate their concurrence ‘with the validity of this general philosophical pronouncement on private property’, recommending that the four main Afrikaans Reformed Protestant churches add their endorsement.

Exhorting TAU and AEO to monitor land reform and the training of new landowners, they refer to the Ujamaa system in Tanzania as an example of failed socialist-driven land utilization (p 154; see also p 158), and point to the ‘conflict potential between the values of the socialist system and that of Africa’. By way of example, they cite the supposed African tendency to ‘respect…. a leader rather than …. the underlying principles he represents’ and assert that there may be chaos when a traditional leader dies, because ‘there is no guaranteed adherence to common values and principles in the total community’. This is an astonishing assertion, since there is a vast body of anthropological literature which shows that in African societies which are centralized under a chief or king, there is a body of norms governing, amongst other things, succession to chiefship.37

After repeating some of the points made in the earlier presentation by Coertze concerning the history of land distribution in South Africa, the authors turn to the question of ‘Agricultural productivity in Africa’ (p 156), citing a work published in 1965 which avers that, ‘the ‘Zambian population had by 1920 exceeded the sustainable carrying capacity if the traditional agricultural methods remain in use’ (a sentence which is not clear), and then claim, without providing any substantiation, that ‘(a)ll indications are that this data could also be applicable to South Africa’ (p 156). This assertion, too, is astonishing, given the ready availability of anthropological studies which demonstrate how people in many African countries make optimal use of their land, including through the use of simple technology, and manage to feed themselves comfortably.

Continuing in the same vein, the authors make a number of points which, in one way or another, promote the outdated and paternalistic stereotypes of ‘traditional’ black people, and to which the same criticisms as leveled against Moolman apply.38 Whilst the authors are correct in maintaining that land in tribal areas is not ‘owned’ in the western sense of the word, their comments about traditional leaders and their councils controlling the land, and the communal nature of tribal land having an adverse effect on productivity, tends to oversimplify a far more complex situation.39

Their treatment of Africans’ fear of witchcraft (p 158) is also superficial. This fear and acceptance of the influence of magic, which they claim (erroneously, since similar beliefs are found in all societies) is unknown to Westerners, may lead to instability and fear if ‘unrelated strangers’ have to live together in agri-villages. Again, there is a considerable body of literature which shows that witchcraft allegations are often made not against strangers, but against people with whom there is a close relationship.40 In the context of the supposed close identification with the land of those living on it, and the deceased members of their family, it is asserted that ‘land should be accessible to all’, so fences are unpopular, which overlooks the well-established fact that, in the past, family homesteads formed distinct territorial units on their own.

The authors conclude by pointing to the failure of the Constitution to distinguish between ‘Western private freehold’ and ‘occupational right arising from long standing residence’ and rights arising from traditional expectations of land occupancy. They recommend, amongst other things, propagating the settlement of farm workers elsewhere to prevent their claiming vested rights in land where they are, reducing the numbers of farm labourers, and developing a country-wide strategy on land reform which addresses the ‘factual realities’ of farm workers and the ‘extent of violence against White farmers’ (p 160).

The final chapter is a summary of Moolman’s research report on farm attacks, referred to above. Concluding comments by Mr Willie Lewies, Chairman of the Labour and Land Affairs Committee of TAU, refers to the problems his organization had experienced from the 1980s in drawing their concerns about the impending ‘attack on white farmers and especially on their property rights’ to the attention of the former Government and SAAU, (who, he alleges on p 199, perceive them as ‘rightwing farmers’). His organization had also, unsuccessfully, opposed the RSA Constitution in the Constitutional Court, and the handling of land claims. The conference, he notes, is seen as the beginning of a ‘more balanced debate as it highlights the legitimate claims of the farmer on the one hand and on the other the political agenda of the onslaught’, to which ‘a further increase in farm murders and crime in rural areas’, the negative economic implications of land distribution and illegal occupation, and even the possible promotion of ‘foreign self interests’ are linked (p 200).

In summary:
  • The book’s unifying theme is a religious exhortation to defend Christianity against the onslaught of socialism as it relates to land rights. Private property is seen as having biblical sanction.
  • Most of the comparative material referred to do not indicate thorough academic research; it is sketchy and there are few if any relevant references. At best it is a very partial and grossly oversimplified picture of extremely complex processes in countries such as Chile, Brazil and Colombia.
  • Most of the anthropological material is inaccurate or outdated.
  • The chapters on land reform in South Africa and Zimbabwe are relevant.

Irrespective of the criticisms expressed above, serious cognizance must be taken of the views expressed in this book for they represent those of many members of the farming community.

Van Vuuren W: Racial politics and land reform (Political Issues, Vol 11 No 7, July 2001)

An academic paper incorporating more recent developments relating to land in South Africa was compiled by Prof Willem van Vuuren of the Stellenbosch Institutute for Futures Research. This paper looks at racial and class factors which impact upon the present Government’s attempts to address land issues through restitution, tenure reform, and the purchase of available land, in the context of land invasions in South Africa (mentioning, specifically, Bredell in Gauteng and Macassar in the Western Cape), and the seizure of white-owned land in Zimbabwe.

Whilst there is acknowledgment of differences in the approaches to the land question by the ANC, which accepts the nonracial nature of land ownership embodied in the Freedom Charter, and the PAC, with its emphasis on exclusive African (black) ownership, there is also, Van Vuuren argues, agreement that indigenous people had been ‘robbed of their birthright’ and were the victims of injustice and inequality. Citing Mutisya, the author notes the ‘inalienable and sacred’ right to land, and its link to both living and dead, in pre-colonial Africa. The ‘intense emotions’ around land shared by Africans cannot, it is argued, be ignored.

With reference to relevant research, Van Vuuren notes that, despite its centrality to the liberation struggle, the pace of land reform in Zimbabwe, marked by favouritism and patronage, had been slow. Contrary to expectations engendered at the time of Independence, it was largely the black capitalist class (some of whom were linked to State and ruling party) who had benefited, at the expense of large numbers or the rural poor. By the beginning of 2000 hundreds of white-owned farms were being occupied by ‘war veterans’, with demands that they be given, without compensation, to landless blacks.

The Africanist approach, exemplified by these events in Zimbabwe, was further emphasized in the rhetoric of Libyan leader Ghaddafi during his visit to that country. Although, historically, there have been proponents of this view in the ANC in South Africa, the Freedom Charter makes it clear that land ownership is not linked to race, a position reiterated more recently by former president Nelson Mandela.

The author continues that the class factor should not be overlooked, since Africanism may be used to cloak the interests of black capitalists, as in recent events in Zimbabwe where, following independence, members of the new black bourgeouisie reportedly argued, in their own interests, against land redistribution and for a ‘productivist’ approach (i.e. large scale commercial farming) as opposed to small scale peasant farming policy. More recently, it has become politically expedient to target white farmers, a move which (presumably) garners black political support while obscuring the role of black capitalist interests. Warnings have already been sounded, Van Vuuren continues, citing a warning by a National Land Committee representative, of a similar move in South Africa to prioritize the growth of black commercial farming, at the expense of the landless poor: ‘In a pre-election manifesto the ANC promised to redistribute 30% of agricultural land in its first five years in government. The reality is that it has distributed less than 2% in that period’.

Bearing in mind events in Zimbabwe after 20 years of marginalization of the landless poor, Van Vuuren suggests that accommodation of a similar stratum of poor in South Africa is not a high priority with the Government, which has set aside less than 1% of the national budget for land redistribution. Although it has dealt decisively with illegal squatting (in Bredell), it is likely that similar pressure will continue to be exerted by people who have nothing to lose. Here the author cites an example of ‘black voices’ already calling for the scrapping of constitutionally-entrenched policy concerning ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ (i.e. expropriation) if the government cannot afford to implement this policy. Van Vuuren argues that this ‘is a move which could well place us on the racially disastrous Zimbabwean route to land reform’, and the lessons of Zimbabwe should serve to ensure commitment of resources (state and private) to well-planned and effective land reform.


In the literature referred to above, the subject of relationships between farmers and workers periodically receives mention, specifically in connection with its possible relationship with attacks carried out against farmers. Two pieces of research have recently been published which, having different foci, present differing perspectives on this relationship, i.e. a 1998 report by academics R. W. Johnson and L. Schlemmer entitled ‘Farmers and Farmworkers in KwaZulu-Natal’, and a 2001 report by international human rights organization Human Rights Watch. ‘Unequal Protection: The State Response to Violent Crime on South African Farms’. 41
At first glance the findings of these two reports appear diametrically opposed, but on closer inspection their findings are not irreconcilable, since the objectives of the research, and the questions which were accordingly asked, were very different. Reference will also be made to the criticism and, especially, with regard to the Human Rights Watch report, controversy these publications have generated.

Johnson RW and L Schlemmer: Farmers and Farmworkers in KwaZulu-Natal. (1998, Helen Suzman Foundation)

The Johnson and Schlemmer report was commissioned in 1996 by what was then the Natal Agricultural Union (NAU), which subsequently changed its name and is now known as Kwanalu. The aim of the research was to study relationships between commercial farmers and farm workers in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Designed and authored by political scientist

R W Johnson of the Helen Suzman Foundation, and veteran social scientist Prof Lawrence Schlemmer, the survey on which the findings draw was carried out by MarkData.

Working with data about farmers in the province provided by kwaNalu, to which, it was estimated, the majority of farmers in KZN were affiliated, a random sample was drawn and detailed interviews in the home languages of the interviewees were carried out with both farmers and farm workers. Despite the research being carried out for their Association, the authors note (p 10) that many farmers were reluctant to answer questions, and were particularly resistant to workers being interviewed. The random nature of the sampling allowed the authors to generalize their findings to farmers in the province as a whole, although the area that used to be termed ‘Zululand’, north of the Tugela river, was excluded from the sampling. The authors acknowledge that major forestry and sugar associations from that area were not included in the research, both types of cultivation were, to some extent, included in their sample, since sugar cane farming and timber plantations occur in other regions of the province as well. Another drawback of their study, acknowledged by the authors, was its inability to draw in trade unions; however, as they correctly note, there is very little unionization amongst workers and they estimate that 95% of workers are not unionized.

The context in which the research was carried out and written up (1997-8) was one of growing alarm on the part of farmers about the perceived escalation of farm attacks. In this regard, the report refers to CIMC figures regarding attacks, as well as to a report commissioned by the Forestry Owners’ Association (FOA), published in July 1997, which found that, of the three regions researched (in the provinces of the then Cape, Transvaal and Natal), the situation in Natal was the worst in terms of incidents of violence (p 8).

Another factor causing unease among farmers at the time of the survey was land-related legislation, in the from of the Labour Tenants Act of 1996, which granted second generation labour tenants the right to purchase land and housing on the farm where they worked. Many farmers feared division of their farms, and a loss of control over farm security. At the same time, labour legislation made it difficult to cut back on labour, especially given that the enactment of the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (known as ESTA) in 1997 made evictions from farms ‘all but impossible’ (p 10).

Throughout the report the authors make it clear that the category ‘farmers’ includes a range of people in terms of scale of operations and income or turnover, and that their findings tend to vary from one sub-category of farmer to another, and also from one region of the province to another. The findings cited in this summary represent their averages. Not surprisingly though (and the authors do concede that urban research would probably reveal a similar pattern), crime was by far the greatest of farmers’ anxieties (p 19).

The first part of the report profiles farmers and workers, and provides details of working conditions and benefits. An average farmer, aged 50, employed 12,4 full-time agricultural employees, which figure rose to 14,9 if domestics were included. There were also occasional employees (6,8 being the average), with sugar farmers employing more, depending on seasonal fluctuations. In this sample, the average number of black people living on a farm was19 adults and 25 children (p 25-27), with many (59%) of the farmers allowing retired employees to remain on their farms.

Details of wages paid to workers of different categories (senior as opposed to rank and file) and various other fringe benefits, including allowances made for the keeping of livestock by workers are given (p 29-36). In general, the accounts given by farmers and workers corroborated each other (p 50). Farmers’ concerns about the tendency of workers to allow the numbers of these animals to exceed agreed upon limits, with all the attendant negative consequences for the environment – especially damage caused by goats – were also noted. Questions about proposed labour reform legislation (e.g. on minimum wages) elicited a response from 54% of farmers that they would reduce their labour force (p 37-8).

Turning to employees, the report refers (p 41-46) to three ‘popular models’, viz. the ‘tribal traditionalist’, the ‘helot’ (badly paid and treated serf) and the ‘peasant farmer’. With this last model the specter of badly managed (from an environmental point of view) subsistence farming loomed large. However, the researchers stress that they found a ‘workforce that did not conform to any of these stereotypes’. In their sample tribal or homeland attachments were weaker than expected, even among Zulu-speakers as opposed to Xhosa-speakers. Nor, regarding the second ‘popular model’ did they come across evidence of brutal or harsh treatment of farm workers, although there was ‘informal agreement’ that such practices might exist. (It should be noted that they were not seeking specifically to elicit this type of information, judging from the questionnaire). In fact, reported wage levels were on a par with, or higher than the average of rural wages, and there were also other perks such as the sue of land/allowance for grazing cattle (p 51). Regarding the posited third category, only a small percentage could be seen as aspiring to ‘peasant farmer’ status.

What they found was a ‘settled working-class group’, often second or third generation, which should be seen in the context of high levels of unemployment (as a result of, e.g. cutbacks on employment in mines for migrant workers). Some of the workers interviewed did want to better themselves in their present type of employment, e.g. move to a more senior level, and a substantial proportion of the sample (43%) declared themselves happy with their present work (p 45).

Focusing on the anxieties of farmers, and the relationships between farmers and workers, the report stresses the unhappiness of farmers (especially cattle and dairy) over the then newly-passed legislation on labour tenancy. (The issue of squatting and land invasions was, at that stage, a minor concern – p 56.) By ‘simply passing this law the Government had diminished farm employment’, with many farmers saying they would refuse to help tenants who wanted to buy land under the new dispensation (p 58-9). When pressed, there were differences of opinion about whether whole farms should be transferred or whether there should be subdivision of existing farms, with 60% choosing the former option, and 40% the latter (p 67-8).

Despite their negativity about legislation, farmers were, on the whole, positive about their relationships with their workers: 37% of farmers described relationships with workers as very good, and another 59% as fairly good. Only 4% said it was very bad (p 58-60).

Turning to the responses of workers to similar questions about land reform and relationships with farmers, the report notes that the workers’ main preoccupation was with improved wages and, to a lesser extent and more in the southern part of the province, which the authors attributed to ‘Xhosa’ as opposed to ‘Zulu’ preferences, with land ownership. Only 24% put land ownership as one of their top two priorities, and even fewer wanted land on the farm they currently worked. It was the ‘small minority’ who said that their relationship with the farmer was not very good or bad who were more likely to say that they wanted land on the farm they currently worked on, although most of this group still preferred land outside of the farm. Only 27% of the sample said that buying land on which they were currently tenants was a very good idea, a percentage which seemingly correlated with educational levels that, on the whole, were very low. Only 20% of the sample had completed standards 5 or higher. Likewise, education appeared correlated with preference shown by 10% of the sample for ‘profit sharing’.

Workers’ responses to questions concerning their relationship with farmers are detailed on p 76-78. As opposed to 37% of the farmers, 24% of the workers described their relationship as very good and 69% described it as fairly good, as against 59% of the farmers. Only 6% said it was fairly bad, with less than one percent describing it as very bad.

Interestingly, however, when asked about whether they thought that white farmers should move elsewhere, or stay in South Africa, 57% said – in what the authors interpreted as an ‘evasive answer’ – that they did not know whether the farmers should go or stay. Some 36% provided an unequivocal answer that the farmers should be encouraged to say, with 7% saying they should be encouraged to leave: ‘Those who described their relationship with the farmer as very good were nonetheless also almost twice as likely as average to believe that farmers should be encouraged to leave’ (p82).

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of respondents approved the proposed introduction of a minimum wage, but their opinions soon changed when the likelihood of farmers reducing the number of workers was put to them, with two thirds then eschewing a minimum wage! (p 83-4).

In their conclusions, the authors caution – with specific reference to the non-committal responses regarding whether farmers should go or stay – that much is still not known, and that, despite the noticeable similarities with other provinces, given the specificities of KZN, it should not be assumed that all the findings would apply equally elsewhere. Even the regional differences they encountered suggested that the different districts of the province were almost like ‘different countries’. They also acknowledge the absence of the plantation-based world of large-scale forestry (which had already moved to employ contract labour without residential rights, thus falling outside the ambit of ESTA) and sugar estates which, although not altogether absent, were not present ‘in the proportions that would have been necessary to reflect exactly their true significance in the agricultural economy of the province’

Speculating about whether commercial farmers would follow the example of forestry by moving towards a contract labour system, especially given the type of funds needed by Government to buy up land in the hands of commercial farmers, the report suggests that consideration be given to profit-sharing rather than the dissolution of ‘these little farming communities’ in the form in which they currently existed.

The research was criticized by the National Land Committee and the ANC as being methodologically unsound and biased in favour of farmers. Firstly, the universe of farms from which the participants were selected, consisted only of Kwanalu members, and there was some scepticism about how it had been possible to conduct a ‘random’ sample of farm workers, given the difficulties of accessing workers and residents on farms, and the likelihood of perceived association between fieldworkers and farmers influencing the responses of workers.

In response Kwanalu agreed that it might seem ‘unbelievable’ that farmers had allowed strangers to interview randomly selected staff out of earshot,
but stressed that ‘other than making a general appeal to our members to participate in the survey…..Kwanalu was kept at arm’s length by the professions we employed to undertake the task. They fiercely guarded their independence.’42 An ANC spokesperson, too, claimed that the survey was “biased”, adding that it was ‘like the ANC commissioning their own surveyors to do a study. They will never come back and tell a bad story’. At a meeting attended by thousands of farm workers in the Vryheid region, after the publication of the report, many workers reportedly produced pay slips showing a top wage of R192 per month and a bottom wage of R41,80 before deductions. The ANC, which had called this ‘Listen to the People’ forum, called on the Human Rights Commission to investigate abuses of human rights on farms in KZN.43

Human Rights Watch: Unequal Protection: The State response to violent crime on South African farms (Compiled by Manby B., 2001)

The report was compiled by Bronwyn Manby for the American human rights organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW), which monitors human rights all over the world, including in the USA, and is the most recent of a series of reports by this body on issues relating to human rights in South Africa.44

The focus in this report is primarily on abuses suffered by people living and working on farms, including at the hands of owners or managers of farms, and the failure of the organs of State to deal with such abuse in an even-handed manner. The report states that crimes against black residents are not pursued with the same determination as those against white farmers (p 2-3). As with previous reports, this one incorporates published material, including media reports, and representatives of Human Rights Watch worked closely with representatives of local NGOs, especially its ‘partner organization’ in the project (p 9), the National Land Committee. A consultant conducted the research on which one of the chapters of the book – a case study on the Ixopo area – is based. However, a representative of Human Rights Watch also conducted interviews on farms in five provinces: Limpopo (formerly Northern Province), KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Western Cape and Gauteng. Dozens of current and former farm residents (including people who had been evicted and were then living in urban areas), as well as farm owners, were interviewed. Also interviewed were members of the police, commando units, and private security companies, as well as justice department officials (including magistrates and prosecutors) and district surgeons. As with the previous reports of this body, this one also incorporates other published material, including press reports.

Although only one chapter titled ‘ “Farm Attacks”: Violent crime against farm owners’ (p 138-157) is devoted to farm attacks, it has considerable relevance for work of the Committee. It is namely argued that the Rural Safety Plan (discussed in more detail below), which include the formation of security cells (the Farmwatch system, sometimes supported by commandos) has increased insecurity amongst black people living on and around farms. This Plan has also, the argument continues, failed to respond to crime committed against blacks, including those perpetrated by farmers against workers. In support of this argument examples of reported abuses at illegal roadblocks in Northern KZN and the Wakkerstroom area of Mpumalanga province are cited (p 2).

Drawing on a large body of academic research, the main section of the HRW report begins with a lengthy background chapter, which looks in some detail at the effects of colonialism and apartheid on land occupation, including the ways in which laws impacted upon black people living on farms, and the forced relocations connected with homeland consolidation (pp18-29). It moves on to look at Land Reform policies since 1994 and, in the context of section 25 of South Africa’s Constitution relating to property rights, the legislation which has been passed since then (p 30-39).45 It then refers to the problems being experienced in implementing this land policy, and cites apparent reasons for the slowness of delivery, including complaints about the Department of Land Affairs. It states (p 40) that ‘(f)arm owners and their representatives agree…that the failure to deliver on land reform is likely to exacerbate tensions between farm owners and their workers or tenants’. It also cites a media briefing, in October 2000, by the National Land Committee and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, University of Witwatersrand, warning of a ‘serious breakdown of law and order in the rural areas, as had happened in Zimbabwe, if the government did not speed up land reform’ (p 41). It also provides a brief overview of amendments to labour legislation affecting farm workers, and notes the apparent lack of governmental resources to monitor the implementation of this legislation. Like Johnson and Schlemmer, HRW refers to low levels of unionization of farm workers (at around 12-14%), and an apparent lack of capacity of the unions.

The report notes that, while representatives of farm workers and residents complain about lack of change, the ‘most profound effect on the working environment’ of post 1994 development has probably been experienced by commercial farmers. It then refers to the views expressed by representatives of ‘the more conservative farmers’ (Transvaal Agricultural Union) and ‘moderate’ farmers (Agri SA), which can be summarized as follows:
  • The majority of moderates accepted the need for land reform, but many were critical of the ‘unrealistic’ nature of the Government reform process, referring to practical problems with the land redistribution process and with Land Affairs. NGO’s are accused of engendering unrealistic expectations amongst farm workers and of creating tensions between the workers and farmers.

  • Some of the frustrations being experienced by farmers are their inability to deal with unproductive labour through dismissing and evicting people who do not work, and the abuse of privileges such as those given to workers to keep livestock.

  • The Government is also blamed for purportedly souring relationships between farmers and workers through fostering mistrust. The picture of these relationships in the pre-1994 period which farmers gave was one of mutual trust having existed.

  • Government policy was exacerbating the trend to reduce the permanent work force and replace it with contract labour. (Figures are given on p 53 supporting this argument: against a general decline in employment opportunities during 1998-9, contract labour increased from 18,8 % to 24,3% of the labour force.)

  • Given the perceived negative role of NGOs - seen as remnants of ‘Marxist’ thinking - the report notes that there is ‘little structured dialogue between agricultural unions representing farm owners and organizations representing farm workers’ (p 51).

  • The situation farmers find themselves in is exacerbated by the financial climate (e.g. declining subsidies); the report notes that before the present economic downturn in 1988, only one third of white owned farm units had been financially viable, the rest marginal.

The remainder of the chapter (p 52-62) summarises contemporary conditions on the estimated 60 000 commercial sector farms in South Africa. (A brief overview of types of farming activities is provided on p 52-3.) Although declining, employment in this sector still accounted for over 10% of the country’s formal employment. Employees fall into different categories, most living on, others living off, the farms. Seasonal workers, who are mainly women, form another category. The most vulnerable group of workers are migrants form neighbouring countries, many of whom are women. Citing relevant research, the report notes the generally poor working conditions on farms (but acknowledges that they do vary considerably), especially insofar as women are concerned, and the educational problems faced by children. Research regarding another vulnerable category, non-South African employees from neighbouring countries, suggested that employment of non-South Africans had increased after 1990 (p 62).

The following four chapters cover in some detail abuses against farm workers or tenants, or people assisting them, starting with ‘Assaults against farmworkers’ (p 63-101). Noting that only a few ‘high profile’ cases reach the media, HRW stresses that it is not possible to assess how widespread the problem of assaults on farmworkers or residents by farm owners or others really is and that the aim is rather ‘to give an indication of the sort of abuse that occurs on South African farms, and the lack of accountability through the criminal justice system where that takes place’ (p 69).

Citing Eugene Roelofse, who was the South African Council of Churches ombudsman in the 1970s and 1980s, and others, the report notes that the problem is an old one. Although one white farmer interviewed by HRW admitted the probability of widespread assault, ‘farm owners’ representatives consistently state that they believe that the extent of assaults against farm workers is exaggerated’ (p 64).

In addition to the Johnson and Schlemmer report, a survey carried out amongst migrant farm workers in the Free State is cited. The latter survey found that 74% of the 152 respondents said that relations with employers were good or satisfactory (61% and 13% respectively), but of those expressing satisfaction with the relationship, half (32% of the total number surveyed) reported that they had been verbally abused, and 19% (of total surveyed) claimed physical abuse. HRW notes that the ‘expected standard of treatment is clearly low’, and also points out, providing details of interventions, that agricultural unions have taken a public stand against abuse (p 65-6).

Many cases of assault on farm workers and residents are not reported to the police for various reasons, such as the distance of the farm from the nearest police station, a perceived close relationship between farmers and police and fear of job loss. In a number of cases (some of which are subsequently detailed on p 183-194), ‘farmworkers attempt to report abuse, but the police refuse even to open a docket’ (p 69). HRW refers to interviews with the police which revealed that there was far less awareness on their part of assaults on workers by farmers than vice versa, e.g. the commissioner of a small station in rural KZN where farm residents had reported cases to the police, was ‘unable to recall a single such case’, but he could ‘recollect by name the half dozen cases’ in which a farmer had been the victim not only of murder but of robbery and assault (p 67). (The validity of this criticism obviously depends upon the seriousness of the particular cases, which is not indicated in the report.)

Descriptions of specific incidents of abuse, based mainly on interviews with victims, are given (p 70-82); there were allegations of collusion between farmer and police in some of these cases. Some of those subject to abuse or threats were people living in the vicinity of a farm, who were allegedly threatened or assaulted when stopped at unofficial roadblocks (p 83). Such security clampdowns appeared linked to ‘farm owners’ own fear of violent crime’; many farmers had told HRW that ‘fear of violent crime had led them to be more suspicious of black people generally….’(p84).

Also detailed (p 84-94) are allegations of serious abuses by commando members, with HRW citing ‘credible’ reports of abuse – ranging from the staging of illegal roadblocks to murder – being committed by commando units in many areas, including several in KZN, as well as the Wakkerstroom commando in Mpumalanga. Descriptions of some of these cases, especially those linked to the Wakkerstroom commando, are given(p 86-94), as are unsuccessful attempts by local blacks, from 1994 to 2000, to elicit government reaction. At the time the HRW report was written the situation appeared to have improved to the extent that there had been no further reports of serious assaults by members of the commando following a visit to the area, in July 2000, of a Government delegation which included the Minister of Defence, and the appointment of a team of police members at Middelburg to investigate cases (p 93-4).

Another source of abuse of farm residents which receives mention is that carried out by private security companies, who may confuse people about their identity by wearing ‘military-type uniform’, despite the use of camouflage only being permitted for the army. (Page 95. This is incorrect, however: the wearing of camouflage dress per se is not prohibited.) The fact that black members of these companies may not speak a local indigenous language suggests to locals that they may be former apartheid ‘special force’ personnel from neighbouring countries. The confusion caused by the apparel worn by these companies, and their modus operandi, may result in their activities being, erroneously, attributed to commandos.

The final section of this chapter deals with abuses by security companies (which other farmers in the area may be greatly concerned about - see, e.g. p 99), and vigilante groupings, specifically Mapogo a Mathamaga, formed in what was then the Northern Province in 1996. Boasting a white membership of 10 000, out of a total of 35 000, the group had ninety branches in the Northern Province, Mpumalanga, North West Province and Gauteng. (According to press reports it has extended its activities to KZN more recently.) The violent methods used by this group had led to more than 300 criminal charges pending against it (p 100).

The theme of violence against farm workers and residents is carried further in the next chapter which looks at the evictions which have continued to take place despite the existence of legislation intended to provide security of tenure for these categories of people. What amounts to eviction, says the report, may result from ‘the creation of conditions that cause farm residents to leave their homes ‘voluntarily’, such as the cutting off of water supplies (p 104). However, ‘(t)oday as in the past, many evictions are accompanied with violence or the threat of violence, violence that seldom enters the official record’ (p 105), and some such cases, including one in the Northern Province (Limpopo) involving the timber and paper company Mondi, are described (p 108-113). Mention is made of problems experienced when police assistance is sought and of the logistical problems victims of eviction face, e.g. in securing legal assistance. The connection between illegal eviction and alleged violence by the police in complicity with a farmer is illustrated by reference to the case of Maswiri Boerdery, near Messina, which was the subject of an enquiry by the South African Human Rights Commission (p 114-117), which expressed concern about the ‘cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment’ suffered by a woman.

The following chapter (p 118-128) focuses specifically on gender aspects of violence in the form of sexual harassment and rape of women and children by fellow workers, partners, farm managers and owners. Regardless of the identity of the perpetrator, women may experience problems if they try to report such abuse. If the perpetrator is a partner or fellow worker, they may be dependent on the abuser and farm owners may ‘distance themselves from violence involving farm workers against each other’ (p 123). If the perpetrator were a farm manager or owner, the threat of loss of employment for even reporting such a matter was a very real one (p 127).

Instances in which those trying to assist farm workers and residents were also subject to abuse are described in the chapter ‘Assaults against farmworkers’ advocates’ (p 129-137). People trying to assist farm workers (representatives of NGOs, trade unionists, paralegals and lawyers) often experienced access problems – not unconnected to the insecurity of farmers who, given the prevalence of farm attacks, had legitimate concerns about allowing strangers on to their property. (Agri SA was reportedly in the process of developing a ‘protocol’ to be followed to gain access to farms and farmworkers.) Cases of harassment, threat, intimidation and even attempted murder of those assisting farmworkers are detailed. Christo Loots, a Pietermaritzburg-based lawyer who undertakes work on behalf of farm workers, is cited as saying that ‘no white property owner would rent premises to him (in Vryheid) when it became known the type of work that would be handled’, that he had received anonymous telephonic threats connected to his work on land rights, and no longer received any work from agricultural cooperatives, for whom he had previously acted (p132).

The attention shifts, in the following chapter, to ‘ “Farm Attacks”: Violent Crime against farm owners’ (p 138-157), which starts with a graphic description of an attack in Bapsfontein in August 1998, as described in an interview with the HRW researcher. Citing CIAC reports and Agri SA, about the increasing incidence of farm attacks, the report notes what it sees as problems inherent in the statistics on which this inference is based:
  • The conflation of farm and smallholdings statistics distorts the picture. The report notes, with reference to CIAC report number 2 of 1998, the rapid increase of attacks on smallholdings, especially in Gauteng, relative to attacks on commercial farms.

  • There is a tendency (which impression was reinforced in HRW interviews with police) to collect statistics on black victims mainly when attacks on whites were reported (i.e. as a corollary of attacks on whites), which might mean there was an under-reporting on numbers of black victims.

  • By subsuming ‘intra-black’ violence on farms under the label ‘social fabric’ it is excluded from the farm attack category. As with the simplistic label ‘black on black’ applied to political violence, this exclusion gives the impression that this type of crime is of far less importance than attacks by outsiders on white farmers (p 142-3).

  • Assaults by farmers on workers are not included.

However, regardless of the problems with statistics, the climate of fear that white farmers are living under is, as accounts given by farmers to HRW shows, a very real one (p 143-4). Many farmers, and some representatives of agricultural unions, believe that the attacks are ‘explicitly racial or political’, and aimed at driving farmers off their land (p 144). Reference is made to recurring themes in the literature cited above – the pre-1994 APLA campaign, the brutality of some of the killings, and an apparent lack of obvious motive in some of the cases. At its most extreme, says HRW (p 146), the belief is that the campaign is ‘ideologically driven’, with the Government, aiming to force down land prices and training former members of MK or APLA to create a Zimbabwean-type situation. Those holding such views, however, conceded that there was no evidence to support them. The context in which land-linked interpretations of the violence are given is the perceived failure of delivery on the part of the Department of Land Affairs.

HRW notes that ‘several farmers’ it had interviewed had reported receiving various types of threats, ‘ranging from anonymous telephone calls to letters warning them to leave their farm or face the consequences’ (p 148). Some interpret such threats as a further indication of an organized campaign, while others see them as ‘isolated threats from the land-hungry’. However, even those who do not subscribe to a conspiracy theory – and here HRW refers to interviews with representatives of farmers’ associations and members of the SAPS – see the apparent rise in crime against farmers as linked to the Government’s land reform policies. In contrast to white perspectives on these attacks, many black South Africans, says the report, see them as a consequence of ill-treatment of labour and that ‘attempts to organize private security or commando protection for farms are throw-backs to the “third force” of the 1980s and early 1990s’ especially because of the tendency to use ex-members of South Africa’s ‘more notorious apartheid security units, including the 32 and Koevoet ..… battalions’ as private security (p 149-50).

However, contrary to these opposing perspectives, the report points out that ‘more or less systematic studies’ such as that of Schönteich and Steinberg46, and the Britz and Seyisi report47 , have not revealed any ‘substantive evidence for a coordinated campaign of intimidation to drive whites off the land’, the motive being primarily criminal (p 150-3). Depending on the region, they may also need to be seen in the context of violence levels in areas in which they occur, e.g. political violence in KZN.

Noting the ‘surprisingly casual’ approach to personal safety adopted by some farmers, e.g. the lack of ‘normal’ burglar bars and security gates, and the apparent inadequate screening of temporary labourers, the report refers (p 154-5) to the ‘most comprehensive and in depth study of the motives for violent crime against farm owners’ by Mistry and Dhlamini 48, which also found that, with the exception of a few cases which were grudge-related, criminal motives were dominant in such attacks.

In conclusion, HRW comments that, despite the lack of evidence of any orchestrated campaign against farmers, the continuing use of the term ‘farm attacks’ reinforces notions of a ‘military or terrorist basis for the crimes’ and ‘tends to cloud analysis of possible solutions to the violence’ (p 156-7).

The next, lengthy, chapter, ‘The State Response to Violence on Farms’ (p 158-217) is essentially the main thrust of the HRW report, and starts by pointing out the constitutional obligations of the State to protect all persons without discrimination, and its failure – as with lack of intervention in unlawful evictions from farms – to do so (pp158-161). It is followed by a brief overview of the challenges to South Africa’s justice system posed by the high crime rate (pp158-167)

Before moving on to look at the apparent differential responses of the State to farm workers and farm owners, the report examines the workings of the Rural Safety Plan (pp168-183). Since this section draws on the research by Schonteich and Steinberg, cited below, and also provides details of HRW own enquiries into the working of this plan, this section of the report will be dealt with under the section below, which covers Rural Safety Plan literature.

HRW conclusions concerning the State’s responses to violent crime against farm workers (p 103-204) can be summarized as follows:
  • There is a perception amongst farm workers and those assisting them that initiatives such as the Rural Safety Summit assist farmers but do nothing to address the type of criminality and illegal actions, e.g. evictions, to which farm residents are subject.
  • Police generally refuse to act when illegal evictions occur, even when they are accompanied by violence.
  • Black police members quoted by HRW cite problems in following up cases in which commando members are allegedly involved, including that of obstructionism by the SANDF. Farmers may even deny police access to farms.
  • Police tend to pay more attention to property crimes against the ‘more affluent’ than crimes of violence against poorer people such as farm workers – a problem exacerbated by police understaffing.
  • Complaints against a farmer may lead to subsequent charges being laid against the complainant.
  • In terms of the role of the Justice Department, even writing to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions did not necessarily produce results. (Examples are cited.) Prosecutors interviewed by HRW appeared not to know about assaults on farm workers in areas where they worked; if they acknowledged the problem they might see it as a farmer ‘disciplining’ a worker. Although a few stiff sentences had been handed down by courts, when there was a conviction, sentences (even for murder) often appeared ‘grossly inadequate’.
  • Women and children on farms who are victims of violence, including rape, face even more problems than their urban counterparts, including the lack of support networks and resources in rural areas, including crucial medico-legal, and counseling, assistance, and inappropriate responses from police and Justice Department officials

The State’s response to criminal violence against farm owners is covered on p 204-213:
  • The arrest rate for farm attacks is high (a CIAC report for 1998 is cited), especially if only farms and not smallholdings as well are taken into account. This success rate appears linked to the Rural Protection Plan, and the crucial factor of speed of response time by farmwatch and commando members, as well as effectiveness of police in following up leads.
  • However, despite these successes there is a general lack of confidence in the police – not unconnected to policies of ‘affirmative action’ and a perception that the Government was only paying ‘lip service’ to the problems faced by farmers, and showing more concern for the plight of labourers (p 206). HRW notes that police now need to be seen to be responding to the whole community, and there is less privileged access for farmers while suffering increased exposure to violent crime. The main complaint was of poor police response time (examples are given on p 208) but ‘the same group of people, when asked to tell of particular cases where the police had been slow in responding, were unable to do so’.
  • Even when farmers conceded that the police were making an effort to assist, there was a ‘strong sense that the criminal justice system generally is failing’ (p 208). For example, if perpetrators are caught they may escape, and cases are not necessarily followed through. A survey by Agri SA in early 2001 is cited as showing majority support (65% of respondents) for farmers taking the law into their own hands if farm murders continued, and farmers are quoted as admitting to doing so and complaining about their ‘disciplining’ of workers being interpreted as assault.
  • The country’s Constitution is seen to be favouring criminals. ‘Perhaps the deepest concern of farm owners is a sense that, despite the Rural Safety Summit and other assurances from the Government, they have been effectively abandoned by the new non-racial democracy’. They perceive more concern with ‘isolated assaults’ on farm workers than on continuing white deaths, as proof of which a comment on TV in February 2001 by the Minister of Labour that farmers should ‘adapt or die’ is cited (p 212). The report points out, however, that there have been various statements by Government ministers, and by the ANC, condemning violence against farm owners (p 212).
  • While the January 2001 commitment by the Minister of Safety and Security to commission further independent research into farm attacks was welcomed by Agri-SA, TAU ‘threatened again that farmers would take “drastic action” to protect themselves if the Government did not stop murders of farm owners’ TAU also subsequently stressed (in response to the Government’s announcement that new helicopters would be purchased to fight rural crime) that it was security forces on the ground that were needed to prevent murders (p 213).

The remaining pages of this chapter (p 213-217) explore the role of the Legal Aid Board, and the Human Rights and Gender Commissions, as part of the State’s response to farm violence.

The penultimate chapter (p 218-230) is a case study of events in the Greater Ixopo Area of KZN, during 1999 and 2000, which is used to show the ‘complex connections’ between violent crimes against farmers, and security force responses to it, and assaults on farm residents. This chapter is written by a consultant, freelance journalist Cheryl Goodenough.49 The case study starts by referring to the murders of two farmers (Malcolm Macfarlane and Bruce Mack) in the vicinity of Highflats in late 1999, which ‘brought to a head complaints from many farmers……that the police were ineffective, complaints not followed up, and proactive policing non-existent’ (p 220).

An Ixopo Farm Watch, later re-named Ixopo Community Watch, had been established in May 1997 and, by 2002, was operating in four contiguous policing districts – Ixopo, Creighton, Donnybrook and Highflats. Financed by local farmers and timber companies it had nine full time employees, some of them former police members. All operational staff were police reservists. After the murder of the two farmers, soldiers including the Umkomaas commando, were deployed and they patrolled the greater Ixopo area regularly. Police and Farm Watch claimed the patrols were effective in terms of recovering firearms and arresting ‘known criminals’ and enjoyed community support.

Community members, however, complained of assault by members of the army and Farm Watch and, by the end of 2000, ‘at least sixteen cases of assault were being investigated against soldiers and police in the Ixopo area’ (p 222). According to the office of the Area Commissioner under which the area concerned falls, raids were conducted in Creighton without the knowledge and consent of the local station commissioner, nor was the presence of the SANDF members (apparently from the Eastern Cape) reported to the station commissioner. ‘Police involved in investigating the cases lodged against soldiers have struggled to get information from the SANDF, including copies of the reports listing people deployed on each patrol’ (p 225).

These raids in the areas around Ixopo ‘culminated in the death of Basil Jaca’ a resident of a farm near Ixopo, who worked with a building contractor. Mr Jaca died in July 2000, the day after ‘he was allegedly sodomized with a rifle during a raid for illegal firearms carried out by the Umkomaas commando, accompanied by a member of the Ixopo Community Farm Watch’ (reservist constable John Arkley). Other residents were also assaulted, two of them badly. Arkley was given bail soon after being arrested, but the army members were initially denied bail, despite the State (according to the investigating officer, on the instructions of a senior officer) not having opposed it. They were later given bail and released into the custody of the military police in Pietermaritzburg (p 227). Despite the army having apparently had knowledge of the operation, it had done ‘nothing to investigate the charges against the six soldiers’.

The Jaca incident, the report notes, brought to a head discontent among especially the black residents of the area about crime, culminating in a peaceful protest at the court about escalating crime rates and police ineffectiveness. A memorandum handed to court officials called for, amongst other things, an investigation of the SANDF which, it said, behaved like a ‘foreign army invading enemy land’ (p 228). Ixopo mayor, Themba Mahlaba, told of numerous incidents involving the SANDF, including rape and theft of money, which had been reported to him and said that ‘the community wanted to work with the farmers, but that the community policing forum was non-existent’.

Allegations of abuse by individuals connected to Community and Farm Watch also continued, and were being investigated by the Internal Complaints directorate of SAPS. Citing a local black resident, the chapter concludes by noting that ‘(a)lthough the creation of the Ixopo Community/FarmWatch may have increased a sense of security for farm owners, the result of the recent assaults seems to have been the further alienation of the black population in the area from the white farming community’ (p 230).

In its summing up in the concluding chapter (p 231-242), the report makes a number of recommendations about improving rural safety in general: Firstly, the Rural Safety Plan should be evaluated and restructured. (This aspect of the recommendations of the report is dealt with below). Secondly, there is an urgent need to move from military to civilian policing and, while this ‘transition’ is taking place, the following steps should be taken:
  • All members of the security forces, including part time, should be brought under ‘proper discipline and control’.
  • Police must be trained to report ‘even handedly’ to reported crimes, regardless of race or gender of victim.
  • A full time police member (i.e. not a reservist), preferably fairly senior, should accompany commando members engaged in policing activities.
  • The SANDF should ‘urgently develop an effective internal mechanism for handling public complaints’, and the Independent Complaints Directorate should be empowered to investigate or oversee the investigation of complaints against SANDF members engaging in policing work.
  • The Departments of Justice and Safety and Security should ensure that effective prosecutions are brought not only against perpetrators of crimes against farmers, but also against farmers, vigilantes, commando and private security members involved in abuses, through, e.g. deploying detectives and prosecutors from outside of the areas concerned.
  • Stricter controls, including through appropriate legislation, should be implemented to ensure that private security personnel, including those in farmwatch schemes, do not act as vigilantes, and do not usurp policing functions such as conducting house searches.

The report also suggests that the Government should ‘review the collection of statistics relating to violence on farms’ with a view to providing accurate statistics for all violent crime on farms, including sexual assaults and evictions. HRW also recommends that ‘the figures for “farms” and “smallholdings” be disaggregated’ (p 235).

In conclusion, the report says (p 241) the ‘black farm residents are disadvantaged by comparison with white farm owners in obtaining a response to their complaints of abuse’. Furthermore, ‘the additional economic resources that white farm owners have enables (sic) them to organize to compensate for the deficiencies of the criminal justice system in responding to violent crime. While some such efforts make a useful contribution to rural security, in too many cases these self-help mechanisms have become little more than vigilante groups acting on behalf of white interests only. …. Though violent crime against farm owners is a serious and relatively new phenomenon, deserving of an effective State response, it should not dominate discussion of policing priorities in farming areas to the exclusion of other forms of violent crime’. Firm steps had to be taken to ensure that laws were enforced, and all were protected from violence and other abuse (p 241-2).

Critique of Human Rights Watch Report

The report’s main thrust is no doubt to emphasize violence committed against farm workers and other farm residents, especially by farm owners and farm managers. It is therefore not surprising that the report contains many detailed descriptions of proven, as well as unproven, and even anecdotal, instances of assaults, rapes, and even murders of farm workers and residents by farm owners, farm managers and others. (There is reference to twelve instances between 1988 and 2000, during which a total of fourteen farm workers or residents were killed by farmers, although in at least two cases the culprits were in fact not farmers, and in one case there was no evidence of who the murderer was. There is also reference, on p 197, to a ‘reign of terror…. in which repeated deaths had gone uninvestigated and those believed to be responsible uncharged’ on a farm near Dundee.

Nevertheless, in its chapter ‘Farm Attacks: Violent crime against farm owners’ HRW purports to give an overview of farm attacks. It is therefore very surprising that the few detailed descriptions of farm attacks in the chapter can all be categorized as falling in the relatively less serious category, in some instances amounting to little more than burglary. Only one case of murder – that of Bruce Mack in the Ixopo area – is described in any detail in another chapter (p 219), and then only to demonstrate the violent response it elicited from the Ixopo Farm Watch. There are literally thousands of well-documented cases of farm attacks which could have been used by HRW to illustrate the problem of farm attacks and it is difficult to fathom why HRW chose to ignore that.

As far as rapes are concerned, the same problem manifests itself. Three rapes by farm owners are described (p 120 – 121), two of which on the basis of hearsay allegations. Not one of the many recorded rapes by farm attackers are described. In this respect HRW has the following to say (p 118): ‘Human Rights Watch did not document any cases of rape against wives or female relatives of farm owners, although we received allegations that such women are often targets of rape on farms in the context of violent crime against farm owners. The absence of accounts of such rapes in the section that follows is due only to the difficulty of arranging to speak to such victims, and does not in any way imply that we regard the trauma of white women in such circumstances as in some way less than that of black women.’ This statement is also surprising, especially in the light of the fact that there are many descriptions of such instances in the official records of court cases, which are public documents.

The attention of the Committee was also drawn to a letter dated 23 April 2002, sent on behalf of the National Commissioner of the SAPS by Deputy National Commissioner André Pruis to the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch in New York. At a sitting of the Committee the Transvaal Agricultural Union also expressed their serious objections to the allegations in the report and at the request of the Committee they agreed to put their views in writing. That resulted in a document compiled by Dr S. J. Kruger and Mr J. P. Loggenberg on behalf of the TAU and, being a publication, it will be reviewed in detail below.

In its letter the SAPS notes that following the publication of the report it had researched incidents in it, which had relevant identifying detail such as name, date and location. However, where such information was lacking it had not been possible to verify the ‘integrity and the contents of the allegations’. Incidents involving the commandos had already been investigated by the SANDF.

Five specific cases in which the police were implicated were investigated:
  1. Police docket Wakkerstroom CAS 9/12/96: Ten people had been charged but when the case was brought before court, it had been dismissed due to ‘contradictory statements from the complainants, poor evidence, as well as the fact they deviated from their original statement’ (In the HRW report, p 87, it is alleged that the cases were withdrawn by the State in May 1999 due to insufficient evidence, which is clearly incorrect.)
  2. Wakkerstroom CAS 35/02/97: The Attorney General had ordered a Judicial Enquiry which found that ‘the death of Mr Simelane (the victim) was not caused through an act or failure to act which is prima facie ‘included as a misdemeanour on the side of someone’. (In the HRW report, p 91, the allegation is made that ‘the case never came to court’.)
  3. Dirkiesdorp CAS 50/01/99; The case was followed up by the local police station and two suspects, one of whom was a farmer, were found guilty of assault with the intent to inflict serious bodily harm and sentenced to R3 000-00 or 18 months in prison, which was suspended for three years. (In the HRW report, p 92, it is alleged that the victim had been assaulted and kidnapped, but the police did not even take a statement from him.)
  4. A press report of brutality by commando members, cited on p 93 of the HRW report, was followed up by members of the Piet Retief police station, who interviewed the labour tenant who had allegedly been the victim of serious assault and who was then engaged in a High Court case with the farmer regarding his rights as a labour tenant. The tenant had denied that he had been assaulted, and could not substantiate allegations of police complicity with farmers in closing dockets prematurely.
  5. Dirkiesdorp CAS 20/11/96: A case of assault opened against a commando member, but he was found not guilty in court after the complainant testified that he had lied about the incident. (The HRW report, p 92, refers to a newspaper report of allegations of brutality by commando members, including the serious assault of the labour tenant.)

The letter concludes by denying that the police are part of the problem, as alleged by HRW, in not responding to abuse by farmers, pointing out that there is a team of detectives at each provincial police office, tasked with investigating such cases and reporting back on a monthly basis. It is also asserts that ‘every case which has been registered is not only investigated by the police at the local police station but also brought ‘before court’. 50 It is suggested that Human Rights Watch approaches the SAPS before compiling reports relating to the functions of the Police.

TAU: Unwarranted accusations by Human Rights Watch (Agrarian response to the so-called violent human rights malpractices encountered on South African farms as reflected in the publication: Unequal protection: The States response to violent crimes on South African farms) (Compiled by Dr S.J. Kruger and J.P. Loggenberg)

The Transvaal Agricultural Union responded to the HRW report by producing a written document. This document, authored by Dr S. J. Kruger and Mr J. P. Loggenberg, is highly critical of the HRW report to the point of accusing the researchers involved in compiling it of ‘common racism and war-mongering’ (p 1). The authors also take issue with HRW as a movement, accusing it of being founded on an ideology of humanism, which is congruent with a ‘mindset aligned to revolutionary behavioural patterns’ inimical to Christianity (p vii). Their own stance is that ‘academically, Separate Development is the answer for any society being composed out of different races and people with variant ethnic alliances’ (p 4).

The preface and comments on the first part of the ‘Background’ chapter of the HRW report is largely a refutation of HRW’s version of South African history, as it relates to land and relationships between blacks and whites, and the substitution of the authors’ own perspective on the country’s history, as it relates to the social organization and culture of indigenous black Africans, and colonial and apartheid land policies. This perspective is essentially the same – including insofar as ‘capitalist’ and ‘communalistic’ mindsets are concerned - as that presented in the Action Stop Farm Attacks Memorandum and the publication Property Rights in South Africa, summarized above.

The HRW sections on land and labour reforms, responses of farm owners, and conditions on farms today (see p 30-62 of the HRW report) are discussed on p 11-16, with the authors taking exception to HRW having ignored the proceedings of the International Conference on Property Rights, drawn to its attention by TAU, regarding damage done in Zimbabwe and other countries as a result of failed land reform programmes. Questions about the goals of HRW are posed, for ‘its biased and racist approach can only lead to a second Zimbabwe’, or even another Angola or Mozambique, and South Africa as the major economic power in Africa will be destroyed (p 11). There are also dire warnings, citing other African countries, linking land reform to potential conflict in South Africa.

A recurring theme in the criticism is the failure of socialist policies, which are linked to post-1994 policy and black ‘communalism’ (as opposed to capitalism). Also ignored by HRW is the fact that the land reform legislation ‘has been proven to be anti-White, therefore racist and biased’ and that, in terms of the Employment Equity Act, white males suffer discrimination (p 12). References to ‘the protection of white control’ in the HRW report, engenders ‘hate and animosity’ among South Africans and members of the international community.51 There is place for a discussion of pre-1990 politics, say the authors, but that should be done ‘with an objective and unbiased mental mindset’ (p 13). There is a reminder that ‘prior to 1990 farm murders, farm attacks and evictions from farms were not heard of’, apart from ‘possibly offshoot instances’ which were the exception rather than the rule.

Regarding present conditions on farms, the authors claim that most farms have farm schools, that legislation requires all employees to be treated equally as regards gender discrimination, and that there is no proof that farm children are malnourished. The use of foreign labour, e.g. from Zimbabwe, is defended on the grounds of severe problems in the recruitment of South African labour that farmers experienced since 1994 (p 14-15).

In their discussion of the HRW chapter ‘Assaults against Farmworkers’, the authors point out that TAU has requested ‘all levels of authority’ to identify abuse and report it to organized agriculture so that it may be dealt with, and supports the charging and punishing of perpetrators. Farmers too, experience problems, in that many cases of incitement, including by Government officials and NGOs, and threats by farm workers, are not followed up ‘mainly due to cover ups by Government Officials’ (p17). The authors also object to HRW applying the label ‘farmer’ when referring to some of the perpetrators in cases cited in their report (p 17). (Several of the cases referred to in the HRW report, p 70, in fact concerned businessmen who happened to live on smallholdings and in one stance the culprits were a rugby team.)

Turning to alleged abuses by commandos, private security and vigilante groups, the authors respond as follows:
  • The commandos are extensions of the SANDF which is ‘sanctioned by Government authority’ (p 18).
  • Some of the victims quoted in the HRW report alleged that commando members had worn “brown camouflage uniforms’, but those have not been worn by army members since 1994 or 1995. Besides, people other than commandos have access to army-type uniforms.
  • Concerning the case in which Richard Hlatswayo had laid a complaint against a farmer by the name of Greyling (Wakkerstroom case 9/12/96 referred to in police response to HRW discussed above), the complainant had been ‘proven a liar in court’ (p18). (It should be mentioned that earlier in their critique, on p 3, the authors had suggest that ‘so-called serious abuses’ of employees could be seen ‘as a response by the farmer due to the neglect of responsibility by the employee’.)
  • Allegations about abuses by private security companies are rejected as ‘prejudiced’ and ‘biased’ (p 18).
  • The conduct of the vigilante group Mapogo a Mathamaga is defended in terms of ‘traditional punishment’ within ‘the communalistic Black African culture’ (ibid).

The ‘Violence Accompanying Evictions’ section of the HRW report, say the authors, appears to be largely the work of Nkuzi Development Association. In this regard there is once again reference to the different ‘individualistic’ and ‘communalistic’ perceptions of land, and the fact that black people justify remaining on land which legally belongs to someone else (a farmer) in terms of ancestry. Why should the same then not apply to white people who purchased land and lived on it in the 19th century? The plight of a white widow who was forced to leave her farm after her husband’s death, because of debt, is referred to by way of illustrating HRW double standards for blacks and whites. There are also omissions on HRW’s part in their references to incidents at the Joe Slovo squatter camp (near Lanseria airport, north of Johannesburg), including the criminality at this settlement and ‘attacks and murders on legal land-owners in this area’ (p 20). HRW is also accused of presenting a one-sided perspective in its coverage of events at Maswiri Boerdery on p 114-117 of the (p 20).

Insofar as gender aspects of violence are concerned (HRW report, p 118-128), TAU points out that perpetrators of such violence, e.g. many foremen and farm workers, are not necessarily white and that farmers cannot become involved in, nor held responsible for, cases of domestic violence. Rape on farms should be seen in the context of rape, including of children and babies, in South Africa generally ‘due to myths regarding HIV/Aids’ (p 21). Turning to the section on ‘Assaults against farm-workers’ advocates’ the authors claim numerous examples of ‘arrogance and vindictiveness of Government Officials and NGO’s representatives towards the TAU and White farmers’, and claim that ‘so called advocates or…legal representatives’ may actually create a climate conducive to confrontation (p 21).

Several pages of discussion (p 21-27) on the HRW chapter on ‘Farm Attacks’ follows. Referring to high levels of violent crime, the authors agree that most victims of violent crimes are black, which they attribute to ‘Black on Black’ violence, ‘usually dispensed by Black family members within the Black domestic environment’. They argue that this type of crime does not receive the coverage that inter-racial crime does. They agree with HRW that ‘many White farm-owners are living in fear’ (p 43) and proceed to advance reasons for this state of affairs, which they see as linked to racial and political issues around land which should be seen against the liberation struggle and the expectations engendered by the government’s land reform policy. That the police cannot find evidence to prove ‘political dispositioning within the land claim issues, because politically that is the expected thing for them to say (p 23). TAU thus takes issue with HRW for maintaining that there was no ‘substantive evidence for a co-ordinated campaign of intimidation to drive whites off the land’ (p26), is contested: Farm attacks have ‘dual basis, namely political and criminal’ (ibid).

TAU, say the authors in their comment on ‘The State’s Response to Violence on Farms’, has done its own monitoring of why the government has failed to meet the safety and security needs of its citizens. Among the factors it lists are the restructuring of the SAPS and SANDF along racial lines, with attendant loss of expertise, the down-sizing of the SANDF, incompetence in the SAPS and SANDF, and lack of allocation of funds to security forces which, in turn, creates an ideal situation for criminals, including international syndicates, to operate in. Investigations are poorly handled, so ‘it is virtually impossible for any prosecutor to prove guilt’52, while the Bill of Rights is perceived to protect criminals more than law-abiding citizens. Rural police stations are under-resourced, and staff may be totally illiterate (p 28). TAU suggests that the targeting of commandos (by criminals, Government officials and NGOs) may be linked to anti-Afrikaner sentiments.

Not only has the HRW report ‘failed to illustrate clearly and truthfully the brutality and torment during a typical farm attack, as opposed to the explicit detail given to cases involving black victims’, but it has failed to solve a ‘single problem’ and has rather encouraged the ‘elements of hatred, racism and mutual distrust’, seriously damaging the image of farmers.53


As mentioned above54 a Rural Safety Plan was implemented in 1997 with a view to encouraging ‘all roleplayers concerned with rural safety (in effect farmers, SAPS, SANDF and private security companies) to work together in a co-ordinated manner, and engage in joint planning, action and monitoring to combat crime in the country’s rural areas.’55

There are two publications dealing specifically with the Rural Safety Plan, based on research evaluating its effectiveness carried out by Martin Schonteich and Jonny Steinberg, published in a monograph, and a paper by Steinberg looking specifically at two areas, i.e. Letaba and Mooi River. As indicated above, the Human Rights Watch report also devotes a fair amount of attention to this Plan.

Schönteich M. and Steinberg J.: Attacks on Farms and Smallholdings: An evaluation of the rural protection plan (Institute for Security Studies, 2000)

The monograph, co-authored by Martin Schonteich and Jonny Steinberg, was based on their research in 1999 to assess the effectiveness of the Rural Potection Plan, and ‘to develop a better understanding of the nature of crime on farms and smallholdings’ (p 3). The report presents (in Chapter 2) an overview of the security structures (police and army) which co-ordinate activities at four levels – ground, area, provincial and national – and the structure of the commando system (from unit level to national command by the Chief of Joint Operations of the SANDF). This is followed by a brief review of the rural safety summit in 1998 and of Government reports on farm attacks (chapters 3 and 4), before moving on to summarise research findings. The specific areas dealt with in the research are those of Piet Retief (Mpumalanga), Greytown (KZN), Ixopo (KZN) and Wierdagrug (Gauteng) – the three provinces worst affected by attacks on farms and smallholdings (p 2).

There are specific aspects of this monograph, particularly relating to violence linked to land in the areas researched, which will be taken up elsewhere in this report. Regarding the workings of the Rural Protection Plan, the authors summarise their findings p 3-4) as follows:

‘It was found that the rural protection plan’s effectiveness to combat attacks on farms and smallholdings varied from area to area. In the country’s rural areas, where farms are far removed from the nearest police station or army base, the plan’s success depends primarily on strong civilian participation.

‘In the event of a farm attack, it is normally only the victim’s neighbours who can respond rapidly enough to apprehend the culprits. By the time the security forces arrive at the scene of a farm attack, the culprits have usually fled.

‘Given that the police and the army do not have a rapid response capability in the country’s rural areas, it is crucial that farmers and smallholders themselves – through the organized structure of the South African National Defence Force’s commando system or the police’s reservist system – take greater responsibility for their, and their community’s safety.

‘The police’s primary contribution in combating farm and smallholding attacks is in its detective and intelligence functions. In some areas, the detective service functions well and many farm and smallholding attackers have been apprehended and convicted by the courts. There are, however, other areas where the police are performing poorly in this regard. This is frequently the case where the perpetrators of farm and smallholding attacks operate from outside of the area where the attack takes place, and local detectives have to co-operate with their colleagues in other parts of the country. Interregional co-operation in the detective service needs to be improved

‘An important weakness of the rural protection plan is that the police – and the security forces generally – have weak intelligence gathering capabilities.56 This is especially so in rural informal settlements and squatter camps from where farm and smallholding attacks are often planned, and to where many culprits flee after an attack. The security forces need to improve their intelligence gathering capabilities to be in a stronger position to pre-empt attacks on farms and smallholdings.

‘The rural protection plan is a good mechanism to drive and co-ordinate safety initiatives for the country’s farms and smallholdings. There are, however, aspects of the plan which can be improved.57 Moreover, while the plan provides a sound framework for rural safety, the individual components of the plan must be adapted to local needs and capacities. Crucially, the plan needs to be accepted by local communities. Without their ongoing participation in the plan, its effectiveness is limited’.

Steinberg J.: An assessment of the rural safety pland in the Lethaba and Mooi River Area (Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, 2000)

Steinberg has also produced a paper on his research on the Rural Safety Plan in the Letaba area of the Northern Province (Limpopo), and that of Mooi River in the Northwest Province.

The Letaba area was viewed as being the least effective of those areas researched, insofar as civilian contributions to the plan (through participation in commandos, for example) were concerned. A crucial factor in this regard appears the ‘very low esteem’ in which security forces, especially the police, were held, and many farmers had made alternative arrangements about their security; 50% or more of the farmers in the area had joined the vigilante group Mapogo a Mathamaga. However, the Maake murder and robbery unit had – including through its informer network – made arrests in 45% of the 20 farm attacks committed between 1998 and 1999 (p i). (In terms of figures cited by the police, this percentage appears low, especially as arrests do not necessarily lead to convictions). Although most farmers interviewed believed that attacks were ‘motivated by land restitution claims’, evidence suggested that the attacks were criminally motivated. Also, black businesses in nearby villages were similarly affected. According to the author there was no evidence to support any hypothesized link between attacks in the Letaba area and urban organized crime (p ii).

In contrast to Letaba, ‘relations between organised agriculture and the security forces’ in the Mooi River area of the North West, were found to be ‘cordial and cooperative’, with good participation in Rural Safety Plan structures by agriculture, and a ‘highly visible’ presence by security personnel (p ii). The area is vast, and includes both large commercial farms in more isolated areas and smallholdings near urban centres such as Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom. While participation in commando structures varies (some have refused to join because of ‘animosity towards the SANDF’) those eschewing commando involvement may participate in rural safety plan structures through networks organized by TAU. The Klerksdorp murder and robbery unit, which has jurisdiction in the Mooi River area, is particularly successful, with an over 80% arrest rate for farm attacks. As in Letaba, farm attacks in this area appear to be motivated primarily by robbery.

Human Rights Watch: Unequal Protection – The State response to violent crimes on South African Farms (2001)

As mentioned, the question of the general effectiveness of the Rural Protection Plan and its impact on black farm workers and other rural residents, is a recurring theme in the Human

Rights Watch report summarized above. Noting that President Mbeki, after a meeting with representatives of Agri-SA in February 2000, had committed the government to re-activating the Rural Safety Task Team, ‘which would in the future function within rather than outside police structures’ (p 168), HRW presents the results of its own enquiries into the working of the Rural Safety Plan (p 168-177), which can be summarized as follows:
  • Visits to police stations in KZN and Northern Province (Limpopo) had illustrated the type of problems, linked to lack of resources, experienced by the police in visiting commercial farms within their areas of jurisdiction on a regular basis, as required by the RPP. ‘Because of the infrequency of the visits, many farmers see this system as more or less useless’.

  • Due to problems relating to the role of the police, the ‘security cell’ system of linking geographically close farmhouses by radio, known as ‘farmwatch’, often played a more important role than policing initiatives, operating as a ‘virtual police force’. Farmers’ association self-help initiatives had extended to the launch, in August 1999, of the Agri-Securitas Trust Fund, aimed at generating funds for rural protection.

  • Citing the research by Schönteich and Steinberg, HRW notes the considerable variation in involvement by farmers in commando and farmwatch activities. At their most active, commando units would engage in ‘several vehicle patrols a night, roadblocks once or twice a week, and checkpoints looking for illegal weapons even more frequently’. Informers might also be used to obtain information about illegal weapons and stock theft (p 171). While commandos should always operate under police control, in practice they often operated independently, keeping police informed about their movements, but at the same time not subject to monitoring by a body such as the Independent Complaints Directorate.

  • Insofar the use of private security companies is concerned (some statistics are given on p 174-5), there were problems with levels of training, and conditions under which guards were armed, as well as a lack of adequate regulation of this sector, which permitted those so inclined to ‘operate virtually as vigilante groups’ (p 175). The report acknowledges, however, that moves were underway to improve the regulation of the sector (p 176). Relationships between security companies and police varied, with some ‘overstretched police stations’ receiving assistance from companies guarding farms, while other security force members complained of companies acting ‘above the law’ (p 177). Private security companies might be drawn into the Rural Protection Plan and might attend meetings of GOCOCs (Groundlevel Operational Coordinating Committees), and take part in joint operations such as searching for stolen livestock with police and commando members (p 177).

The point is made that ‘the mix of different security systems mobilized for rural safety varies across South Africa for reasons of historical tradition’. For example, in the KZN coastal sugar farming region, where farms are ‘relatively small’, private security companies may be used, as opposed to ‘remote areas’ of low rainfall, large farms and small profit margins, where, because of the costs of private security, the commando system is used. In an area such as Gauteng, ‘where commando units tend to be less under the control of farm owners and to have more black members’, farmers tend to use private farmwatch initiatives, incorporated into the rural protection plan through the GOCOC’s (p 178).

The report notes that the GOCOCs (established under the RPP), like the Community Policing Forums (CPFs) provided for in the SA Police Service Act, are intended to increase public involvement at police station level. However, there is a lack of confidence in CPF structures. ‘In many areas, it seems that there is an effective racial division between the GOCOCs and the CPFs’, with the former being perceived as catering for the needs of white farmers, with the latter directed at the black community. In other words, there is a problem of racial representivity on Rural Safety structures, including commandos and reservists (p 180). The report suggests that lack of trust of blacks by many whites inhibits the development of truly nonracial structures. There was, for example, only one black commando unit head in the whole country (in the former Transkei) at the time of writing the report. Examples of attempts to bridge racial divides in commando units, and through their operations (e.g. assisting with crime in ‘tribal’ areas) are given (p 181-2). Despite these problems there are, however, some areas – Greytown in KZN is a case in point – in which the RPP is well organized, and is bringing police, farmers, and commandos together in a ‘very structured fashion’, while trying to extend assistance beyond the white community’ (p 183).

In its conclusions, the HRW stresses the need for a ‘comprehensive evaluation’ of the RPP from all points of view, i.e. workers and those living in surrounding black areas as well as farmers themselves – for not only has the plan not met the security needs of farmers, but it has ‘actually increased insecurity for other sectors of the population in some areas’ (p 231), including through abuses by commandos and private security personnel. To meet the needs of all members of farming communities, a restructuring of the RPP – with responsibility for people’s protection resting with the police, and not the army and its commandos, who should play only a supporting role to the SAPS.

Steinberg J: Midlands (2002)

In 2002 Jonny Steinberg, a journalist and independent researcher, whose work on the Rural Safety Plan is referred to above, and who had also made a submission to the Committee, published the book Midlands on farm violence. The area about which he writes - Ixopo - had already featured in the monograph he had co-authored with M. Schönteich, while the Human Rights Watch report summarized above, also devotes a chapter to a case study of the area concerned.58 In this book Steinberg explores the nature and meaning of farm violence through focusing on one particular case, using the pseudonym ‘Peter Mitchell’ for the young man who was murdered in Natal in October 1999.

Steinberg in fact uses pseudonyms for all the characters and even places in his book. He calls the father of the deceased man ‘Arthur Mitchell’, and he says that ‘there are people living on his land who would like to kill him’ (p x). This reason is not very convincing, however, since the murder received widespread publicity and anyone with any knowledge of the area and of the farm attacks which have taken place there, will find it relatively easy to identify the characters. Steinberg also finds it ‘deeply troubling’ to use the name of the man accused of the murder, apparently oblivious to the fact that the man had already been found criminally responsible for the killing at a judicial inquest a year before the book was written.

The Committee has decided, however, to maintain the pseudonyms given by Steinberg. The family of the deceased have informed the Committee that the publication of the book has caused them considerable grief. The book not only lays some culpability for the death of the son at the door of the father, but it contains hurtful (and in the Committee’s opinion, gratuitous and irrelevant) references to the parents, their relationship and their home.

Before the publication of the book, Committee members had already interviewed the parents of the murdered ‘Peter Mitchell’, the survivors of another farm attack in the area, as well as the workers on their farms, and had added the Mitchell case to the list of those warranting special attention. Interviews were also conducted with various police officials, and the police docket was studied in detail. Given the fact that Midlands is supposedly devoted to unravelling the complexities surrounding one particular murder, the book is rather sketchy in its coverage of the known facts of the case, to the point of being inaccurate in places. It may therefore be useful to set out the facts of the case as found by the Committee, before analysing the book itself.

The murder of Peter Mitchell

Arthur Mitchell, his wife and son had been living on their farm, which Steinberg names ‘Eleanor’, since 1996. There are a number of other white farmers in the area, which adjoins black-occupied reserve land (which Steinberg names ‘Izitha’), and there have been a number of attacks on farmers in the area, as well as a number of murders of black people in nearby areas.59 Adjoining Eleanor is the farm ‘Normandale’ which had been owned by a man called ‘Steyn’, who reputedly had had a poor relationship with local black people. There had been three attacks on people who had managed the farm for Steyn during 1996 and 1997. In February 1999, some time after Steyn himself had left to live elsewhere, Mitchell senior bought the farm from him.

There were a number of black families, including two which feature prominently in accusations about the murder of Peter Mitchell, living on Normandale when Mitchell bought the farm. The new owner told these families that the 100 hectares on which they lived (‘Langeni’) would remain theirs, and he offered them preference when casual workers were employed. However, he laid down certain rules which, he says, were not new, but had been in operation under the previous ownership. There should be no further building without his permission, as he did not want unrelated people moving on to the land, and he requested (but was not given) the names of people living there. Since a game farm was to be established, cattle would not be allowed to graze outside Langeni. Families were limited to five head of cattle, although this seems to have been a rule of thumb not enforced in practice.

During the months following on the purchase of Normandale, a cottage on the farm was burnt, cattle belonging to Mitchell were stolen (a common occurrence among both black and white residents of the area) and fences were constantly cut. According to Mitchell, by August 1999 there had been 21 incidents, with 14 police dockets opened. The families on the farm appeared to enjoy a close relationship with a prominent local ANC politician and businessman. At the time of the 1994 elections this politician had reportedly promised local black people that the land taken by white farmers would be returned to them. (The question whether or not this was in fact said and, if so, by whom, remains in dispute among local people.)

Peter Mitchell, aged 28, was farming with his parents and they were in the process of building a house for him and his prospective wife on their farm,when he was murdered. Either he or his father made a daily journey, which involved travelling on a dirt road which wound its way through thick bush, to inspect the vegetables which were being grown under irrigation near the river. On 11 October 1999 Peter Mitchell made that journey, and was murdered in an apparent ambush. His body, slumped in his vehicle and with his foot still on the brake pedal, was found around 15:00 by a construction worker. (Steinberg gives a different time.) He had been shot in the head from the rear left, possibly through the back window. His body had been moved to one side, apparently when his gun was removed from its holster at his waist.

The father of the deceased, and also some policemen, maintain that the murder weapon was a shotgun – which is accepted without question by Steinberg. In support of the view that a shotgun was used, reference is made to a shotgun which had been stolen from the Mitchells some time before the murder, and to a sworn statement by someone who had heard from one of those accused of the murder that this same shotgun had been used. According to Arthur Mitchell, when this shotgun was stolen, it had ammunition in its sling capable of causing the type of damage (in terms of entry and exit wounds) inflicted on his son. Furthermore, a wad from a shotgun cartridge was found in the deceased’s vehicle. The head rest of the vehicle had bullet holes in it and, according to Arthur Mitchell, it was also sent away, but there is no mention of it in the docket.

However, it seems more likely that another type of gun was used. Available evidence suggests that more than one gun was used at the scene of the crime. Although the deceased was shot from the left, at least one shot was fired from the right, but did not hit him. The nature of the injuries sustained supports the view that the murder weapon was not a shotgun. A member of the ballistics unit who attended the post-mortem examination, is quoted as saying the shooting from the right (i.e. which did not hit the deceased) was probably from a shotgun or a homemade firearm taking a shotgun cartridge. This member was also of the opinion that the deceased had been shot with a high powered weapon. The first police member to attend the scene noted that the injuries were ‘probably’ caused by a revolver. A perusal of relevant documentation, including statements taken at the scene of the crime and the post-mortem report detailing the nature of the injuries, and discussions with the doctor who performed the post-mortem and other forensic experts, support the view that the deceased had been killed by a bullet and not a shotgun blast.

The deceased’s father heard the news of the killing over the farmers’ radio network, and when he reached the scene he found a number of people, including police members and farmers, present. According to Arthur Mitchell, the crime scene was badly handled, especially in respect of ballistics and fingerprints. The police have denied this allegation, but there are conflicting versions of whether or not fingerprints were found. According to the docket, a fingerprint was uplifted but no report is on record as having been received. With regard to forensic evidence, apart from the shotgun cartridge wad found the following day in the vehicle, a total of four pieces of bullet shrapnel were found by police attending the scene and sent to the police forensic science laboratory for analysis but, due to their size and damage, their calibre could not be determined.

In April 2000 the first investigating officer (named ‘Wessels’ by Steinberg) arrested ‘Mduduzi Cube’ and one ‘Madiba’, both residents of Langeni, for the murder of Peter Mitchell. A third suspect, ‘Bheki Cube’, Mduduzi’s son, could not be found. Three firearms were confiscated during the arrest: a .303 rifle, a 9 mm. pistol (both licensed) and a homemade shotgun. (Steinberg only mentions two firearms). These guns were sent to the SAPS forensic science laboratory in May 2000 for tests and to determine whether they had been used in any crime committed. The ballistic report is not in the police docket, but the Committee arranged for a copy to be faxed to it from the laboratory. According to the report, the two licensed firearms were tested and it was found that they functioned normally. There is no mention of any further tests having been done to ascertain their use in other crimes. The shotgun apparently had a fired cartridge in the chamber when it arrived at the forensic laboratory, but it was impossible to determine whether the shotgun had actually fired it.

After his arrest Mduduzi Cube denied guilt, but co-accused Madiba made an inculpatory statement with a view to turning State witness. In his statement Madiba said that the accused, Mduduzi Cube, had supplied the guns and that Bheki had shot Mitchell. Madiba claimed to have been present when the murder took place. It is alleged that while the two men who had been arrested were being detained without bail, a police member from the station near their home, also with the surname Cube, tried to book them out of the cells. According to the police a case was opened against this member, but he died shortly afterwards.60

On 2 May 2000 police members, including Wessels, went to the homestead of accused Mduduzi Cube, where they found the Bheki and arrested him. They then questioned him and after he agreed to point out a gun used in the killing, he was taken away to dig for the gun. While digging, however, he reportedly pulled a handgun out of a bag and started cocking it, and at the same time threw the hoe he was using for digging at a member of the police. He was then shot dead. The case was investigated by the Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) and, according to the head of the police unit concerned, the members were cleared of any blame at a judicial inquest.61

When the court remand date arrived the two accused, Mduduzi Cube and Madiba, were released for lack of evidence. In January 2001 the .303 rifle and the 9mm pistol taken from the home of Mduduzi Cube were returned to him after an inspection of the property had determined that the licensed owner had a suitable gun safe. (There seems to be some irregularities with the issuing of the licences, but that is not relevant for the present purposes.62) Questions were raised about the failure to prosecute anyone for the possession of the homemade shotgun but, according to the commander of the unit investigating the case, it had been found abandoned on a roof in the same vicinity as the subjects and there was ‘no direct connection between the firearm and any individual’.

Later in the year other statements (mainly hearsay) were taken, which implicated those who had previously been accused of the murder, but in April 2001 the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions declined to prosecute anyone for the murder of Peter Mitchell. A judicial inquest was held in Ixopo on 23 July 2001. Various witnesses gave oral evidence at the inquest court found that Mduduzi Cube and Bheki Cube were in fact responsible for the death of Mitchell. By this time Mduduzi had disappeared and has still not been found. (It should be pointed out that the burden of proof at an inquest differ from that at a criminal trial: in the former, guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, in the latter on a balance of probabilities.) According to Arthur Mitchell he was not notified about the inquest and only learned of it after it had taken place. However, the Commander of the investigative unit contends that he was informed, and he was told that despite the fact that an inquest was taking place the case would not be closed but investigations would continue.

Steinberg’s interpretation of events surrounding the death of Peter Mitchell

Steinberg refers to specific incidents of farm violence in the months following the 1994 election, noting that the meaning of this violence ‘has never been clear’ and that, although the motive in the vast majority of attacks appears to be robbery, ‘so many attacks are accompanied by seemingly gratuitous violence, the violence itself performed with such ceremony and drama, that the infliction of painful death appears to be the primary motive’ (p vii). Farm murders tamper with the ‘boundary between acquisitive crime and racial hatred’ (ibid). He also deliberately presents it as a ‘racial frontier’ (p ix) and he quotes the manager of the Farm Watch describing the area as ‘border territory’ (p 91).

Ownership and use of land is the central theme of Steinberg’s explanation of why Peter Mitchell was murdered: ‘Those who murdered Mitchell did so in order to push the boundary back, a campaign their forebears had begun in the closing years of the nineteenth century, and which their great-grandchildren believed it their destiny, as the generation to witness apartheid’s demise, to finish.’ (p ix) However, linked to the land issue is, he argues, the provocative behaviour on the part of the father of the murdered man. He suggests that it was the circumstances of the departure of the previous owner of the farm Normandale, Steyn, which shaped the tragic events which led to the death of Peter Mitchell (p 38). Steyn had allegedly told his tenants on ‘look after’ his farm, and had not informed them when it was subsequently sold to Mitchell. According to Steinberg, the tenants had assumed that ‘looking after’ the farm meant it was theirs. (This is somewhat farfetched.) After Mitchell bought it he met with the tenants and laid down certain rules, as indicated above. (Mitchell himself points out that these rules were not new but had been in operation under the previous owner.) Since the farm was to be turned into a conservancy, cattle were not to graze on it outside of designated areas, and would be impounded if they did; nor was poaching permitted. The tenants, said Steinberg, had thus become trespassers on land they had believed was theirs (p 24 et seq).

Referring to Arthur Mitchell’s rule that each family would be restricted to five head of cattle, Steinberg cites a tenant on another nearby farm, who says that ‘you die (if) you have no cattle and your sons cannot marry’, and you will not have grandchildren of your own because ilobolo has not been paid. While this tenant may be citing the ideal (rather than the statistical) norm relating to marriage and bridewealth, the fact is that culture changes constantly, adapting to structural change. The twentieth century saw a dramatic change in African family structures, with large numbers of children being born out of wedlock and cash in lieu of cattle becoming a widespread mechanism for meeting ilobolo obligations.63

Arthur Mitchell, according to Steinberg, knew little about the tenants’ rules, and he broke them – ‘sacred ones, ones that for his tenants were a matter of life and death’. Would his son still be alive if his father had known the rules, he ponders? (p 52) Mitchell broke these rules by decreeing that new structures could only be built for family members, in which case he would need to make a personal inspection; this perceived interference was seen as being humiliating to the tenants. Furthermore, the request for a list of family heads and members living on the property, and talk about photographs of homesteads being taken at a later stage (they never were), were seen by tenants as a ‘mechanism of surveillance and policing’ (p 237).

The laying down of rules by Mitchell and his purported breaking of community rules had to be viewed in the context of community perceptions of land dispossession – and according to Steinberg there wasn’t a single person in the area who didn’t have dispossession ‘seared on his consciousness’ (p 63) – and expectations that land would be returned to black people after 1994.

Steinberg argues that Arthur Mitchell’s plans to enumerate members of households living on Normandale farm assume a particular salience in regard to land issues. He cites residents of the area making vague references to a census during earlier times, then finds confirmation of what they had been talking about in the account of the 1906 Bambatha Rebellion in the then colony of Natal in the book Reluctant Rebellion, written by the prominent historian Shula Marks. This rebellion, led by a chief from the Umvoti area of the colony (near Greytown, north of the Tugela river), stemmed from the imposition of a poll tax by the British Colonial Government. This poll tax had been preceded by a census aimed at establishing how many adults lived in different homesteads, with a view to levying tax. Steinberg cites resistance to the census and proposed tax in the Izitha reserve area near Mitchell’s farm, not long before the rebellion, which had led to the punishment of two chiefs in the area, and the splitting of their chiefdoms – which, he infers, facilitated the take over of land by white farmers.

Steinberg seems to have oversimplified the historical context and stretched the historical facts somewhat. He appears to be talking about two chiefs named Tilonko and Msikofel.64 The influence of the former was mainly in the Richmond/Ixopo area, and the seat of the latter was Bulwer (which does not feature in Steinberg’s geographic focus) – although, because of the scattered nature of chiefly authority in the area, he was theoretically in charge of the Izitha area. However, since the 19th century, chiefs have not wielded as much power in the areas of which Steinberg writes as they have in some other parts of the province, because of the strong mission influence which raised educational levels and also the presence of numerous areas of black-owned freehold land.65

Critique of Steinberg

Farm Murders in South Africa - SkyNews

Min. of Safety and Security: Charles Ngakula: 'If you don't like the crime, leave the country'

For Steinberg’s explanation of why Peter Mitchell was killed to have credibility it would need to be shown convincingly that individual killers were motivated by the factors to which he refers, or were paid to carry out the killing by others who harboured such feelings. This Steinberg does not do. While circumstantial evidence points to the two men who were found responsible for the murder at the judicial inquest, their culpability – let alone motive - has not been established beyond reasonable doubt in a criminal court of law. Futhermore, even if a motive of this nature on the part of the killers had been established, it might simply be a private grudge not shared with members of the wider community.

However, leaving aside the motives of the killers, Steinberg suggests that there is some sort of community consensus that the killing can be attributed to ‘rules’ being broken and to issues around land. The Committee’s own enquiries in this regard, however, had a completely negative result. While no formal research, such as random, questionnaire-based interviews, was undertaken, the matter was investigated by a social scientist, with detailed knowledge of the local social dynamics, and two research assistants with extensive networks66 in the area about which Steinberg writes, exploring local perceptions about why Peter Mitchell had been murdered.

No one mentioned the factors which Steinberg suggests are common knowledge, viz. the supposedly unacceptable rules and the land issue. Talk at the time of the murder rather was that it was either the work of criminals whose activities were well known and feared (and who, it was believed, had attacked a shopkeeper not far from the Mitchell farm, causing him to cease business operations to the benefit of the local shack shop). Others said that it was a personal grudge against the Mitchells because of the impoundment of cattle. That persons believed to be linked to the murder are feared among black residents, also emerged from interviews with farm workers in the area, as well as from notes in the police docket.

The matter was even broached with members of the family of one of those accused of the murder. During a discussion with a research assistant, a family member of one the accused spoke freely about the rules which Mitchell senior had laid down and, while not admitting his relative’s involvement, strongly denied that they would have had anything to do with the killing. In fact, not only he, but members of the broader community, maintained that there had been no problems with the Mitchell family until after Peter Mitchell was murdered.

The whole question of land, on which Steinberg’s explanation rests, did not feature in the commonly shared perceptions about the murder and no-one referred to the events surrounding the Bambatha Rebellion. According to a man who is involved in community affairs in Izitha, although Chief Msikofel is remembered by some of the mainly older people (rather than the newer generation about which Steinberg writes) as having adopted a confrontational approach to white authority, his memory is linked primarily to the fact that he was eventually hanged, apparently for engaging in witchcraft against another chief!

The farmers in the area hold a person, called ‘Paul Mlambo’ by Steinberg, responsible for the killing of Peter Mitchell. He is a political strongman and also an induna for the chief of the area. Steinberg says that when he asked him whether Peter Mitchell had been killed because his father was an unfair employer, Mlambo denied it, but he ‘answered much too quickly (and) stumbled on his syntax’. Yet Steinberg asks himself: ‘How did the white men who gave me my first impression of Mlambo get things so utterly wrong?’ and he sees stories about Mlambo as a ‘violent parody of intelligence work’ (p 169). Unfortunately, Steinberg does not give any grounds upon which he bases his strong opinion on the matter.

The problems inherent in trying to unravel what appears an extremely tangled skein of events, were illustrated by allegations that tensions and rivalries within one of the families linked to the killing had led to people spreading false stories, especially when the father of the deceased had offered a reward for information leading to the identification of his son’s killers. There is simply insufficient evidence to reach any valid conclusion about the motive or motives for this murder – let alone theorise about killings in the area, and farm killings in general. The killing may well have been the result of a revenge attack, or it may have been an act of intimidation. Then, again, it might have been an act of robbery. All one can say is that at least two assassins were involved, and that they probably had some knowledge of the area in which it took place. Only a firearm was stolen, the wallet being left behind, but there are many other farm attacks where exactly the same thing happened and where it can be said with a fair degree of certainty that the motive was robbery.

The book is written for a popular readership rather than an academic one and, while it contains many of the author’s own interpretations, it lacks the type of analysis which should characterize a work which purports to be factual. The author draws rather selectively on historical material, without any proper referencing, to seek the roots of what he sees as conflict between black and white in the area, but at the same time he seems unaware of a great deal of important background material relating to political dynamics and conflict in the area, and even of earlier murders of farmers in nearby Richmond.67 This is a crucial omission, since the political context – and its interface with crime - is integral to his argument. For example, while he is correct in saying that there was little political violence in the reserve area he calls Izitha, it was by no means absent from the areas which feature in the book in the early 1990s. More recently, a well-known Midlands warlord has allegedly been involved in bringing guns into the area about which Steinberg writes.68

Steinberg’s use of pseudonyms, even for historical figures and places, further complicates matters, and makes proper verification difficult. One of his important sources of both facts and opinions, ‘Elias Sithole’, (see p 110-129) is in fact two figures rolled into one (p ix). Some of the other informants were clearly not very creditable, several of them having their own skeletons in the cupboard.

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