Government, in the form of Deputy President David Mabuza, has convened the inter-ministerial committee on land reform and agriculture to meet following a Democratic Alliance (DA) requested Parliamentary debate on farm murders and rural security.
The South African number two chairs the committee and it will on Friday, according to a Presidency statement, among others focus on specific programmes aimed at curbing violent attacks on farmers, which negatively impacts food production and security.
“The lives of farmers, farm workers and farm dwellers as well as every citizen of the country, black and white, matters. For this reason government will continue to work with the justice, crime prevention and security (JCPS) Cabinet cluster to ensure prevention as a priority in dealing with farm murders,” the statement said.
Speaking during the debate of national importance in Parliament Dianne Kohler Barnard, shadow state security minister, pointed out the agricultural sector was an industry that “touched the lives and tables of each and every South African”.
“Agriculture is one of South Africa’s greatest employers, one sector most likely to drive back poverty, indeed one of the great engines of our economy. Agriculture-related businesses have work streams leading to and from each farm and employ hundreds of thousands.
“Agriculture is a major pillar of the economy – with the added bonus of a strong global consumer base pulling in much-needed foreign exchange,” she said explaining the importance of largely rurally-based agriculture.
Kohler Barnard then outlined her party’s stance of farm attacks, murders and rural security generally.
“The DA has been speaking out against farm attacks for more than two decades, but it was as we watched attack numbers rising during this country-killing lockdown, that we drew a line in the sand. This was because Police Minister Bheki Cele chose to forbid patrolling systems farm owners set up themselves in an attempt to keep their families safe.
“There have been 21 murders and 147 attacks in the past four months. Our farmers are three times more likely to be murdered than a police officer,” she told the National Assembly.
“The men and women who feed South Africa don’t sleep. They do nightly patrols around their farms and I know of wives who watch their husbands on cameras as they patrol in the dark. Watching for attackers, waiting to see if tonight is the night their beloved husband will be killed. Unless they farm in Lekwa, Mpumalanga, where electricity is cut week after week so farmers live in total terrifying darkness as animals die of cold and what’s in their fridges rots. They live the reality it is four times more dangerous to be on a farm, than in any other area of South Africa.”
Freedom Front Plus (FF+) leader Pieter Groenewald went further telling parliamentarians those who survive farm attacks are also victims.
“Those who survive a farm attack now have to carry on with their lives despite the trauma they suffered – many witnessed the murder of one or more family members. Most surviving victims are women and children.
“How unimaginable is the trauma a 12-year-old girl suffers forced to watch her mother being raped? How unimaginable is the trauma family members experience as they watch their loved ones tortured with boiling hot water and power drills? These not only leave marks on the victims, they are burnt into the memories of children as well,” he told the National Assembly.
Groenewald again called on Cele to investigate – in depth – farm attacks.
“This must be similar to the 2013 investigation to determine the underlying causes of these attacks,” he said adding South Africa has a rural safety plan with positives.” It was updated last year and follow through is needed as the wider agricultural community is ready and willing to co-operate in executing the plan.”
The chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Inkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, warned that attacks on farms threaten food security, employment and the economy.
“Both farm workers and farm owners are of equal importance in the agricultural chain,” Mandela said. He made the remarks following the recent attacks on four farms in Hartbeespoort in North West province.
In one incident, a woman and her children were held captive on a farm in Broederstroom. The attackers also fled with a family car and stolen valuables.
“Any type of violence against women and children is abhorred. We must ensure the reduction of crime against vulnerable groups,” Mandela said on Tuesday.
The committee condemned attacks on farm owners and farm workers, and called for increased police visibility in communities.
Mandela said Community Policing Forums and Community Safety Forums must be strengthened. He also encouraged all communities to know their neighbours to create a non-racial and socially cohesive South Africa.
“We must, through our government’s approach to social compact, ensure that we all contribute meaningfully to the creation of peaceful and safer societies. We need to bring all the stakeholders and key role players on board in fighting the scourge of violent crimes,” Mandela said.
“The urban/rural divide bequeathed to us by the legacies of colonialism, apartheid and further compounded by the slow pace of rural transformation and rural economic development, is a cause for grave concern, and this bedevils our efforts to effectively wipe out crime. We must ensure that we take collective responsibility for the safety and the development of rural communities.
“The set-up of the district councils in rural areas must play a role in ensuring that people living in their areas take part in deciding solutions to their problems. Through the new district development model, we must further ensure the implementation of the National Rural Safety Strategy (NRSS),” Mandela said.
Mandela said the killing of farmers and farm workers has debilitating consequences.
“One of the key findings by Johan Burger, from the Institute for Security Studies, in research conducted in 2018 on ‘Violent Crime on Farms and Smallholdings’, is that farm attacks and farm murders have increased in line with the general upward trend in South Africa’s serious and violent crimes. These crimes have been found to share similarities with the trio crimes category of house robbery, business robbery and carjacking,” Mandela said.
He said the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development will work with the Portfolio Committee on Police to ensure that rural communities, inclusive of farming communities, get the required protection and services from the police.