Two Separate Attacks In South Africa Have Farmers At Boiling Point

Chantel Kershaw was assaulted by two armed men at her farm near Johannesburg. In a separate incident, Brendin Horner, was tortured and stabbed before being strangled to death near the town of Paul Roux.

A protest gathered in Senekal outside the bail hearing for the suspects in Horner’s murder, forcing its way inside the courtroom and demanding the release of the murder suspects. Police spokesman Brig Motantsi Makhele reported that two shots were fired by protestors and that they damaged public property as they made their way into the court. A police vehicle was overturned and set on fire. A 52-year-old man has been arrested for allegedly participating in the arson of the vehicle. The Transvaal Agricultural Union of South Africa has voiced concerns that protests will escalate unless the government takes decisive action to address farmers’ concerns over the attacks.

According to AfriForum, there were 552 farm attacks in 2019, compared with 433 in 2018, an increase of 27%. They also report that the number of attacks has risen each year since 2011 (which saw 96 reported farm attacks). However, the murder rate in the attacks has remained stable and has fallen since its peak at 72 in 2017 – with 54 in 2018 and 57 in 2019. AfriForum also draws particular attention to the fact that one-quarter of cases involve attempted murder of one or all the victims. They go on to argue that the 9% of cases that resulted in murder could have been much higher because the intent to commit murder was present in the attackers. They also note incidents of rape, torture, kidnapping, and arson.

While the violence dropped earlier this year, likely due to the pandemic, the number of attacks has been rising since June. A group of 5,000 bikers rode to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on August 30th, protesting the attacks against farmers to goad the South African government into providing more protections to the rural communities. As of late August, AfriForum reports that at least 216 farm attacks have been recorded in 2020 and stress that the attacks are not racially motivated, noting that Black and Indian farmers are also being targeted.

In August of this year, Dr. Ivan Meyer, the MEC for Agriculture in the Western Cape, called the attacks on farms a national crisis and also denied that they have a racial motivation. He cited recent attacks in KwaZulu-Natal in which 30 black farmers were killed, stating that the media failed to cover them. He also highlighted the fact that 50% of South Africa’s agricultural production goes to the rest of Africa, warning that if the farm murders continue, food security on the African continent could become compromised.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) estimates that the number of food-insecure individuals has risen by 10% in 2020, up to 44.8 million, and highlights climate change as one of the leading causes of devastation in this region. A Human Development Index (HDI) report noted that wealth inequity in South Africa increased between the top 10% and the bottom 40% in 2019 and cite South Africa as the most unequal region on the continent. As well, the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) reports that social and political protests in some countries, including South Africa, have increased since COVID-19.

In an October 2020 COVID-19 policy brief, the World Food Program warned that South Africa’s singular focus on mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 virus, by pulling funding out of other critical areas such as education, climate change, and science, could lead to worse conditions in the years to come. COVID-19 has a compounding effect: an economic slowdown contributes to weak growth, translating to rising unemployment which contributes to increased poverty, exacerbates climate change, and other risk factors. The World Food Program argues that this cascading effect is why it is critical that these challenges be addressed simultaneously, citing the fact that countries in the region have been struggling against a series of crises related to climate change. These include serious water and food scarcities, creating unpredictability and economic uncertainly which were already increasing risk factors for millions each year pre-COVID-19. Without significant intervention, it is likely that the attacks on farms will continue.

James Laforet