South African Farmers seem to be Under Attack

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Supporters of the #BlackMonday picket along Hendrik Potgieter Road, 30 October 2017, as they protest against farm murders. Picture: Michel Bega

South Africa has witnessed some controversial issues, adding to that is the rise in attacks on white farmers. Two farmers were attacked in June in the Free State province. It followed a typical pattern armed intruders tied up the victims and stole their guns, cash and mobile phones – whatever they could get their hands on – and then fled in the farm vehicles. Farms are particularly vulnerable nowadays due to their isolation in rural areas.

The attacks were condemned by Dan Kriek, the president of AgriSA, the largest representative body of Commercial farmers in South Africa “in the strongest possible terms”. However, this has been taken advantage of by racist elements.

“The whole narrative, the fact black farmers and farm workers get attacked and murdered, gets lost in the whole conversation. How do we – in a country with our history – then convince the whole of society this is a problem we all need to address?”

Kriek, a white farmer with a prize cattle stud near the town of Tweeling in the Free State, is at the epicenter of an emotive debate around race, rural violence and land reform that is roiling South Africa. There are few more affected than Kriek – as AgriSA president and a farmer he knows many of the victims of farm attacks. “What I despise is when you tried to have a rational discussion about this you get labelled a denialist, you get labelled from some corners that you are complicit even. That is just the furthest from the truth.”

The concern over black farmers and farm workers who are now becoming victims of racist attacks implies that this has been a large failure by society as a whole to address the wide gap in the racial divide between black and white. Kriek is aware that much of the recent violence stems from the decision by President Cyril Ramaphosa to review the part of the constitution that prohibits land expropriation with out compensation. This was called upon by Julius Malema who insisted that Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) could not be effective if the issue of uneven distribution of land is not addressed. Malema has been known to be using populist politics to attract black people to his following but he has little substance. Much of the violence in rural areas can be attributed to his impact on the impoverished black community living there.

Mean while our current president seems to losing his influence in terms of power.

The Free State is not the only province where Ramaphosa’s grip on power – he was forced to go for a compromise candidate, Job Mokgoro, to replace Supra Mahumapelo as premier in North West. And in KwaZulu-Natal, members openly and vocally support former president Jacob Zuma, even in Ramaphosa’s presence. Meanwhile, in the Eastern Cape, Zuma supporters are continuing to challenge the legitimacy of the Ramaphosa- supporting PEC. The decision to continue with a Free State PEC that is loyal to ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule – and support him when he was Free State premier – was made despite the vociferous protests of disgruntled ANC members in the province.

Ramaphosa has had a hard time coming to grips with the reality of coming into office since the beginning of the year. At the moment the President clearly has to get his own party in order. I hope he has organized his own team of loyalists behind him lest his support within the African National Congress crumbles like a House of Cards. I believe that with the general elections happening next year there are going to be some significant changes in the political arena. The ANC has already lost significant influence over the years under president Jacob Zuma and the changing of the Guard under Ramaphosa has yet to make any headway.

Opposition parties will grow in influence and there will be more demands from civil society for accountability and transparency to improve. Although the attacks on white farmers are worrying there could still be some improvement in security in the rural areas Given the way the wind is blowing right now. The country is on a new trajectory where the old forms politics will be starting to change.