CLEARCUT | There’s a climate that’s been created in South africa where violence against minorities, and farmers in particular, is being romanticized by politicians — and seen as less condemnable if committed against a white farmer, civil rights activist and Deputy CEO of AfriForum Ernst Roets tells Michelle Makori.
The rural crime epidemic has inflamed political and racial tensions nearly a quarter-of-a-century after the fall of apartheid.
Farm murders are just one issue that reveals how South Africa is struggling with violence, an economic slowdown and divisions along race lines.
Break-ins, hostage takings and killings became common — with attackers often making off with just a few hundred rand (less than $20), a mobile phone or a hunting rifle.
In the absence of detailed statistics, the scope and scale of the crimes has become a battleground.
AfriForum, a pressure group that advocates on behalf of the country’s nine-percent-strong white population, is one of the forces seeking to shape the debate around farm murders.
“There are political factors that play a role here. We are concerned about hate speech, political leaders who… would say for example ‘the white farmers should be blamed for everything’.”
He is particularly damning of Julius Malema, the firebrand leader of South Africa’s radical left, who has called on his followers to “retake the land” from whites.
In 2012 President Jacob Zuma sang a struggle-era song containing the words “shoot the farmer, shoot the Boer”.
Agriculture, like much of South Africa’s economy, remains in the hands of the white descendants of colonial-era settlers.
White farmers control 73 percent of arable land in the country compared with 85 percent when apartheid ended in 1994, according to a recent study.
Calls for “radical economic transformation” to benefit the black majority have gained traction as unemployment has soared.
They are frequently coupled with accusations that the white minority control a disproportionate share of the nation’s wealth.