Ramaphosa speaks on farm murders in South Africa

President Cyril Ramaphosa has moved to address the increasingly politicised issue of farm murders in South Africa, following the brutal torture and murder of a young farm manager in the Free State – Brendin Horner – on 1 October 2020.

Two suspects have since been arrested for his murder, appearing in court last week.

Civil rights group AfriForum has branded farm attacks and murders a form of terror, while the Democratic Alliance noted last month that there have been 21 murders and 147 attacks on farms over a four month period between June and September, alone. “Our farmers are three times more likely to be murdered than a police officer.”

The government and other analysts maintain that farm attacks are part of a broader crime problem in the country and are not racially motivated. Police minister Bheki Cele said in a recent interview that a motive for farm attacks is often the mistreatment of farm employees.

Ernst Roets, deputy CEO of civil rights group AfriForum, pointed out on social media however, that the minister’s comments are wide off the mark.

“Not all farm murders are racially motivated, but race is neither irrelevant. It is wrong to state that farm murders are per definition racially motivated. It is, however, just as wrong to try and present farm murders simply as “ordinary crimes” or to state that race is in truth irrelevant,” Roets said.

In his weekly newsletter to the nation on Monday (12 October), president Ramaphosa strongly refuted any claims that farm attacks are racially motivated. He condemned Horner’s murder, describing it as an appalling act of cruelty. “His killing should anger and upset every one of us,” he said.

“No matter who we are, no matter what community we live in, no matter our race, creed or language, we should be as deeply affected by the death of Brendin Horner as we are by the many other South Africans who die violent deaths each year.”

“Just as we mourn the loss of his life, we also mourn the deaths of Mogamad Cloete, Tawqeer Essop and André Bennett, three young men who were shot in a car in Delft in the Western Cape in the same week.”

The president said that the crimes are a stark reminder of the levels of violence in South Africa.

“While crime affects everyone, the majority of victims of violent crime are black and poor; and it is young black men and women who are at a disproportionately greater risk of being murdered,” he said.

“We have a huge task to bring an end to murder, assault, robbery, rape and violence against women and children wherever it happens and whoever it affects. It requires that all peace-loving South Africans stand together not only to condemn these criminal acts, but also to work together to end them.

“It requires that we hold fast to the principles contained in our Constitution, that we uphold the rule of law and that we strengthen our justice system to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book.”

The president also spoke out against the violent protest that took place at the court house in Senekal following the arrest of suspects in Brendin Horn’s murder. A police vehicle was overturned and torched by a group of angry farmers.

“The brutal killing of a young white farmer, allegedly by black men, followed by the spectacle of white farmers storming a police station to get to a black suspect has opened up wounds that go back many generations.”

Evidence based approach

“Those people who think that farm attacks affect just a small part of our population are wrong. The farming community is an integral part of our economy. The farming community produces the food that we eat. Violent crime on farms poses not just a threat to the safety of our rural communities, but to our nation’s food security,” Ramaphosa said.

He said that the claim that violent crime on farms is part of an orchestrated campaign by blacks to drive white farmers off their land is simply not borne out by fact.

Numerous studies show that crime in farming communities is largely opportunistic. Rural communities are more vulnerable because of their isolated location and, as a result, the relative lack of access to security and other services.

“Contrary to the irresponsible claims of some lobby groups, killings on farms are not ethnic cleansing. They are not genocidal. They are acts of criminality and must be treated as such,” the president said.

‘Tinderbox of race hatred’

Ramaphosa called for greater coordination and better communication between the South African Police Service, business, farming organisations and communities.

“There needs to be more collaboration between farm watch organisations and Community Policing Forums. Farming communities, including farmworkers, must actively participate in these forums, because it is they who are the eyes and ears on the ground. Traditional leaders need to be empowered to play a greater role in safety in farming communities.”

The president said that farmers need to more readily provide access to their lands to law-enforcement officials. Private security companies operating in farming communities need to work more closely with the SAPS, and at the same time ensure that arrests of suspects are done within the confines of our Constitution.

“We must continue to explore additional measures, such as integrated communications technologies, to step up rural safety,” he said.

He also called for more investment in rural development, and he pledged to tackle the inequality that persists in farming communities. “We need a coordinated effort to improve the quality of life of all people living in rural areas if we are to eliminate poverty, which is a major contributing factor to crime,” Ramaphosa said.

“We would be naïve to assume that race relations in farming communities have been harmonious since the advent of democracy. Unless this is addressed in an open and honest manner, unless we are prepared to engage in dialogue, this will remain a festering wound that threatens social cohesion,” said the president.

He said that what happened in Senekal shows just how easily the tinderbox of race hatred can be ignited. “As a nation we must resist any attempts to use crime on farms to mobilise communities along racial lines.

“One murder is a murder too many. We stand in solidarity with all victims of crime, regardless of whether they live in cities or on farms, whether they are farmers or farmworkers,” said Ramaphosa.

“We must not be blinded by our own prejudices to the suffering and pain of others. It should not matter to us if the victim of violent crime is black or white.”

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Ramaphosa speaks on farm murders in South Africa