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White Farmers See Themselves As Targets In South Africa

By Ralf E. Krueger     Apr 16, 2001 in Technology
JOHANNESBURG - Willem Botha, a 59-year-old white South African farmer, refused to give up, even though his wife lay dead on the floor next to him and he had been hit three times.

Botha continued to aim and fire at his attackers, wounding one as the others escaped. As a result of this incident two weeks ago, Botha's wife became the eighth victim to die on a farm in the Greylingstad region of South Africa in recent times.

South Africa's white farmers, who still produce the bulk of the country's food for the commercial market, have watched the rise in farm murders over recent years with alarm.

Many believe the crime is systematic, looking north over the border to events in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe's government has actively supported the dispossession of white farmers.

At a press conference at the end of March they made an appeal to international opinion to acknowledge their plight.

The minister responsible for security, Steve Tshwete, has expressed sympathy for the farmers, but all he has been able to offer is to train police reservists whom the farmers themselves will appoint.

"Don't lose hope. We will get it right," he said, but the white farmers are not happy with this pledge.

In this climate of mutual mistrust, they regard themselves as the target of a covert and brutal polcy aimed at driving them from their land. According to the recently established self-help group, Action: Stop Farm Attacks, 1,045 farmers have lost their lives in 5,540 attacks on farmsteads since 1991.

"We are convinced that these attacks on farmers are not merely criminal in nature but carefully planned actions," ASFA spokesman Wemmer Webber says.

According to Webber, some of the attacks have been carried out with military precision using specialist firearms. One attacker is said to have been in possession of a video showing how attacks of this kind should be carried out.

No proof of these allegations has been put forward, and there are studies that suggest the farms are like magnets for criminals, given the lack of infrastructure and general poverty in rural areas.

A survey conducted by the criminology department of a Johannesburg college into 48 perpetrators of these crimes showed that theft was the real motive in 90 per cent of the cases.

Most of the culprits came from within 20 kilometres of the scene of the crime and said they were attempting to steal vehicles or money.

Severe poverty is certainly widespread in South Africa's rural areas. There is also a large number of young people orphaned as a result of the AIDS epidemic and thus lacking any normal social structure in which to grow up.

The way white farmers continue to treat their black staff exacerbates the problem, and in this conditions have scarcely changed since the end of apartheid.

Farm workers who believe they have been badly treated by their bosses are often suspected of being behind the attacks, and this was the case with regard to Willem Botha.

The white farmers, who are increasingly being called to account by the government for the wrongs of the past, are refusing to take the rising number of attacks lying down.

Quite apart from the firearms most of them keep close to hand in the event of emergency, they are also talking of a tax boycott.

"We are concerned about the attacks on farms, but also at the inability of the government to fulfil its constitutional responsibilities," ASFA says.

The action group claims to represent the interests of 384,000 people and predicts that the country's food supply could be endangered if things do not change.

They have called on international public opinion to encourage the government to act and to support it in fulfilling its constitutional obligation to ensure the safety of all its citizens.
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