Friday, November 27, 2015

Report on South African farm attacks and murders submitted to UN Forum on Minority Issues

Farm attacks and murders are a unique criminal phenomenon that occurs with increasing regularity and levels of brutality in South Africa.  During such attacks, victims of all ages may be shot, assaulted with steel pipes, pangas (long, broad knives similar to machetes), axes, sticks, shovels, pitch forks, broomsticks and knives. They may also be kicked, beaten, slapped, hit and raped. Some are even horrendously tortured by pulling out their nails, pouring boiling water over their bodies or down their throats, burning them with electric irons, breaking their fingers, or dragging them behind moving vehicles before they are ultimately murdered.

On 25 November 2015, South African minority rights organization AfriForum submitted a report on farm attacks and farm murders to the UN’s Forum on Minority Issues in Genève. The aim of the submission was to bring this phenomenon to the attention of the international public domain, in order that pressure may be exerted on the South African government to declare such attacks and murders priority crimes.

The report reveals how the victims of this unique kind of crime are failed by the South African authorities. In the weeks leading up to this submission, approximately 100 000 South Africans lent their support to the campaign.

In his address to the Forum on Minority Issues, Ernst Roets, Deputy CEO of AfriForum, specifically focused on the failure of the South African criminal justice system to ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes are prosecuted.  “According to AfriForum’s research, a mere 23% of all attackers are ever sentenced,” he said.  There are numerous examples of cases where the victims and the families of murdered farmers have had to look on helplessly as perpetrators were released due to the shoddy work done by investigating officers or prosecutors.

The risk of farmers being murdered in South Africa is four times higher than that of the average South African resident. These unacceptable levels of violence have dramatic consequences for food security in the country as well, yet the South African government refuses to treat farm attacks as priority crimes or even to release official statistics pertaining to these attacks.  “The last time that any figures had been released by the state, was in 2007.  At that stage the statistics already indicated a 25% increase in the attacks,” Roets said.  “Without proper data, it is impossible to address the problem significantly.”

AfriForum employs a full-time criminologist, Lorraine Claassen, to compile its own statistics of current attacks.  She also investigates the reasons for this criminal phenomenon that plays havoc with the stability and future of agriculture in South Africa.  In addition, AfriForum studies ways in which victims can be supported and ultimately that attacks might be prevented.

Several independent publications also examine South African farm murders.  Land of Sorrow (compiled by Dirk Hermann and Chris van Zyl, Kraal Publishers, 2011) describes the events surrounding more than 2 610 farm attacks that took place from 1990 to 2010.  In Farm murders, victims tell their stories (Bargain Books, Pretoria, 2014), author Carla van der Spuy gives an account of the personal experiences of ten survivors.