Epidemic of South African Farm Murders Continues as Gunmen Shoot Elderly Victim Dead
Another South African farmer has been reported killed after three gunmen attacked his homestead — part of a sustained campaign of violence across the country.
The alleged attack took place in Potchefstroom in the North West province, according to Times Live. The elderly victim was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics from the private ambulance company ER24.
OFM, a radio station based in Central South Africa, put the farmer’s age at 69, and quoted police spokeswoman Pelonomi Makau as saying the killers were driven off by his son following a high-stakes altercation:
"They saw three suspects hiding at a fence who shot at the farm owner," she said. "He died at the scene and the son managed to fight back the suspects. He managed to confiscate a firearm, knife and cell phone from the suspects. They then fled the scene."
The killing is just the latest in a series of murders which the government has been accused of encouraging, and which have made farming in South Africa the most deadly occupation in the world.
South African farm killings — where victims are typically members of the country’s white, Afrikaans-speaking minority — are often extremely brutal in nature, involving prolonged periods of torture.
While they are little-reported even within South Africa itself — the government directed police to stop releasing information about victims’ ethnicity in 2007 — one recent murder which made headlines was that of 64-year-old former pharmaceutical executive Sue Howarth, who was a British national.
Mrs Howarth and her husband, 66-year-old Robert Lynn, were confronted by a group of masked men at their isolated farm in the small town of Dullstroom, where they had lived for twenty years, in February this year.
The men tied up the elderly couple and tortured them with a blowtorch for several hours, with Mrs Howarth suffering "horrific" burns to her breasts.
Her attackers attempted to kill her by stuffing a plastic bag down her throat, before driving her and Mr Lynn to a roadside ditch where they shot her twice in the head and her husband once in the neck.
Miraculously, Mr Lynn survived, and was eventually able to flag down a passing car for assistance. Mrs Howarth was also still alive, somehow managing to breathe despite the bag in her throat, but died in hospital two days later.
Brutality of this sort is far from unique, with civil rights group AfriForum writing that "the horror experienced during farm tortures is almost incomprehensible" in 2014.
While official statistics on farm attacks do not exist, the Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU) estimates there were some 345 attacks resulting in 70 deaths in 2016.
All told, 1,187 farmers, 490 family members, 147 farm employees, and 24 farm visitors are known to have been murdered between 1998 and the end of 2016 — although the true figure is estimated at between 3,000 and 4,000.
"The average murder ratio per 100,000 for the population in the world is nine, I believe," said TAU spokesman Henk van de Graaf in 2016.
"In South Africa, it is 54. But for the farming community it is 138, which is the highest for any occupation in the world."
White South Africans fear the killings have the tacit support of the ruling African National Congress, with President Jacob Zuma defending the singing of the revolutionary song ‘Kill the Farmer, Kill the Boer’, and one his MPs crying out "Bury them alive!" during a recent parliamentary debate.
President Zuma called for South Africa’s constitution to be amended so farmland can be seized without compensation in March this year, possibly in response to former African National Congress youth leader Julius Malema founding a surging new political party with the rallying cry: "People of South Africa, where you see a beautiful land, take it, it belongs to you!"
Neighbouring Zimbabwe witnessed a similar situation in the 2000s when Marxist dictator Robert Mugabe instituted a programme of mass land confiscation. Many were murdered as squatters seized white-owned farms and ran them into the ground, ultimately leading to a collapse in agricultural production and economic depression.
The country’s 93-year-old tyrant swore the killers would never be prosecuted in August this year, effectively giving them an the state’s official seal of approval.
"Yes, we have those who were killed when they resisted. We will never prosecute those who killed them. I ask, why should we arrest them?" he demanded.