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Safety of farmers in spotlight after recent spate of violent attacks

The Mercury

30 Sep 2020

SHIRLEY LE GUERN

THE brutal torture of another couple near Bronkhorstspruit, Gauteng, over the weekend has heightened calls for government to take measures to ensure the safety and security of farmers.

The couple, who have chosen to remain anonymous, survived despite being tortured in the farm workshop. The 64-year-old farmer, who was overpowered by six attackers when approaching his workshop on Sunday evening, and his wife, 53, who attempted to come to his aid, were beaten with planks and pipes.

Two sources, who did not want to be named, said the attackers allegedly tried to cut off the farmer’s leg using an angle grinder. He also sustained extensive skull and facial fractures and was airlifted to a Johannesburg hospital.

The attackers also twisted and broke the wife’s nose with a vice grip in an attempt to persuade the couple to hand over a large sum of money that they believed was on the farm, the sources said.

The attackers eventually fled with two flat screen TVs, firearms and valuables in the couple’s Hilux bakkie when disturbed by the arrival of the couple’s son.

On Sunday night, Bronkhorstspruit police spokesperson Constable Munyadziwa Ramovha, confirmed the attack and said that no arrests had been made. He could not be reached yesterday.

This attack follows another incident in the Western Cape over the weekend. According to police, a farmer, his wife and a family friend were shot by armed robbers on a farm in Klipheuwel during a robbery on Saturday night.

Earlier this month, Glen and Vida Rafferty were murdered on their farm in Normandien, near Newcastle.

At the weekend, the Upper Tongaat Community led a motorcade that included a microlight, three tractors, 92 bakkies and three trucks, and travelled from Tongaat to Ballito on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast in a peaceful protest to raise awareness of the need for farm safety.

Organisers Shakti Rampasad and Lihle Ndlovu summed up the protest in the words “no farmers, no future”, adding that safety was imperative for the entire farming supply chain which extended from larger commercial farmers to rural businesses and service providers as well as subsistence farmers and workers.

“We believe in a better and brighter future for our rural communities, a future in which every person is safe and secure, and has freedom to work and contribute without fear,” said Rampasad.

The DA’s KZN spokesperson on agriculture and rural development, Chris Pappas, said that in response to a parliamentary reply to questions posed by the DA in KZN, it emerged there had been a staggeringly low arrest and conviction rate for farm murders and attacks over the past two decades.

KZN Community Safety MEC Bheki Ntuli revealed that between 2000 and June 2020, only 43.7% of the number of murder cases involving farmers had ended in conviction. Just 56.7% of the number of arrests involving the murder of farmers ended in conviction, and just 30.2% of the cases involving the murder of farm workers ended in conviction. And 42.4% of the number of arrests involving the murder of farm workers ended in conviction.

“Between 2000 and June 2020, in terms of attacks on farmers, only 20.7% of the total number of cases opened ended in conviction while just 49.7% of arrests ended in conviction and, in terms of attacks on farm workers, just 15.8% of all cases opened resulted in convictions while only 34.7% of the total number of arrests ended in conviction,” said Pappas.

Sandy La Marque, chief executive of the KZN Agricultural Union (Kwanalu), said: “Since the lockdown levels, particularly level 3, were lifted, we have seen a rise in criminal incidents in rural and urban areas. Levels of poverty and unemployment continue to rise steadily and are a major contributing factor to rural crime,” she said.

She added that lack of service delivery was the main reason for tensions in rural areas.

“In some recent cases, violent and destructive expressions of lack of service delivery through protests and arson have been witnessed. One often attributes service delivery issues to municipalities. However, lack of services and progress in dealing with matters such as restitution, labour tenants, and financial support has been experienced for years.

“KZN has a vast number of outstanding issues, which are not new. Many have suffered and continue to be at the mercy of government for resolution. The lack of resources, budget, will and dispute resolution mechanisms must be addressed in order to prevent the continued frustration.”