NEWS & ANALYSIS

Premier, stop farm murders in province now – DA NWest

Issue of rural safety, and the safety of farmers and farm workers, transcends race, gender, and geography

Open Letter to Premier Job Mokgoro: Stop farm attacks in North West now

4 September 2020

Dear Premier Job Mokgoro,

I write to you about the lack of safety and security in our rural communities, specifically on behalf of the farmers and farm workers who produce food for our tables under constant fear for their lives and livelihoods.

The issue of rural safety, and the safety of farmers and farm workers, transcends race, gender, and geography. Every brutal farm attack and murder affects all of us. We all depend on the agri-sector, for food, and many others, for employment.

Many members of your own party, and their extended family members, own farms, or smallholdings, or properties in far-flung rural areas, like the former Chief Whip, Hoffman Galeng and ANC MPL, Mahlakeng Mahlakeng.

It is alleged that the current Speaker, Sussan Dantjie, owns a property with game on it.

Even National Assembly Speaker, Thandi Modise owns a farm.

Likewise, members of other parties like the former EFF MPL, Alfred Motsi, owns a farm and the current DA Caucus Leader, Winston Rabotapi also farms on a smallholding.

The issue of farm attacks does indeed affect us all, regardless of race.

You are, no doubt, aware of the recent violent farm attacks against Mr Niemand in Potchefstroom and Ms Sonja van Der Merwe and her children in Broederstroom, the attacks on Bernice Snyman and of the Smit family in the Zeerust area.

These attacks follow many others that came before. For years now, attacks against farmers, farm workers, their families or visitors, women and children or the elderly, are often brutal and violent, with a devastating impact on the economy of our province.

The motives behind some of these attacks are not known to us, since it appears that these attacks are purely executed for the sake of the inhumane torture and violent murder of people, as no theft of goods or livestock are reported.

As you are aware, the DA has been calling for a dedicated rural safety plan for many years now. Since the disbandment of dedicated rural safety units, formerly known as the commando system, a voluntary force, under the SAPS, during the period 2003 to 2008, farmers, farm workers and rural communities dependent on the agriculture sector, across racial lines, have been subjected to the most heinous and brutal violence on a daily basis.

Former President Thabo Mbeki announced that disbandment of the commando system will be replaced by dedicated SAPS rural safety units, which, like so many promises made by the ANC, never materialised.

At the time, the DA was on record stating that disbandment of the rural commando system was an irresponsible political move which will leave all farmers and farm workers defenceless and make them easy targets for criminals.

In 2020, these words ring true. In fact, while penning this letter to you, a planned farm attack is taking place somewhere in our country. The constant fear of falling victim to a violent attack is, unfortunately, the lived realities of farmers, farm workers, their families, their visitors, and entire rural communities.

The ANC government has paid lip service to the issue of rural safety for decades now. The former MEC of Rural, Economic, Agricultural Development, Manketsi Tlape, stated during a sitting of the legislature, replying to an oral question, that the re-introduction of specialised rural safety units within the SAPS will become a priority objective of the North West Provincial Government, in an attempt to improve the safety and security of farming communities throughout the province.

Years later, Manketsi Tlape, now serves as a member of Parliament, and the dedicated, well resourced, well trained specialised rural safety units are nowhere to be seen, yet the safety and security situation in rural communities have worsened.

Farm attacks are a scourge on rural communities. Many attacks do not enjoy wide media coverage. Neither does the regular theft of livestock.

To depend on the SAPS to first prevent these crimes, or respond fast enough should an incident be reported, or to effectively investigate these crimes is generally a lost cause. After an attack, it takes days, if not weeks at times, to retrieve case numbers from the police, so that we can effectively monitor the progress on investigations and prosecutions to ensure justice to the families and communities of farm attack victims.

We know that the harsh socio-economic circumstances many people find themselves, that of poverty and unemployment, are not the driving forces behind these attacks, due to the minimal theft of goods.

As a result of the failure by the State to protect the lives and property of people, farmers are forced to invest extensively to improve security measures to keep their families, their employees, their properties, and livestock safe. A function that is supposed to be fulfilled by the government, through the SAPS.

It is farmers and farm workers who sacrifice so much of their time to organise night patrols. It is often farmers and farm workers that arrive first on the scene of a farm attack and at times even farmers and farm workers who hunt down and apprehend attackers. Not the SAPS.

Premier Mokgoro, you stated that your administration will prioritise crime hotspots to respond effectively to deal with crime. What is your government’s approach to improving the safety and security of rural communities, specifically that of farmers and farm workers?

I write to you not to politicise the scourge of violent farm murders. It is the last thing I would want to do or say, since it fails to bring justice to the living relatives of the murdered or maimed victims of brutal farm attacks.

Yes, it is a well-known fact that the DA called out the irresponsible pronouncements of some political leaders who encouraged illegal land grabs throughout the province. Some even actively mobilised desperate communities, exploiting their desperation for political gain.

Although the violent attacks rural communities are subjected to should not be politicised, it requires the political will to decisively deal with it. It needs the political will from all of us to address it. During the almost two years of your premiership, you have failed to decisively address the issue of rural safety. As Premier, you can do so much to lobby the national government to improve rural safety. You have a direct line to President Ramaphosa, who himself has failed to address the issue of rural safety and the safety of farmers and farm workers.

But questions remain how you can ensure the safety and security of rural communities while allegations of corruption and the theft of livestock surround former Premier, Supra Mahumapelo, and even former MEC Tlape, who currently serves as a Member of Parliament today? At the time, you formed part of their government in various advisory capacities.

This happened at a time where, to date, no one can explain what happened to the farm equipment and expensive tools of trade and tractors intended for the empowerment of beneficiaries, especially emerging black farmers.

We, like the people of North West, await the return of the 24 calves and one bull to the value of R1,5 million donated to former President Jacob Zuma as a gift.

We can start if you would only take a stand and call for an end to farm attacks now. If only you would acknowledge the past failures of government. If only you could acknowledge the scourge of farm attacks and the devastating impact it has on communities.

We need to sit down, Premier Mokgoro, and engage all stakeholders throughout the agri-value chain, as well as engage rural communities affected by this violence, so that you can hear, first-hand, not only of their fear, their pain and their desperation but also what your government should and can do to improve their lives for the better.

Some may argue that this will only be another talk-shop, but the time for talking is at an end. We need visible and immediate action. And action will only follow if the North West Provincial Government shows, in word and deed, that it has the political will to improve the safety and security for farmers, farm workers and rural communities.

We are willing to work with you and your government in the interests of the people of North West, to ensure safer, more secure communities, where lives and livelihoods are protected, respected, and appreciated.

We have called for a debate on farm attacks and rural safety in the Legislature. It has not been scheduled yet, but when we do have this debate, it would be appreciated if you could avail yourself to participate to account to the people of North West on what your government will do to ensure the safety and security of farmers, farm workers and rural communities.

We look forward to your response on the matter of farm and rural safety.

Issued by Jacqueline Theologo, DA North West Spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Development, 4 September 2020