I saw the news for the first time on Monday night, on the UK Daily Mail Online and it came through in Daily Mail style, in bullet points, with heart-wrenching photographs.
“Female farmer is sexually assaulted and strangled to death while another rural worker is tortured and murdered in latest horrific attacks on South Africa’s farms. Chantel Kershaw, 44, was ambushed on her farm in Delmas, Mpumalanga. Two armed black men ripped off her underwear before strangling her to death.
“180 miles away [at the De Rots farm in Paul Roux, in the eastern Free State], farm manager Brendin Horner, 21, [apparently the “rural worker”] was tortured by two men. Horner was strangled after being stabbed three times and left tied to a post.”
The final two paragraphs in the story – also as per Daily Mail style – read as follows: “Each day in South Africa an average of 60 people are [should be “is”] murdered but although the number of farmers killed averages 75 a year their deaths are horrific and brutal. Their killers often use hot irons, power tools and boiling water to torture their victims and rape the female members in the house before finally murdering their victims”.
I have written “as per Daily Mail style” because there was no indication that hot irons, power tools, etc., were used in either of these incidents. No matter; that’s how the Daily Mail rolls.
The point is that the murders were horrific and brutal; and they were not, as we all know, some new phenomenon or weird aberration.
Quite recently, at the beginning of September, police minister Bheki Cele held an “indaba” with KZN midlands farmers following the double murder of Glen Rafferty and his wife Vida, shot dead on the front porch of their farmhouse.
From the parts I saw on eNCA, this meeting didn’t go well at all. Cele became offended by the “attitude” of one or some of the farmers and responded rudely and dismissively.
We can also, if we want, go back even further in time to, for example, James Myburgh’s detailed analysis of 30 May 2018, “Farm murders: Fact-checking the fact-checkers”.
One of its concluding paragraphs reads: “The above ... suggests that there is ample evidence that white farmers, particularly in the east of the country, are being ‘targeted’ at an extraordinarily high rate. This is especially so if you make the most appropriate like-for-like comparison when it comes to the type of murder. Indeed, it is difficult to see what could possibly have motivated reputable ‘fact-checking’ websites to go out and insist on the contrary”.
[In a follow up article he pointed out that it was formal ANC policy to target white farmers in the second half of the 1980s – either through direct guerrilla actions (mainly the planting of landmines) or through the training, arming and incitement of young ANC activists to carry out such attacks. It is common in journalism to place a particular problem in its relevant historical context, but this is almost never done in this case.]
This article precipitated a brouhaha, mainly with an organisation called Africa Check and with the Washington Post’s fact checkers . In the view of these organisations and numerous other people, many of whom can be found controlling our newsrooms, the bottom line seemed (and seems) to be that the notion that SA white farmers are disproportionately “targeted” is far-fetched, factually incorrect and, ironically, proof that SA white farmers think they’re more privileged than others.
Those who want to do so can get into the intricacies of this “debate” (the material is in the endnote at the bottom of this article). What is, however, patently clear is that the murders of, and violent attacks on, white farmers, and on black ones too, is one of the many large elephants stealing our oxygen in the South African room.
Two men were also caught by the “neighbourhood watch” after they fled from the scene of Kershaw’s murder and will presumably now stand trial in Delmas. Two other men, Sekwetje Isaiah Mahlamba, 32, and Sekola Piet Matlaletsa, 44, were arrested on Saturday in connection with the murder of Horner.
And it is to the Senekal magistrate’s court, where Mahlamba and Matlaletsa appeared on Tuesday, that we go next.
According to various news reports, (white) protesters “gathered in numbers” carrying placards with the words “remember their names,” “enough is enough” and “Boer Lives Matter”. Then one group of “angry farmers” demanded that the two suspects be handed over to them and it’s also alleged the group damaged court property while trying to force its way into the cells.
In a further echo of the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States a police van parked outside the court was burnt. Two gunshots were fired (not, apparently, by the police), and the police allegedly used stun grenades to pacify the crowd. But no one was injured. On Tuesday, on Radio 702, I heard John Perlman simultaneously interview Free State police spokesperson Brigadier Motantsi Makhele (I believe it was) and a farming community spokesperson who had been one of the protest organisers.
They both dealt calmly with the issues. The community spokesperson said there had been no intention to behave wildly; it had been an unfortunate boiling over of emotion. Makhele said (and I paraphrase), “Listen, these people were upset, and many were armed, it wasn’t in anybody’s interests for us to start a gun fight, we did the right thing”. I assume too that the local police know the local farmers.
But handling the situation calmly and empathetically was not, of course, what the politicians did.
EFF leader Julius Malema, one of our many valiant leaders, questioned the lack of police action. He tweeted: “Whites don’t play: they are dealing with this clownish government of their puppet @Cyril Ramaphosa. No single rubber bullet shot. Can you imagine if it was [he meant “were”] black people?”
He then called for his “ground forces” [sic] to attend the Senekal trial on October 16 to “defend” state property and democracy. To me, provoking armed and truly angry farmers seems a different prospect to bullying Clicks customers, but what do I know?
Not to be outdone, the great facilitator Cele said he was shocked and disgusted [sic] at the behaviour of the Senekal demonstrators, described by the police minister as “armed farmers,” not as extremely upset people.
Also not to be outdone, justice minister Ronald Lamola yesterday righteously condemned “the violence by protesting farmers”. “We urge the law enforcement authorities to ensure that the rule of law is maintained and ... to ensure that those responsible for undermining the administration of justice and the destruction of public property are brought to book.
“If such attacks against the rule of law are allowed to go unchecked, our society will run the risk of descending into anarchy,” he added.
Doubtless both made certain that André Pienaar, 52, a Marquard farmer, was arrested for “malicious damage to property”.
No one wants anyone to “take the law into their own hands”. But here’s the thing. Or here are the things.
The cliché I used above – the “elephant in room” – is precisely that, a cliché, a lazy obfuscation of what is happening to farmers, their families, and employees. And one result of this kind of eye-shutting is that many people feel obligated not to notice what is palpably happening around us. It becomes a way of life.
As for the ANC politicians, they get squirmy, defensive, and righteous. For, whatever the fact checkers might state and claim, farmers are being attacked, and sometimes murdered, full stop. And they’re upset and angry, especially as the ANC politicians don’t seem to believe it’s happening – until it happens again.
In the view of the farmers, our society doesn’t “run the risk of descending into anarchy” – it mostly has already. And who, in his or her right mind, would claim otherwise?
The origins of South Africa's farm murder epidemic - 20 June 2018
Farm murders: An exchange with the Washington Post - 28 August 2018
The Africa Checklists - 28 November 2018