This is what life on our farm is now like

A description of the pervasive fear of those living on and working the land

Letter from a farmer’s wife

For quite some time I have struggled with the idea of writing this letter – should I or shouldn’t I? Would I be stirring, getting bad feedback and criticism in return? Be that as it may, I am convinced I am not the only woman in South Africa feeling this way. I know this, numerous documentaries and videos have driven me to tears for no other reason than my complete understanding of the plight of the female character.

I am married to a chicken farmer. Our son is eight months old and we stay on a farm.

A farm. Growing up on a farm was something we all wished for. Raising children on a farm even more so. With the ability to play for hours outside, only to go home when you are hungry. Today, as it is, living on a farm is no longer moonlight and roses. We are familiar with the views and perspectives held by men, but I want to share, as a farmer’s wife, what it is like living currently on a farm in South Africa.

I do not consider myself a “boervrou” (female farmer) since I do not know what it takes to farm on a daily basis. Although I do not deserve to be called a female farmer I am proud to be called “a farmer’s wife”.

All women and mothers have fears of their own. But we share a common fear – the fear for our own lives, and the lives of our husbands and children. As a farmer’s wife you know the gratitude of waking up in the morning, spared overnight from eight armed men raping your little girl or burning your little boy with boiling water. You know what it feels like to see your husband’s face in the morning, knowing that you have survived another night.

You get up, take your pistol from under your pillow and attach it with a two-way radio to your belt. Then you walk to the bedroom door, switch off the alarm, unlock the door, unlock the security gate to you bedroom, check if all the doors and windows are still locked and check on the dogs to see if they are all alive and well. Only then do you go to the kitchen to put on the kettle.

The whole day you spend locked up indoors. Your mantra is: “They come to get you when you expect it least.” Hence you do not venture outside. And if you have to go outside, you ensure that the children are in the house, that you have your weapon and the radio on you. You water the garden with one eye over your shoulder. (It is easy to be overpowered when you are gardening.) Closer to five o’clock you start to close windows and pull the curtains, to prevent people from seeing what is happening inside. At eight you do a radio test to establish the safety (for now) of the other farmers in the area.

Before going to bed we switch on and off lights in different rooms to mislead onlookers. We try not to follow a specific routine. We do not watch TV in the TV lounge but do so behind doors and security gates in our bedroom in order to gain something of a warning should they enter through the garage or the kitchen.

When feed, maize or chickens are reported stolen and your husband is called out, you spend the hours praying for his safe return – without showing any sign of fear or worry in order not to upset the children. To them you say: “Everything is okay, there is no reason for panic. Don’t fear….” I would rather fear and contemplate the worst case scenario than for these innocent souls to fully understand what is really going on.

Although I have created a beautiful room while still being pregnant with our son, he sleeps with us in our bedroom. He is sleeping with us. What if I cannot get to him quick enough? Or if they use him against my husband and me? Where do I hide him? In which wardrobe do I hide him and how do I ensure that he keeps silent? How does one plead that they could do with you what they please as long as they leave him in peace?

We are not discussing land expropriation. This might be regarded as an unpopular thing to say, but my husband and child are too dear to me to give them up for a piece of land. What value does land have if they are no longer there to share the success? I would rather emigrate to Australia and adjust to other people’s customs than to attend the funeral of my loved ones (should I be the survivor). As my brother in law argues: “I would rather visit my brother in another country than to visit his grave.”

I suppose we all have to decide for ourselves. These are my views. I will not hesitate for a single moment to relocate if that means that I can ensure for my child a fair chance on a future. It is sad to think I will have to leave behind my country, my family and friends. But one has to do what you think is the right thing, and what your heart tells you to do. Otherwise you end up with “what if” or “I should have” should something happen.

These are a few of my fears as the wife of a farmer currently living on a farm in South Africa. I am certain I am not the only one feeling this way, and I know so many women have experienced this, and worse. Today I say this to you, wife of a farmer, “I salute you”. I take off my hat to every single woman who have to endure this just because she is living on a farm in South Africa.

My thoughts are with you. My prayers are that you, your husband and your children will be spared for yet another day.


A farmers’ wife

The writer prefers to stay anonymous, for her own safety and that of her family.

This letter was originally published on Maroela Media, on 23 March 2018.