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South Africa’s White Farmers Under Siege

By Michelle McKenna – Junior Fellow.

12th October 2013, Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Issue 4, No. 2.

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Since the end of Apartheid in 1994 there have been thousands of reported killings of white Afrikaner famers in South Africa. The government consistently denies that these attacks are racially motivated and indeed contribute to the continuing discrimination against them.

The killing of white Afrikaner farmers in South Africa is a matter that has not been widely reported in the news outside of the country. However, since the fall of apartheid, the tide has turned against white people from European backgrounds and it is reported that thousands have been killed in a move to drive them out of South Africa. The matter has become so bad that Genocide Watch deems the country to be in the ‘preparation’ stage of genocide.[1] There is a fear that, when former president Nelson Mandela passes away, violence in South Africa could spiral out of control and the situation for the white population may worsen further. Indeed, there has been a reported increase in the number of farmers attacked since he entered hospital earlier this year.[2]

The South African Government appears to turn somewhat of a blind eye towards the issue of farmers being attacked and, as a result, the actual figure for the number of farmers killed is not known. The BBC reports that there have been over 2,000 killed, whilst other news agencies report this number to be over 4,000. Some pressure groups even claim that tens of thousands have been killed, but this is wholly unsubstantiated. It is also difficult to monitor the motivation behind the attacks as the police are prevented from recording murders by race and furthermore don’t keep separate statistics about farm murders in the first place. The Government consistently claims that the farm attacks are nothing more than straightforward robberies. A study in 2003 backed up this claim, finding that 83.9% of attacks are simple robberies and in only 2% of attacks could a political motive be discerned. This report led to the Government disbanding the commando units that had been set up to protect the farmers and transferring responsibility to the police[3].  

In late 2012, after an investigation by their President Gregory Stanton, Genocide Watch published a report into why Afrikaner farmers are being killed. The report was a damning indictment of how bad the situation really is. It claims that the murder rate for Afrikaner farmers is 97 per 100,000 of the Afrikaner population per year, which is much higher than the 31 per 100,000 in the rest of the South African population.[4] So, whilst it may be hard to discern a racial motivation behind the attacks, it is clear that Afrikaner farmers are being targeted. It is a result of this that the organisation has put South Africa on its genocide watch list. Its genocide watch list acts as an early warning system to warn of the danger of genocide occurring. They also have an 8 stage classification system for placing where a country is on the path to genocide. Since the issuing of the above report, Genocide Watch has placed South Africa at Stage 6, which is the preparation stage of genocide. The next stage is extermination.

The situation for white people in South Africa appears to have become worse since President Jacob Zuma took office. His African National Congress Government, along with the South African Communist Party, support the redistribution of wealth and have adopted policies that aim to seize land away from white people and hand it back to black persons. Whilst no one could deny that this is a noble gesture to right the wrongs suffered by the native black South Africans, in reality, the people taking over these farms are ill-equipped to cope with them and the agriculture industry is suffering as a result. A similar situation was seen in Zimbabwe in 2000 when President Robert Mugabe launched a campaign to force white farmers off of the land. This campaign ultimately ruined the country’s agriculture industry as those who took over the farms did not know how to run them and Zimbabwe now relies on international aid to feed its starving citizens. This is an affair that South Africa cannot afford to repeat.

The attempt to force Afrikaner farmers out of South Africa is not the only sign that white people are suffering in South Africa. In May, the BBC published an exposé of life for white people in South Africa that revealed that there are over 200,000 white people living in squatter camps with no running water or electricity. Whilst the white population still hold a disproportionately high percentage of the country’s wealth, the stark reality of the numbers living in poverty cannot be ignored. In addition to this, the report claims that a white farmer is twice as likely to be killed than a police officer. The number of white farmers in South Africa has halved in the past 20 years, a possible indication of the number of whites that are likely to leave in the future if the situation continues.

It is clear that there is a real problem going on in South Africa that is hidden from the rest of the world. Whilst the ANC is supposed to be a party to unite a non-racial South Africa, in January 2012 their leader Jacob Zuma was filmed singing a ‘struggle song’ called Kill the Boer. Boer is the Afrikaans word for farmer and used to refer to white Afrikaners in the country.  This could be classed as hate speech, a form of incitement to commit genocide outlawed by the Genocide Convention, to which South Africa is a party. Whilst insinuating that South Africa is in the preparation stage of genocide due to this may be jumping a step ahead as there is little concrete proof that the murder of farmers is racially motivated, it cannot be denied that the environment in which whites are being forced to live in the country is undesirable. The Government and police force cannot continue to ignore the problem, but it seems unlikely that a president that sings offensive songs against the Afrikaners is going to do anything to stop them being targeted and as long as this issue is hidden from the rest of the world, there will be no pressure on the government to act.


[1] See ‘Why Are Afrikaner Farmers Being Murdered in South Africa’ http://www.genocidewatch.org/southafrica.html

[4] A more recent ISS study has put this rate at 98.8 per 100,000, which is three times higher than the murder rate in South Africa and 14 times higher than the murder rate around the world http://www.genocidewatch.org/images/Ten_reasons_South_African_farm_murders_should_be_prioritised.pdf

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Please cite this article as:

McKenna, M. (2013) ‘South Africa’s White Farmers Under Siege’. Human Security Centre, Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Issue 4, No. 2.

About Michelle McKenna

Michelle is a Senior Fellow at the HSC. Her research interests include military interventions in the Middle East and Africa, international development and the plight of small island states against climate change. She completed her final year thesis on the Responsibility to Protect in the context of the Libya conflict.