Security studies experts say there’s no evidence to support claims that white farmers are more targeted than anyone else
By Simon Allison*
South Africa has criticised Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton’s offer to fast-track the visas of its white African farmers, saying his comments on the supposed threat to their lives and land were “sad” and “regrettable”.
A spokesperson for international relations minister Lindiwe Sisulu, said: “There is no need to fear … we want to say to the world that we are engaged in a process of land redistribution which is very important to address the imbalances of the past. But it is going to be done legally, and with due consideration of the economic impact and impact on individuals.”
On Wednesday, Dutton said white farmers deserved “special attention” due to the “horrific circumstances” of land seizures and violence. It follows recent reports in Australian media of “numerous and increasing cases of rape and torture carried out on white farmers” and “a white minority in South Africa being murdered and tortured off their farms”.
However, Gareth Newham at the Institute for Security Studies, one of South Africa’s leading authorities on crime statistics, said there was no evidence to support the notion that white farmers were targeted more than anyone else in the country.
“In fact, young black males living in poor urban areas like Khayelitsha and Lange face a far greater risk of being murdered. The murder rate there is between 200 and 300 murders per 100,000 people,” he said. Even the highest estimates of farm murders stand at 133 per 100,000 people, and that includes both black and white murder victims.
Estimates of the rate of white farm murders are fiercely contested. “It’s a difficult question to answer because we don’t really know exactly how many white South Africa farmers there are,” said Newham.
“All these methodologies are hugely flawed because if you start ring-fencing certain people because of their race you are missing out on the bigger context of how violence and murder takes place in South Africa. I wouldn’t say that white farmers are more likely to be murdered than other groups, we don’t have enough evidence of that,” he added.
Newham said crime rates in general were going up, and the trend was not specific to white farmers.
Fact-checking organisation Africa Check, in a detailed report on the subject of farm murders in general – not just of white farmers – suggested that another credible estimate of the farm murder rate could be as low as 0.4 murders per 100,000 people. But it too concluded that an accurate figure is “near impossible” to determine.
Last month, South Africa’s parliament passed a motion to begin the process of amending South Africa’s constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. If followed through, this motion is likely to disproportionately affect white farmers, given that this group enjoys a disproportionately large share of land ownership. But no farms have yet been seized, nor is there any immediate plan by the government to do so.
The inequality in land ownership is a legacy of apartheid in South Africa, and all major political parties agree on the need for extensive land reform. The current land reform policy is based on the principle of “willing buyer, willing seller”, and has largely failed to result in meaningful transformation.
Koketso Moeti, executive director of Amandla.mobi, a local community advocacy organisation, said: “Statistics show black South Africans are the most affected by crime, landlessness and violence, as a result of historic and current forms of dispossession and injustices. We hear stories of horrific circumstances from our members every day. Where is the support for them?”