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SOUTH AFRICAN FARM MURDERS – TERRORISM OR CRIME

A Burning Question That Can Be Answered by Studying History.


There are many that see the wave of farm attacks in South Africa as a type of genocide with the objective to white-owned land being taken over - stolen is a better word - by black “freedom fighters” to farm within communities as is the traditional African way. This is said to follow the same path as what happened in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) just north of South Africa. In that country, the white farmers and legal owners were simply chased off with much violence and the farm occupied illegally whilst the Zimbabwe Police cheered the rioters on by doing nothing to keep law and order. Not even the Zimbabwean courts cared to intervene. As you can imagine this type of thing can only happen in a despotic Banana Republic. It is pathetic from any viewpoint. It also crashed the Zimbabwe economy to where it does not even have a real currency left. Today it is a failed state with all the horrors of a failed state. However, this is not, repeat not, what is happening in South Africa. Here the farmers are murdered by criminals without crowds of “freedom fighters” involvement and the attackers are many times their own resentful workers (not foreigners), I am sad to say. Nor will the South African Police Service, perceived to be useless but they are not really, cheer the rioters on. They are known to kill rioters in urban areas when needed (meaning sometimes the police have no choice and I feel for them). We experienced the same horrible political games ourselves during my service years.


Now let us look at history because there are a great many that will disagree with the above statements. During the Rhodesian Bush War, farm attacks were common enough and always started with the telephone lines being cut. Then a standoff shooting took place. The terrorist would empty, on average, two AK47 magazines at the house. Fire a couple of RPG-7s and run away. They almost never penetrated the farmhouse to rob, murder, rape, and torture the occupants. They “revved it,” the language of the day, and ran, leaving landmines on access roads to delay the Security Forces (see my books The Egg Breakers – Counter Terrorism in Sub Saharan Africa, and Safety Net, for more details).


The Security Forces either flew in and dropped by parachute or by helicopter or used landmine resistant vehicles. Then the sappers would look for the landmines which they knew were there. Once such an attack took place, the Security Forces would track and chase the gang down, hopefully killing them. During the Kenyan Uhuru Insurrection, fifteen years previously (from the Rhodesian Bush War), it was different. The fights were much closer and inside the houses, many times using handheld machetes. The problem for me is not such standoff fights, the problem is when they approach closer and breach the perimeter, up to then I don’t consider them to be dangerous. But the above tactics are not the same as what is happening in South Africa’s rural areas right now. Here the farmhouse is always penetrated by the barbarians. As a result, rape, murder, torture, and robbery always take place. And it is cruel in nature, terror even. There is no excuse for such behaviour. But is it terrorism? Does it follow the usual terrorism patterns? And what can we learn from history?


The Rhodesian farmers used layered defence measures, outside fences, inside fences, guard dogs trained to kill, geese by the dozen, they are said to have better ears than a dog and they surrounded their houses with thick sandbags. Every house had a “mortar room” by which we mean a bunker where the family could hide. They had the usual radio communications already described. Some had early versions of landmine proof vehicles. Later most had fully armoured vehicles against the AK47. They were always armed and almost every man had some kind of training in either the police (the best for the COIN role in Africa) or the army proper. At some places, a strict curfew was introduced and enforced, many innocents did die, regrettably, when they walked into Security Force ambushes. We never had such difficulties in South Africa. It never happened on the same scale as the Rhodesian insurgency attacks. There were a few landmine incidents etc. but not a genuine insurgency like the Rhodesian model. It was a different type of war. On the other hand, the facts are also that thousands of white farmers were murdered since 1994 when Mr Mandela became the new president. It is highly disturbing.


In my own research, I found no political motive and the investigating police detectives did not find one either and it really should not be a political discussion to start with. It is pure crime in my view since there are none of the classic signs of an insurgency as we saw in Kenya during the Uhuru Insurrection. Nor do we see armed gangs of terrorists moving around and attacking farms with AK47s or planting landmines as in Rhodesia. Hence, in my view, there is no political motive and the issue social-economic based. It seems that the attackers are often locals, employees, or former employees, and not strangers from the cities but that might well be the case too. And the police detectives often arrest the culprits from where the courts take over. All this shows that this is not some secret Government supported conspiracy. Of course, this does not mean that some, extremely few, of the convicted attackers, were not soldiers or policemen before. The point is that it is not a coordinated official effort from Government or any known military, intelligence, or police unit.


There is something I must mention which will annoy many readers, but it is important. My sources, I do not wish to reveal their names, they are actively involved in farm murder investigations, tell me that they find extreme laxness most of the time. When someone is killed, murdered, attacked, the farmers are very much aware for a month or two. After that it is back to business as usual, they get negligent and then the next attack takes place. They also flatly refuse to spend much money on security, it is not their lifestyle and in truth, the South African rural area was always peaceful in relation to the cities. Of course, I am speaking in general now, individuals may well be as aware as always. And note I am not, repeat not, saying that the farmers deserve the attacks in any sense of the word. Please do not put words in my mouth which are not there. At the same time, let us not make wildly inaccurate statements in the media. That does not help anyone. Nor should you expect assistance from other countries, like the USA, it will never happen. We have to overcome this ourselves.


Let us keep safe. Your comments would be appreciated.


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