South African farmer group AgriSA has reiterated yesterday’s peaceful ‘Black Monday’ protests against farm murders were not about race and has thanked people of all walks of life from across the country and the globe for their support.
The protest was prompted by Western Cape farmer Chris Loubser, whose emotional plea went viral in the wake of the murder of wine grape grower Joubert Conradie.
Farmers and their supporters wore black and blocked roads outside Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and elsewhere across the country to raise awareness about the plight of rural South Africa, with murder rates of farmers this year having already reached levels seen for the entirety of 2016.
Advocacy group Afriforum estimates the murder rate for commercial farmers in South Africa is 156 per 100,000 people each year, in comparison to the national ratio of 34.1 per 100,000.
“It’s obviously disgusting and revolting to see these things happen to our people who are producing food for all southern Africans; not just South Africans,” AgriSA CEO Omri van Zyl told PBUK.
“We provide food security in the whole region and it’s obviously shocking to see these things and the occurrence of them, to the extent that many South Africans have risen up and said ‘enough is enough, we need to do something about this’, and create an awareness.”
While some individuals ignored organizers’ calls not to bring Apartheid-era flags to the protests, and there was an incident of a truck colliding with protesters outside Middleburg in Mpumalanga, the day was relatively peaceful.
“There was a massive response to this. Everywhere in South Africa people responded – even in small towns people wore black and congregated, sharing a moment of silence for the fallen farmers and farmworkers,” van Zyl said.
“For us it’s definitely not a colour or a culture issue; it’s a farmer and farmworker issue.
From our perspective and within our structures we’ve been fairly firm on this point – it’s about all South African rural communities that are directly or indirectly involved in agriculture.
“The brutality with which these farm attacks happen, in some instances it literally looks like a warzone. It is clearly completely unacceptable for us.”
Van Zyl said that now there was more awareness of the issue, AgriSA, the farming community and government needed to develop a concrete strategy to address the problem.
“We’ve had meetings with the Minister of Police and the Minister of Agriculture and generally there was a very positive interaction – we work with the police on a daily basis to strengthen their structures, look at their capacity constraints and try and elevate those [structures],” he said.
“We want to make sure that it’s a pure kind of movement as sometimes it gets sidetracked by all kinds of political nuances. We have our security meeting in two weeks’ time with all the farmer leaders here and we’ll decide on a course of action there.”
He said people wanting to help could give support from abroad could contribute to the Agri Securitas Trust Fund, which provides farmer unions with security equipment.
“We are in need of additional funding there – the funds we have are a drop in a very big ocean,” he said.
AgriSA media liaison officer Thea Liebenberg said the event was held in good spirit.
“Differently to other protests that we have seen in the past, there was no violence, no property was damaged, there wasn’t anything like that,” she said.
“There’s great solidarity between all South Africans and people living in South Africa.”
With most of the farm murders inflicted upon white South Africans, some commentators have framed the problem as a ‘white’ issue. On the other side of the coin, a Facebook post by Nigel Branken went viral highlighting cases of violence against black farmworkers, including a recent case of two men who captured a man and forced him into a coffin.