30/10/2017 06:47 SAST | Updated 08/11/2017 07:30 SAST

Black Monday: Are Farm Murders And Attacks An Escalating Crisis?

Measuring the farm murder rate in SA is a hugely complex task, but what is clear is that 2017 has been a very bad year for farming communities.

Following the circulation of a video featuring an emotional appeal to South Africans by a Western Cape farm manager, protestors have heeded the call -- echoed by AfriForum and AgriSA -- to observe "Black Monday" in commemoration of people murdered in farm attacks.

In a video released last week, farm manager Chris Loubser said the recent murder of Joubert Conradie on his property in Stellenbosch left him "feeling powerless". He added that "if [he were] a magician, the whole City of Cape Town would've been surrounded by tractors" for the farming community to be heard.

Dismay over the alleged decline in safety on farms was last week voiced by multiple organisations following the release of the annual crime statistics in which figures for farm attacks and murders were omitted.

In response to criticism from Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald, who said police had promised last year the figures would be released, Minister Fikile Mbalula said he was not aware such an arrangement had been made.

"We must never give the impression that there are certain things we are running away from. If something's been agreed to, we must honour it," he said.

Damned statistics

Unlike the national murder rate, which last week was revealed as 34.2 murders per 100,000 people, the so-called "farm murder rate" remains opaque. Figures presented in Parliament earlier this year, and since, show significant disparities, implying notably different assessments of the severity of the phenomenon.

Groenewald, in Parliament in April, claimed the farm murder rate was 133 per 100,000, and said his figures were based on broad estimates by Dr Johan Burger at the Institute for Security Studies. Shortly after, the ACDP's Steve Swart claimed the figure was "almost three times the average" at 97 per 100,000. According to Talk Radio 702's Bongani Bingwa, who interviewed Burger on the topic last week, others have claimed the rate is markedly lower.

According to AfricaCheck, a statistically robust assessment of the farm-murder rate at present is a complicated task given multiple definitions, whom the statistics include or exclude, and potentially incomplete reporting, or reporting over different periods.

Accurately calculating the farm murder and attack rates, consequently, is "near impossible", according to AfricaCheck's Kate Wilkinson based on experts' analysis of available information.

In light of the challenge of statistics, agricultural unions or interest groups with closer proximity to farmers have long collected their own data on farm attacks and murders.

According to Transvaal Agricultural Union's Chris van Zyl, the union's database indicates a total of 65 murders on farms and 347 attacks so far in 2017. Figures provided to HuffPost SA by AfriForum Research Institute (ANI) Lorraine Claasen are about the same, with 67 murders and 349 attacks on farms, which Claasen said were "conservative estimates".

'Not a day goes by without reports of farm murders'

Independent crime analyst Chris de Kock told HuffPost SA that, despite the absence of national statistics, he strongly believes the total number of people killed and attacked on farms will increase notably by end 2017.

"If you look across some media, there's not a day that goes by without one of these incidents on the front page or first three pages. This to me suggests, preliminarily, there is likely to be an increase. I can't believe there won't be an increase," he said.

I think we are going to see a bad year... and we already had a bad year in 2016/17.Chris De Kock, Independent Crime Analyst

De Kock's suggestion is corroborated by the data provided by the Transvaal Agricultural Union whose figures, collected since 1990, showed a considerable spike in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, followed by a substantial drop and, from approximately 2011, a creeping increase.

Their figures state 71 farm murders were recorded in 2016, which implies this year's figures -- with two months left in the year -- are likely to top 2016's.

"I expected to see an increase in attacks for the remainder of the year," Claasen told HuffPost SA.

"November and December are usually months that show an increase in these crimes and this year will be no different. It is, therefore, an urgent matter to address on all levels".

TAU SA's Van Zyl said the organisation believes the combatting of rural crime, with particular emphasis on farm "attacks" and murders, "is not receiving the priority attention it deserves".

"Farm attacks were declared a national priority crime way back in 1998... [but] it is doubted whether at SAPS station level the 'priority crime status' is actively applied. It is quite clear that the allocation of personnel and logistics, as well as the services of Crime Intelligence, is equally neglected," he said.

AfriForum's Navorsing Institute's (Research Institute) Claasen said farm workers and owners "have not had a good night's rest in a long time" and that they have to be "extremely vigilant and on high alert regarding their own safety 24/7".

With the end of the year approaching, Claasen said the group's research institute will release a full report on 2017 in the new year "which will include reliable figures and further breakdowns similar to our previous reports".

The charge of 'white genocide' and 'double standards'

Despite ostensibly rising figures of attacks and murders on farms, the Black Monday protest hoping to draw attention to these crimes has also been met with stern criticism, with some alleging it places much greater emphasis on white victims of attacks and murders in rural areas.

A post on Facebook that went viral, published by a Nigel Branken, details the story of Tebogo Ndlovu, who was reportedly shot in the leg by a farmer for stealing oranges and whose body is yet to be found.

Branken wrote, "Despite there being a higher incidence of farm murders on white farmers than murders in the general population, black South Africa's are still more likely to fall victim to violent crime in South Africa. On Monday, some farmers are telling us to all stop and be concerned about a certain small group of victims ... white victims...".

He went on: "A narrative has been created that there is an onslaught against white farmers and that they are the most vulnerable in South Africa. Despite some taking to social media to tell us of a so called "white-genocide" and new "swart-gevaar"; (black-danger), this allegation has been fact checked and repeatedly debunked".

Burger, speaking to Bongani Bingwa on 702 last week, said farm attacks in general are not just about the farmers. "Every year there are far more black workers killed than white farmers," he claimed.

This may be representative of the demographics of the workers on farms as it is with farmers who are still primarily white, but it doesn't mean black farmers and workers aren't killed... It's not about race.Dr Johan Burger, Institute For Security Studies

Burger said he is currently "challenging a group in court" accusing him of "not wanting to agree that its only white people killed on farms... saying that it's white genocide, but this is not what the figures tell"..

"There is this perception and its based on the fact that while most farmers another families are still white and most of the attackers are black, there is this idea that this is a racial thing and I don't think its accurate," he said.