It was overdue, but at long last, the country's largest representative of commercial farming, AgriSA, has entered the overheated and fraught debate around farm attacks and rural violence.
In a statement on Thursday, AgriSA warned that statistics about farm attacks should be treated "with caution" and emphasised that incorrect statistical information leads to "unfounded inferences" that "stir up emotions".
The statement is based on crime figures tabled in Parliament by the police. According to AgriSA, the number of annual murders on farms last year was the lowest it has been since 1996/97, when 88 farm murders took place. There were 47 murders on farms in 2017/18. The highest recorded number in the period under review was 1997/98, when 153 murders were committed.
There has been, however, a gradual increase in the number of attacks on farms, with 561 attacks having taken place last year, the highest since 2012/13. 2001/02 was the most violent year, with 1,069 attacks occurring.
Farm dwellers are "particularly vulnerable" to attacks, because they live in remote areas where the police's response times are slow — not because of any other political or genocidal reason. And as for the rise in violent crime in rural areas: the national crime statistics for robbery, burglary and hijackings have also increased in recent times, AgriSA contends.
Escalating crime is clearly a national problem, not a sector-specific or racial issue.
AgriSA's statement is in reaction to a raging debate about the real situation in rural areas, and whether or not there is an organised onslaught on (white) farmers which borders on "ethnic cleansing". These and other unfounded ideas have recently been widely propagated and have even found their way into the international arena, where commentators and journalists have based their positions on mistaken, faulty and false information.
AgriSA isn't an exclusionary, ethno-nationalist organisation agitating for membership rands by cultivating an atmosphere of fear and distrust in the constitutional order among its membership. It has positioned itself as a modern, inclusive and representative industry body focused on the commercial and social interests of its members.
Its statement on Thursday is a clear attempt to position itself on the sensible and sober middle-ground, away from the fear-mongering and hysterics we have seen of late.
The organisation is far and away the most important in the agricultural sector, consisting of nine provincial affiliates, more than 1,000 farmer associations and representing around 28,000 farmers. It represents 25 commodity organisations like Grain SA, the Milk Producers' Organisation, National Wool Growers' Organisation, the Pork Producers' Organisation, the Red Meat Producers' Organisation and a whole host of others.
And it counts companies like Nedbank, Woolworths, Santam, Ernst & Young, Old Mutual, ENSAfrica and a number of universities among its 32 corporate members. Mickey Mouse, it ain't.
If any organisation can, therefore, claim to speak on behalf of farmers and can claim to know what the actual situation is at a grassroots level, it is AgriSA.
It doesn't do SMS campaigns and marches, propaganda posters and hashtags — it does actual work on the ground and in the community. It supports the National Development Plan, is committed to the Constitution and in agreement with the High-Level Panel on Key Legislation. And last year it spent more than R300-million on transformation initiatives that benefited more than 100 upcoming farmers.
It is time for the sensitive and divisive debate around rural violence and land reform to be led by measured and informed voices, not the shrill and populist ones.
AgriSA represents the former. It is good to hear.