The notion of “white genocide” is a lie, white South African farmers are not being oppressed and Australia’s reaction to widespread panic about land is based on propaganda around these issues, a South African sociologist says.
But other experts argue that recent political rhetoric has helped legitimise the fears of white rural communities.
A series of articles and videos about attacks on white farmers, mainly published by the Daily Telegraph in Australia, stoked a growing perception in that country that white South African farmers were the target of racially motivated persecution.
It culminated this week in Australian home affairs minister Peter Dutton proposing a plan to make it easier for white farmers to attain Australian visas in order to seek refuge from violence in this country.
South Africa’s department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) condemned Dutton’s proposals, saying this level of panic was misplaced and misinformed, and implied a threat that “simply does not exist”.
Rhodes University sociologist Professor Lucien van der Walt agreed.
“They sadly show how much of the rest of the world simply does not bother to pay attention to facts when it comes to South Africa,” said Van der Walt.
“Mainstream media plays a role in the way it frames the issues, in its endless narrative of crisis and collapse in South Africa and provides a very skewed view of major controversies.”
Available statistics also fail to support the notion that farm murders amounted to either a white genocide or racially motivated crimes.
The great majority of whites were not farmers, said Van der Walt, but urban dwellers. At the end of apartheid in 1994, estimates placed the number of white farmers between 60 000 to 100 000 out of a population of around 5 million white people.
“The related claim that white farmers are being killed in large numbers is a profound misrepresentation. As an occupational group, white farmers have been victims of a significant level of violent crime.
“However, many victims of violent crime on farms are black and coloured farmworkers. Black farmers have also suffered. The figures usually provided by people who argue there is a white genocide conflate all rural killings with murders of white farmers, leading to major exaggerations.”
Minority rights group AfriForum’s Ian Cameron blames political rhetoric for the concerns that white farmers were being targeted. He considers the Australian government’s reaction an indictment of the South African government and its apparent inaction on the issue.
“Dirco is completely out of their depth on rural issues after they said that this is not a serious problem, which simply isn’t true,” Cameron said.
He says there have already been 98 farm attacks this year, though the figure may be higher since some attacks may not have been reported as such.
“So, instead of government criticising these figures and the organisations, they should be trying to stop farm attacks, they should be asking how they can make sure we start assisting people in rural areas.”
Cameron says he does not blame people who use the term “white genocide” to describe the plight of the white farming community, but cautioned against its use.
“We have to be careful of the terminology we are using because it has the potential of delegitimising or damaging the credibility of a just cause.”
The Institute for Security Studies agrees that white farmers have legitimate cause for concern, the institution’s Johan Burger told eNCA yesterday, but qualified that violent crime in farming communities went beyond just race.
“The number of farm attacks has been a problem for many years in this country.
“In terms of these attacks and the killings on farms, it was recognised by former president Nelson Mandela around that era in 1997, which started the process of creating mechanisms to increase security for farms and it’s not just about white farmers.”