I have two passports, which have an ingrained symbolic value to me. I obtained my red passport because I was born in one of the most civilised countries in the world. I obtained my green passport because my parents were born in what is perceived to be one of the most civilised countries in Africa.
Even though I was born in England and have the privilege of attending a very special school, I am also very fortunate to be able to experience a completely different culture and live in South Africa at our home for a few months each year when visiting my Afrikaans family. This has allowed me to gain a unique insight into the often incomprehensible differences between these two societies.
My green passport has meant that I have been part of the farming families on both my mother and father’s side and have experienced some of the trials and tribulations that are now commonplace in the South African farming community. One of these is the farm murders or in Afrikaans: plaasmoorde. They are an ongoing trend of violent attacks on farmers.
Like countless other farming families in South Africa, my mother’s family has lived and worked on their farm for many generations. On the morning of the 28th of January 2013, my mum’s brother, Jan Basson, her cousin, Gert van Wyk and his wife Retha were selling corn on their land, as they have done for years. Half an hour after my mum’s brother had left, three men arrived in a bakkie, or as you would call, a pick-up truck. They walked up towards Gert and two of his foremen, pretending to be buyers, just like the rest of the men. Retha was sitting in the small office, about a hundred metres away behind bulletproof windows, which had to be installed over the years as a security measure. Through the small window, she saw these men take out their guns as her husband started to run towards the office to protect her, the other two men were shot lying on the ground. She then saw these men shoot her husband before her eyes as he ran towards her. He was shot in his leg and in his lower body as he was running towards safety and managed to hide in the cornfields behind the building, where he phoned my mum’s brother, Jan. Retha watched as these men walked towards her, she watched as they broke down the locked door while she was trapped inside, Retha fell to the ground and prayed. “You’re not going to kill me today, I have four children to look after”, knowing that these were the same men that had just shot her husband before her eyes and killed another man at point blank; knowing in her mind that there is a high likelihood she is going to be raped. It may sound fallacious to suggest this, but unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases, this is what happens. The women are raped and murdered. Retha was left unharmed, whether by luck, or something greater. After experiencing this harrowing trauma, this mother and wife had to spend the next 62 days between her husband in hospital, fighting for his life, looking after her children, and running the farm.
Gert died in hospital on the 1st of April 2013.
A few thousand rand is what these remorseless, depraved individuals wanted. A few thousand rand is what left four children without a father and left a defenceless mother without her husband. A few thousand rand is what left a whole family knowing that their place of residence is not safe.
This story may sound staggering, but we consider ourselves to be one of the extremely fortunate families. Why? Because in the majority of cases, entire families are butchered and tortured by attackers who aren’t out to just rob, but to kill and terrorise. We are lucky because parents weren’t murdered in front of their children; no one was tortured and raped. These murders are marked by a unique level of brutality – often worse than that found in terrorist attacks.
The magnitude of this issue is clear. In the first two weeks of February 2017, there were already 30 recorded farm attacks in South Africa in which 11 people were murdered. 11 people in two weeks from farm attacks alone. Five people were killed within 24 hours in two different attacks, on one day during those two weeks. According to the Transvaal Agricultural Union of South Africa, there have been 2,863 farm attacks and 1,592 farm murders since 1990, and independent think-tanks put the true number of farmers murdered at closer to 3,000. It is now twice as dangerous to be a farmer as it is to be a police officer in South Africa, according to Johan Burger, a senior researcher with the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies’ crime and justice programme, among farmers, a staggering 99 people killed per 100,000. South African police stopped releasing separate figures on farm attacks in 2007, and incorporated them into wider violent crime statistics. In the national press, the murder of farmers barely gets a mention.
Despite this gruesome reality, the governing ANC party refuses to admit there is a problem. How on earth can a government not act upon the reality and the statistics in front of them and protect the human rights of all its citizens. Why is nothing being done? South Africa developed one of the most sophisticated human rights acts after it became a democracy in 1994. Farmers now feel that everyone else has their human rights, but what about theirs? The government and police force are throwing a veil over what is a national crisis. The justice system is a mess. In almost all cases the crime is never solved, the perpetrators are never found, because nothing is being done. “If you kill a rhinoceros in South Africa, you get more time in jail then if you kill a person”. The government is blind to this perversion of human morality.
Sometimes I feel trapped between these two passports. I know and have experienced the awesome beauty of this titular ‘Rainbow Nation’, with its cultural diversity and its generous, kind-hearted people, but I cannot ignore the atrocities that are occurring before my own eyes and within my own family; but that seems to be exactly what our government is doing.
This is not the country that Nelson Mandela fought for.