Posted: Sunday, March 28, 2010 8:28 am
OVER 3200 white farmers in South Africa have been murdered in politically motivated violence since apartheid rule ended in 1994.
Nigel Ralfe was milking the cows on his South African farm as he had done every evening for half a century when four men came into the yard asking to buy milk. When the 69-year-old told them he had none to sell, he was shot at point blank range.
Bleeding from wounds to his neck and arm, Mr Ralfe was pistol-whipped before being marched to the farmhouse where his wife, Lynette, was bathing the couple's three granddaughters, all aged under five.
"I had no choice but tell my wife to come and unlock the back door which she did. As soon as she opened the door, they shot her three times. She didn't even have time to speak," Mr Ralfe told UK's The Sunday Telegraph.
Mrs Ralfe, 63, staggered into her bedroom, bleeding heavily from the chest, and collapsed on her bed where she died soon after.
As the gang ransacked the house, the bewildered children emerged from the bathroom to find their grandmother dead in a bloodied bed.
"They were very confused and upset and kept asking me what was wrong with granny. I told them to go to the other bedroom, shut the door and stay in their beds. Luckily they listened to me," Mr Ralfe said, speaking from Doornkop farm, in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal where his family has farmed for four generations.
Eventually, the attackers fled, taking only some binoculars, a phone and an old pistol.
Despite his appalling ordeal only two weeks ago, Mr Ralfe has returned to the 2,000 acre farm to "keep working, keep going - what else can I do?" But he now carries a gun.
In South Africa, it is safer to be a miner than a farmer. At least two white farmers or family members are murdered every week; last year alone, 120 were killed. With a radical new policy on land expropriation being mooted by the ruling African National Congress (ANC), talk in rural areas frequently turns to South Africa becoming the next Zimbabwe.
[Now that is an absurd statement. Just compare: how many white farmers were killed in Zimbabwe (either 9 or 17), and how many in South Africa (3,200 according to this article)? In fact land redistribution may be the best thing that could ever happen to the white farmers in South Africa. A far more just and equitable society might just stop the killing. - MrK]
As one farmer said: "Zimbabwe? About a dozen white farmers were killed in Zimbabwe in the last decade in an unlawful government land grab. We lost 10 times that many just in 2009 – and we are in a country where farmers are allegedly at peace with the government. What does that say about our future?"
The attack on Doornkop farm would normally be expected to receive only modest media coverage such is the frequency of rural violence.
However, it was the third farm killing over a single weekend – all brutal and apparently without clear motives – which came only a few days after a high profile ANC politician repeatedly chanted "kill the boer" [farmer in Afrikaans], at a student rally.
The revival of the apartheid-era refrain by Julius Malema, the firebrand leader of the party's Youth League, immediately prompted outrage among opposition politicians and farmers groups who seized on the timing of Mrs Ralfe's murder.
The opposition Democratic Alliance's spokesman on safety issues, Sizwe Mchunu, said: "It is our belief that this senseless attack was incited by the proliferation of hate speech which is the hallmark of Julius Malema."
[And how about all the other attacks? - MrK]
Demands that the President, Jacob Zuma, rein in his subordinate and force him to apologise went unheeded. Instead Mr Zuma claimed the chant "Kill the boer" to be a harmless "struggle song".
The Freedom Front Plus, a party protecting the rights of Afrikaners, said; “Mr Malema was nine-years-old when Mandela was freed. He was never really part of the 'struggle’.
"If he sang the song today, it has to be judged in the context of 2010 and the fact that farmers are being killed weekly.”
On Friday, the South African High Court ruled it illegal and unconstitutional to use the phrase, following an urgent application by a member of the public.
Anyone uttering the refrain can now be charged with a criminal offence.
The ANC expressed astonishment at the judgment and vowed to appeal against the banning of key phrases from its struggle song "The Cowards are Scared".
"We believe that this song like many other that were sung during the struggle days is part of our history and our heritage," the party said in a statement. "It will be very unfortunate, if through our courts, that our history and our heritage were to be outlawed.
Mr Malema has, so far, made no comment on the latest development in the controversy. Certainly, he seems confident of the unqualified support of the President, who has tipped him as a future leader of the country. Although aged only 29, Mr Malema's position as head of the ruling party's youth league gives him enormous sway within the movement.
Mr Zuma and Mr Malema have much in common; both are flamboyant, from poor rural backgrounds, achieved only a modest education and are widely loathed by the white population.
The controversial chant has now become a focus for a wide range of fears and resentments felt by the white population. In particular, relations between the black government and the minority Afrikaners, who number just three million out of a population of 50 million, are at their worst since the end of apartheid.
A few days later, the government admitted a degree of nervousness, claiming that the growing hostility towards the youth leader was becoming dangerous.
"As the ANC, we draw the conclusion that it is meant to incite, instigate and mobilise some people to harm and even lead to the execution of the ANC YL president," an ANC statement said.