Farm murders and race: It’s not that simple

By Ernst Roets

It is not only unrealistic, but also unreasonable to expect journalists not to have their own opinions. Journalists are ordinary people and obviously have a right to their opinions and even to claim this right. The great danger here, however, is when journalists pretend to be objective or neutral from their position of influence, but in truth are selective with the facts to feed their own bias or to present a specific agenda as a neutral view.

When Willemien Brümmer approached me recently for comments on her opinion piece on farm murders, I became aware early on in our discussion that she was selectively in search of facts that could serve to prove her preconceived conclusions. I became concerned especially when she started presenting unfounded, politically-charged attacks on AfriForum as statements; also when she attempted to explain AfriForum’s methodology to obtain data on farm attacks to me, while clearly being misinformed on the subject. She said for example that AfriForum did not include black victims of farm attacks in its data, but indeed white farmers who were killed in towns. This is obviously untrue. She heard it somewhere, evidently believed it and now relates it as a fact because it tallies with her preconceived political agenda.

Brümmer asked why I, as head of AfriForum’s campaign against farm murders, did not speak out as vehemently against black people who are tortured for hours on end on farms. She also requested a list of black people who were tortured on farms.   I told her that I went to trouble to contact black victims, and that I, to tell the truth, was unaware of black victims who had been tortured for hours. I also explained that this wasn’t only my opinion, but that organisations such as Crime Scene Cleanup – who clean up murder scenes – had also observed that black farm attack victims were not tortured like white victims.

Brümmer naturally viewed it as confirmation of her preconceived idea that, for some or other dark reason, a racist agenda exists behind AfriForum’s campaign to stop farm murders. She pointed out that the racial element in farm murders was exaggerated – and to prove this, she drew my attention to an article she had written on the murder of Tankiso Pharoe. He was a farm manager who was severely beaten and killed last year in a farm attack close to Ladybrand. His wife, Mmakarabo, was raped. It is a terribly tragic story that touched me emotionally.

According to Brümmer’s own report on the incident, the Pharoes were accused of living like white people and that they were attacked because they refused to steal (from white people).

Race obviously does not always play a role in all farm attacks. We have to guard against exaggerating the racial dimension – especially when we have no proof for our assumptions. Brümmer attempts to sketch the opposite picture, however: That race is in fact irrelevant when it comes to farm attacks. This is just as wrong.

A more nuanced, more correct view on race and farm attacks is the following: Not all farm murders are racially motivated, but race is neither irrelevant. It is wrong to state that farm murders are per definition racially motivated. It is, however, just as wrong to try and present farm murders simply as “ordinary crimes” or to state that race is in truth irrelevant. It is immoral to try and discredit those who campaign for the ending of (all) farm murders by linking them to a dark, racist agenda through unfounded suggestions. However, to turn a cold shoulder to influential politicians’ idealisation of farm murders and violence on specifically white farmers is self-evident of a preconceived racist agenda.

AfriForum will continue to take an unconditional stand against all farm murders, irrespective of the victims’ race. AfriForum will also continue to unashamedly highlight the idealisation of violence, race incitement by politicians and double standards in the media – and take a stand against these.

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