The reality of farm attacks

Issue 3 2021 Security Services & Risk Management

Farm attacks, including attacks on farms and smallholdings, refer to acts aimed at residents, workers and visitors to farms and smallholdings, whether with the intent to murder, rape, rob or inflict bodily harm. In addition, they include all actions aimed at disrupting farming activities as a commercial concern, whether for motives related to ideology, labour disputes, land issues, revenge, grievances, racist concerns or intimidation.

Laurence Palmer.

Nowhere in the world are people being as brutally attacked and murdered like farmers in South Africa (including a number of black emerging farmers and black farm labourers that have been attacked and injured or killed).

Victims are overpowered, ambushed and surprised inside their places of residence in many of the cases. Attackers gain entry by breaking open security doors, burglar bars, doors or windows, or through doors or windows that were left open.

Police statistics do not separate farm attacks, taking into account the above definition, from other murders and GBH incidents. The NGOs that are involved do their best with limited resources to monitor and record incidents and progress with the investigations and prosecutions. Moreover, the statistics published by the different NGOs and the Police differ greatly.

NGO statistics indicate 50 to 60 farm murders per year, much more than the 47 indicated by the Police. Arrests are only made in 20% of the incidents and court proceedings can take years to finalise and many cases become cold cases and are never solved.

One NGO likened the justice served situation relating to farm attacks to running the Comrades marathon of 89 km and the parameters around each case to 6.3 km. Average progress to date is at around 2 km.

The position in KZN is better due to very active and strong NGOs, such as KZN Agriculture and Conservation Safety Centre and SACan supporting the Police and authorities. They claim an 83% successful prosecution rate over the period 2010 to 2019. This, of course, refers to matters that actually found their way into court in the first place.

The South African Police Service refuses to designate farm attacks as Priority Crime.

When the Commando Reserve Force Units were closed down, the Police were tasked to prepare a rural protection plan that they would execute in order to take over from the commandos and to ensure the continued safety and protection of the rural areas and their occupants, namely the farmers and their workers. Although a white paper was published with all sorts of promises and wonderful intentions, nothing was approved or ratified and the plan did not materialise. The bottom line is that the Police do not have the manpower or the resources to mount an effective rural safety and protection plan.

For some or other reason, which I do not understand to this day, the farmers, who were mostly members of the Commando Units and as a result, members of the safety and protection plan, did not just continue with the commando structures and plans in their private capacity.

But the reality is they did not and victims of farm attacks were left more vulnerable as they have to rely on reaction services rather than prevention – as I mentioned in the first article in Issue 2 of Hi-Tech Security Solutions (

Reaction is necessary and may, if rapid enough, lead to the saving of lives and the capture of the attackers. But one must question what can be achieved by the presence of half a dozen police vehicles and an equal number of farm security vehicles after the event. That many people around a crime scene just serves to contaminate the scene and render potentially critical evidence useless.

As mentioned in the previous issue, farmers are encouraged to become involved with security networks within their community and other structures within the area. However, a general analysis of the state of security and preparedness on farms at this present time is one of neglect and poor standards.

The reality is, to adapt the MOTH prayer, “At the going down of the sun and in the morning”, the owner/resident is ultimately responsible for the safety and security of himself/herself and the people, assets and property that are in his/her care and control.

This article is the opinion of the author and is based on the latest information available and his previous and current efforts to prevent farm attacks. For more information, contact Laurence Palmer, +27 73 954 4450, [email protected].


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