Another farmer was shot dead over the weekend on his farm in the Eastern Cape. Owen Charles has served his Jansenville community in myriad ways as a liberal activist over the last two decades. His wife Jenny is in hospital in critical condition with multiple stab wounds. We wish to convey our deepest empathy and condolences to the Charles Family.
This senseless loss of life is a tragedy not only in itself, but also for the knock-on effects that such a murder has on rural communities across the country. It is not a once-off murder, but the latest in a persistently escalating string of farm attacks. Tholeni Village, for instance, has been labelled the ‘village of death’. Another murder there over the weekend is one of dozens in the last year, and one of more than 3000 attacks since 1994.
The failure of government to prevent farm murders is one of collective governance. There is clearly a lack of political will to protect farmers and farm-workers, even though farm-workers are the ones whose families are most in jeopardy as a result of these attacks. This lack of political will translates into a lack of any robust plan for rural safety. Meanwhile, ministers have spent a collective R530.6 million of taxpayers’ money on VIP protection services to ensure their own personal safety over 2010/11.
In the midst of rising food prices and impending food insecurity, the negative downstream effects of even one farm murder cannot be overstated. It creates the kind of insecurity that disincentivises both investment and reinvestment in agriculture, a cornerstone of government’s draft National Development Plan. The cost is ultimately felt by all South Africans. Taking out a progressive farmer is like removing a spoke in the wheel of rural economies. It has a devastating effect all along the supply chain, leading to joblessness and further entrenching avoidable poverty.
The DA has made repeated calls for rural safety units to be established, yet Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has done nothing to fill the security void left when the commando system was finally disbanded in 2009. The ministers of Agriculture and Rural Development seem to think the issue is either not their responsibility or insufficiently important to take seriously.
My colleague Dianne Kohler-Barnard last month wrote to the Minister of Police and the new National Police Commissioner to ask where government’s proposed rural safety plan is. National Spokesperson Mmusi Maimane has sent a copy of the DA’s rural safety plan blueprint to the president. Neither action has elicited even the courtesy of a response.
Clearly those at the highest level of government have more concern for their own safety than the safety of those who feed the nation.