In South Africa, a group called Afriforum has launched self-defense training for white commercial farmers. The group says the farmers are vulnerable to attacks, which it says are driven by tensions over unequal farmland distribution more than 25 years after the end of apartheid.
South African farmer Shernice Potgieter, a young single mother, lived in a tranquil, remote rural farmhouse with her daughter, Denise, and two dogs for eight years.
That peaceful existence was shattered on a summer morning when she returned home after dropping Denise off at school.
Potgieter recalls horror when two men emerged from the cornfield, tied her up and ransacked her farmhouse.
“This is the passage where they made me lay down," she said pointing an area on her farm. "I had to lay [sic] here so that I couldn’t see outside. When it started, I just thought to myself, ‘Today I’m losing my life.’ When I saw them coming for me, the first reaction was, ‘Today I am going to die.’ I was worried about my daughter and what would happen to her, say something would’ve happened to me.”
While Potgieter survived the ordeal, Afrikaner rights group Afriforum says 59 white farmers were killed in 2020 alone, a 30% increase in fatalities from 2019.
Although the motive for these attacks has not always been attributed to racial tensions, Afriforum says most perpetrators are Black.
In January, the group began a self-defense program for commercial farmers, the majority of them white Afrikaners.
Afriforum legal and risk manager Marnus Kemfer described the substance and goal of the training.
“The first aspect of the training will be how to use a firearm. We showed them how to use this firearm in and around the house. We then also issued them with digital radio, we actually give them training in how exactly to utilize this radio. In the end, we want all of these farmers and their neighbors to have an effective communication network,” Kemfer said.
Tensions spiked in October 2020 when a white farmer was killed and his body found tied to a pole in the town of Senekal, in the eastern part of the Free State province.
The incident heightened racial tensions in the area, and politically-motivated protests followed.
Racial anger, observers say, is fueled by the fact that white farmers still own 70% of South Africa’s commercial farms 27 years after the end of apartheid.
Groups representing white farmers, like Transvaal Agricultural Union South Africa (TLU SA), accuse authorities of failing to protect them.
Black farmers also have been victimized by these attacks, but to a lesser degree, says the farmers union.
Chris Van Zyl, the chairman of the Transvaal union, emphasized the need for farmers to defend themselves against these criminal acts.
“We cannot expect that the police will ensure 24 hours, seven days a week presence in areas which is troubled by violent criminals. The local inhabitants need to organize themselves and they must be trained to enable them to withstand a violent, criminal attack,” Van Zyl said.
South Africa’s national police declined several requests for an interview, but police statistics show 49 white farmers were killed between April 2019 and April 2020. That’s out of more than 21,000 murders nationwide — where the majority of the victims are Black.
President Cyril Ramaphosa last year urged South Africans not to rally communities along racial lines.
In March, the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters party accused Afriforum of being racist for opposing farmland expropriation without compensation.
Afriforum says it is extending a helping hand to whomever needs guidance and assistance irrespective of race.