The safety of our farming communities

Every time I hear the news of another farm attack, I immediately stop and phone my parents to reassure myself that they are safe.

The safety of our farming communities
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But I worry all the time.

It really doesn’t matter what the statistics say; whether farm attacks have increased or decreased by 5% here or 13% there is immaterial. The fact of the matter is that our farming communities live in constant fear. As a person living on a farm, you never know if you might be next.

Or maybe, hopefully, the terror will never befall you. You just don’t know. How can we expect the people who produce our food to continue working under such conditions?

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It might be true that the crime rate in certain urban areas is higher than in rural, farming areas. But I know that those people living on farms feel extremely vulnerable, because help is often very far away.

I don’t know for certain whether the awful violence often displayed during attacks on those living on farms is necessarily worse than the violence suffered during urban home invasions. I am also not convinced that attacks that target farmers specifically are racially motivated.

What worries me is that we have arrived at a time in South Africa where a crime needs to be particularly violent, or motivated by some form of prejudice that politicians can latch on to, for it to receive any attention at all.

An ‘ordinary’ murder is no longer enough to stir crime-weary South Africans out of their stupor of complacency.

The successful collaboration between farmers and police in some areas, the Free State Agriculture Rural Safety Committee, for example, provides a glimmer of hope.

But today I just feel angry and dispirited. I feel as if not enough is being done to ensure the safety of our farming communities. I feel anxious as I wait for the report of the next attack, and the next, and the next.

And I feel as if very few people in our society have the capacity to really care about the threat that farming communities face, because South Africans are all too busy dealing with their own hardships.

Perhaps, there is still a chance for us. Perhaps, when we are no longer governed by a gang of crooks, we can start addressing the social ills that drive the horrific rate and degree of crime that permeates every corner of the country.

I know for certain that as South Africans we are not our government. The many farmers and farmworkers I have met over the years are people who work hard for what they want. They don’t just take; they care for and invest in their communities. They have faith and they persevere. ▪

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Denene hails from a sugar cane farm in Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal, but after school she relocated to the Cape Winelands to study, for many years, at the University of Stellenbosch. She worked as a journalist for Farmer’s Weekly since 2009 and in 2015 moved to Johannesburg as Deputy editor for the magazine. In 2016 she was appointed editor, and at the end of 2021, she stepped down from her position to pursue her journalism career.