Reflections from journal entry July, 2015
I lived on the Eastern Cape for almost two years, in the poorest province in all of South Africa and I know that farm attacks are a clear and present danger. White South African families, who have farmed the land for generations, are attacked by a small group of blacks, usually involving machetes, torture, rape, murder and robbery. Desperation, ignorance, geographic isolation, corrupt security systems and lack of law enforcement are only a few factors that complicate this current day tragedy.
I had friends from town, a white Afrikaans couple whose aunt and cousin were victims of a farm attack while I was living in South Africa. The attack occurred only two hours away from the orphanage. The aunt was ninety years old and had lived and farmed the land all her life. The cousin was seventy years old, and he was a retired teacher. The attackers were two of his former students. This man had dedicated his life to educating black children, hoping to create a brighter future for South Africa. The two murderers remembered their teacher's love for collecting things, from rocks to stamps, so they broke into his house, raped the 90 year old woman, then tortured and killed them both. All because they assumed his collections were valuable, which of course, they were not. The young men were caught, only because they went directly to a neighborhood shebeen (bar) still wearing bloody clothes trying to sell the stolen goods and bragging of their attack. It just so happened, the police were in the bar as well. Senseless murders committed by ignorant and desperate people.
I also knew the old farmer from down the road, who provided the eggs for the orphanage. Their farm has been in the family for two generations and has provided eggs to the local economy, feeding and nourishing both blacks and whites for years. The farmer was blind in one eye and had only one arm. His eye had been torn out and his arm severed as he fought unsuccessfully to stave off attackers from raping and killing his wife, years before. The attackers assumed there was cash in the house, which there was not. A senseless crippling and murder committed by ignorant and desperate people.
Another set of friends own a dairy farm across the valley from the orphanage. They generously donate all the milk the orphanage needs. They are middle aged and have a very successful business that has been in the family for three generations, employing many generations of local Xhosa people, as well. In the last few years, in order to grow their business, they invested in high tech, specialize equipment to milk their 400 dairy cows, two times a day. They also provide internships for University students to learn about the process, in hopes of furthering the economic success of the country. They have a contract with a major yogurt producing company, and it was this investment, and their family's long respected reputation, that allowed them to become a supplier. It was surreal to see this state of the art, automated milking process in action, and to learn that each cow had a computer chip under their skin to monitor their health. These farmers chose to make these complex and costly improvements to produce more milk, butter, cream, cheese for the local population. This dairy farm is an engine that drives the local economy forward.
I often visited for tea and rusks (a South African biscotti) in the afternoon when I was picking up the gallons and gallons of free milk. Their farmhouse was old, but had modern conveniences and it was lovely, in a farmhouse way. As I was given a tour of their home, I noticed on almost every doorway, there was a solid iron gate with a lock. My friend never mentioned the iron doors, I'm sure to her, they were just part of the house. But, as my hand brushed against the cold steel, it hit me. This family locked themselves in their bedrooms behind these iron bars each and every night – with bars on their windows as well. At every door we passed through, I could feel fear rising in my body, thinking farm attack, but I gracefully nodded my head and forced a smile. They had alarm pads and panic buttons in all the rooms, German Shepard guard dogs inside and outside the house, and the farmer, in addition to his own faithful guard dog companion, carried a gun. I'm pretty sure the farmer's wife, who was my age, and their two teenage daughters carried guns as well, but I admit, I never actually saw them.
All these extreme measures of protection, this fortress, is for a FARM. Not a bank, it is a FARM.
If this family were to be victims of a murderous farm attack, the implications would be far reaching. Aside from the obvious suffering and loss of life, there literally would be no one to run the equipment. The 400 meticulously managed cows would be immediately affected with a decline in milk production, the Xhosa farm hand families would eventually have no work to do, no housing (as they lived on the farm) and no income, the contract with the yogurt company would be cancelled and the economic effect would be devastating to the entire area.
Not only do these farmers have daily tasks to attend to keep their farms productive to feed the South African people, they must always be aware of the actions of ignorant and desperate people trying to rob and kill them. These farmers are the 'seeds' of the country. Without the seeds, there is no food.
It seems to me that this isn't about money, disparity in wealth or land distribution. These are deep, complex challenges of a divided country.
And we all know that killing the farmers is not a solution.