South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa called for calm on Monday, rejecting claims by pressure groups representing the country’s white minority that a spike in deadly attacks on farms was “ethnic cleansing”.
His appeal came after a group of mainly white farmers stormed a court on Wednesday during the hearing of two Black suspects accused of killing a 22-year-old farm manager.
The lead instigator of the rioters, Andre Pienaar, 52, was subsequently jailed and charged with terrorism on Friday.
Ramaphosa, in his weekly newsletter to the nation, strongly refuted claims that farm attacks were racially motivated.
He instead characterised the attacks as a sad reminder that the country was still recovering from its dark past under the apartheid regime, which ended in the early 1990s.
Contrary to the irresponsible claims of some lobby groups, killings on farms are not ethnic cleansing. They are not genocidal. They are acts of criminality and must be treated as such
“We would be naive to assume that race relations in farming communities have been harmonious since the advent of democracy,” Ramaphosa wrote.
“Unless this is addressed in an open and honest manner, unless we are prepared to engage in dialogue, this will remain a festering wound that threatens social cohesion.”
After condemning the murder of the young farm manager in the Free State province last month, Ramaphosa said the spectacle of white farmers storming a court to attack two Black suspects “opened up wounds that go back many generations”.
The incident showed “just how easily the tinderbox of race hatred can be ignited,” he said.
The president asked all South Africans to resist any attempts to use crime on farms to mobilise communities along racial lines.
Murders on farms are an explosive issue in South Africa, where some white minority activist groups promote the idea that they are victims of a “white genocide” that aims to force landowners to flee.
There are about 37,000 white farm operators or managers in South Africa, according to 2017 census figures.
Roughly 70 per cent of privately owned farmland in South Africa is owned by whites, who make up less than 9 percent of the country’s population of 58 million.
“The majority of victims of violent crime are Black and poor, and it is young Black men and women who are at a disproportionately greater risk of being murdered,” Ramaphosa said.
South Africa has a high murder rate – in the 12 months up to April, police statistics show 21,325 murders, of which only 49 were white farmers.
Nevertheless, claims of a “white genocide” in South Africa have gained traction among white supremacist groups across the world, and in 2018 they even caught the attention of US President Donald Trump, who in a tweet pledged to investigate South African farm murders.
“Contrary to the irresponsible claims of some lobby groups, killings on farms are not ethnic cleansing. They are not genocidal. They are acts of criminality and must be treated as such,” Ramaphosa said.
“The claim that violent crime on farms is part of an orchestrated campaign by Blacks to drive white farmers off their land is simply not borne out by fact,” Ramaphosa said.
The government is preparing to expropriate white-owned land without compensation, as part of an effort to redress economic inequalities that remain stark a quarter of a century after the end of apartheid.