19 August 2015
By Dr Danny Titus, SAHRC Commissioner responsible for Human Rights and Law Enforcement & Prevention of Torture
At a summit on rural safety and security in 1998 our former president Mandela was quite clear when he referred to the immediate human suffering, the lack of security and stability in our rural and farming community. He referred to the serious disruption to our economy, the threat of reduced growth and production, loss of wages and profits, and in time unemployment. He was referring to the attacks and killings on farms. He continued to state that "the government deplores the cold blooded killings that have been taking place on farms," and that "killings on farms, and crimes in general, have been a feature of South African life for many decades."
This openness from government to acknowledge the reality of farm killings has not been forthcoming with such clarity since Mr. Mandela. The link that he made between the immediate human suffering and the disruption to our economy also requires more emphasis. Farms and agriculture in general are integrally linked to our South African economy. We need to take joint ownership for what is happening on farms. The attacks and murders of food producers just cannot be condoned.
The South African Human Rights Commission has been focusing on farm safety in two previous investigations. However, the current prevalence of attacks and murders on farms has prompted the Commission to raise the investigation to the level of a public hearing. Different roleplayers came to testify, ranging from victims, farm owners, workers, experts, government departments such as the South African Police Service, the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, and others. Notably, the Commission heard from a victim of an instance of violence on farms. She described how she had watched her husband be killed when he was on his knees and had been over powered. She described the lack of an effective investigation and how she was uninformed about the processes in the court. Additionally, the Commission heard from experts in the field of criminal violence and policing. The experts testified that South Africa is violent in general, and that violence in farms, and particularly ‘farm attacks and/or murders’ should not be viewed to be a racist attack. The Commission heard repeatedly that violence on farms effects all those who live on the farm, and farm owners of all races.
The Commission found that the two fundamental human rights that are continually violated in this regard are the right to life and the right to food. The Constitution is our supreme document when it comes to our fundamental rights. While human rights in our country are violated much more than it is respected it is appalling to see how the right to life in particular is violated on a daily basis in our country. There are just so many causes of death that can be prevented. The Commission wishes to urge to South Africans to value life, to respect and promote the right to life. There are arguments that within the broad spectrum of crime, that crime on farms are not so prevalent. We beg to differ. Any man's death diminishes me, said John Donne many, many years ago. When it comes to the farming community that are our food producers it is even more true. This is where the right to food and the right to life are demonstrably close to each other. Thou shalt not kill, and thou shalt not kill the producers of thine food. The Commission recommends a stronger focus on the safety on farms and rural communities. The Commission also recommends that stakeholders strengthen their resolve at local and national level to rid our society of this scourge both in terms of preventing it and more so within the criminal justice system that has been found wanting in many areas.
The report will be formally released on the 20th of August 2015. The Report outlines the processes of the hearing, the submissions made, and analysis of the findings and recommendations. It is the view of the Commission that the recommendations should be implemented without delay. The implementation of the recommendations will ensure that the rights of all those who live in farming communities are respected and upheld.
Dr Danny Titus, SAHRC Commissioner for Law Enforcement, Prevention of Torture.