The first time I was attacked was in August 1998. I came back home and parked my van. My boy said there were three people looking for work. I said I only want one, and I went out to meet them in the garage. They said they wanted work, but then one with a revolver signed to the other one, who grabbed my boy; the first one pulled out his gun, but it jammed. I grabbed a broom and hit him, and then the other one, and then I ran inside to get my gun. But they knocked me down and fractured my skull, so I was unconscious. They chased my boy, but the dogs went after them, and they ran out. The fellows from the farmwatch picked them up on the road. They shot one, arrested another, and the third one later gave himself up. But all three later escaped from the police cells. 

One of my neighbor's boys must have seen what was going on and ran to my neighbor who pushed the panic button and alerted the farmwatch cell. It was the commandos who dished out the treatment, not the police. I came to, and identified the guys who were caught before they took me to hospital. 

The farmwatch were here twenty minutes after the incident, the police in forty-five minutes. They left a policeman here overnight, and they did the usual jobs that they do, taking statements, but to this day we have no information from our local police station about what happened--I only got any follow up by calling Pretoria. They never interviewed my laborers to find out if they had seen anything, there was no follow up. 

Six months later they broke into the house again... I phoned a neighbor and pushed the panic button in our bedroom, and then the phone started ringing and the boys got a fright and ran off.... They had the room stripped and everything out of it ready to go.... Lying in the dark waiting is an awful feeling, if the commandos hadn't come I don't know what would have happened. (368)

Over the last decade, there has been an increasing incidence of violent crime against the owners and managers of commercial farms or smallholdings and their families: according to statistics collected by police, between January 1997 and December 1999, 356 people on farms or smallholdings were killed by intruders. (369) Farm owners' organizations claim that more than 1000 people have died in such circumstances since 1991. (370) The escalation in violent crime against white farm owners and managers, disproportionate in relation to general crime trends in South Africa (though high, the overall murder rate has declined somewhat in recent years), has drawn significant media and political attention. Crimes committed against commercial farmers have come to be given the description of "farm attacks," although the description is often used to refer to any burglary of a farmstead and not only those where violence is used. Human Rights Watch prefers to describe such incidents as "violent crime." 

In the past, commercial farmers, isolated from the urban environment and relatively wealthy, largely escaped the violence plaguing many areas of South Africa--though farmers living along the border areas with Zimbabwe and Mozambique were mobilized for the defense of the state against incursion by the liberation movements and in turn were the victims of landmines planted by Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, known as MK, the armed wing of the ANC) or the Azanian Peoples Liberation Army (APLA, the armed wing of the Pan Africanist Congress, PAC). APLA explicitly stated that it regarded white farmers in general as legitimate targets in the liberation war (in violation of international humanitarian law), though few were actually killed. With the political transition of the last decade and the repeal of the pass laws, violent crime has spread from the black townships and former homelands, at the receiving end of the social dislocation and economic hardship caused by apartheid, to touch all South Africans, including those in formerly privileged white enclaves. Nevertheless, as in other countries, most perpetrators of violent crime are known to their victims, according to police: one of the reasons that violent crime against farm owners has received such prominence is that, after police officers, farm owners and their families are probably the group of people most likely to fall victim to violent crime committed by people they do not know. Among white people--who, due to their relative affluence, are mostly protected from stranger violence by ownership of private vehicles, expensive private security guards, and other means, to a degree not possible for most black South Africans--their vulnerability is even more striking. Crime committed by strangers arouses particular fears; in part, because it is unpredictable. It remains the case, however, that the vast majority of victims of violent crime in South Africa are black and poor. 

Statistics: What is a "Farm Attack"? 

From October 1997, the SAPS Crime Information Analysis Centre (CIAC) based in Pretoria has collected statistics on "attacks on farms and smallholdings." There is no "crime code" providing for a category of crime with this definition in the general collection of police statistics, so the statistics are based on questionnaires distributed from Pretoria and completed by individual police stations. 

To ensure consistency, a definition was formulated to describe attacks on farms and smallholdings. The definition refers to acts aimed against the person of residents, of workers at and/or visitors to farms or smallholdings, whether with the intent to murder, rape, rob or inflict bodily harm (cases related to domestic violence, drunkenness or resulting from commonplace social interaction between people--where victims and offenders are often known to one another--were excluded from the analysis). In addition to the above, all actions aimed at disrupting farming activities as a commercial concern, whether for motives related to ideology, labor disputes, land issues, revenge, grievances or racist concerns, like eg intimidation, were also considered. (371)

Using this definition, the SAPS has charted a consistent rise in the number of "attacks on farms and smallholdings" since 1997, with a sharp rise in early 1998. This increase exceeds general increases in the recorded incidents of aggravated robbery (within which category the majority of these crimes would be recorded). The murder rate within these statistics has increased less quickly, running at about twelve a month during 1999, up from around seven a month during 1997. The CIAC itself admits that part of the increase may be due to better collection of information from police stations as the process of collection has become routinized. (372) Figures for 2000 are not available, due to a moratorium on publishing police statistics (due to be lifted in July 2001). However, during an April 2001 briefing to the parliamentary portfolio committee on safety and security, the police reported that the incidence of "attacks on farms and smallholdings" stabilized during 2000, and that the number of people killed during such attacks decreased compared to 1999. (373) Given definitional issues (what is a farm?) and problems in collecting accurate information, it is not possible to establish any reliable comparison between the murder rate and other crime for farm owners and the general population, though some have tried to do so. (374)

The statistics for "attacks on farms and smallholdings" are problematic for a number of reasons. In the first place, the bundling together of farms and smallholdings has skewed the figures. There is no definition of either "farm" or "smallholding," which in itself creates difficulties, though the categories are understood to refer in the first case to large commercial farms which provide the sole or main form of income to those who own them; and, in the second, to the small plots of land mostly surrounding the big cities, where people live and may grow some crops, but which do not form the principal source of livelihood for their owners, who usually work in other employment or are retired. People living on this type of smallholding are particularly vulnerable: effectively part of the city crime environment, where strangers do not attract attention, they are also quite isolated from their neighbors and distant from police assistance. According to the police statistics relating to "attacks on farms and smallholdings," attacks on smallholdings have increased much more quickly than attacks on the more distant commercial farms; this is reflected in the fact that attacks have increased especially rapidly in Gauteng, the province housing the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging urban conglomeration, where a majority of the incidents would relate to smallholdings. (375) Bundling the figures together generates a picture of remote commercial farms based on information that is in fact derived partly from the very different environment of the semi-rural areas surrounding the big cities. 

Secondly, while the definition does not refer to race, in practice racial issues dominate the way the statistics are collected--just as they dominated the decision to start collecting the statistics in the first place. According to the CIAC, police stations are asked to note "attacks" on a non-racial basis: so a crime by a stranger against anybody living or working on a farm would be reported. One study found that of murdered victims, 74 percent were white, 17 percent black, 3 percent Asian, and 6 percent colored. (376) In practice, however, based on Human Rights Watch's interviews with station commissioners in different parts of the country, in many cases the statistics collected relate to violence or property crimes against white farm owners or managers, and to violence against their black farmworkers only if it is carried out in the course of a crime against the (white) farm owners. Station commissioners usually had detailed knowledge about violent crime or burglaries against white farmsteads, but when questioned about violent crime against farm residents committed by unknown outsiders in their district that had come to the notice of Human Rights Watch, they tended not to be aware. 

Furthermore, the exclusion from the definition of crime resulting from "commonplace social interaction" means that many crimes affecting farm residents are not included in the statistics for "farm attacks," whether carried by outsiders against black farmworkers or residents or by black farmworkers or residents against each other--what in the 1980s would have been referred to by the South African Police as "black-on-black violence." Equally, violence within the family of the white farm owner, for example, would not be recorded. Most assaults reported to the police by farm residents are in fact by other farm residents or visitors with permission. At least part of the reason for this exclusion in the collection of police statistics is an attempt to analyze a category of premeditated violent crime, which may be more susceptible to a law enforcement approach, rather than violent crime deriving from, for example, the use of alcohol. (377) The particular fear created by crime committed by strangers, which drives forceful lobbying from organized agriculture for a response to the issue, is undoubtedly also a key factor. But the low priority given to "social crime" also excludes the violence that most affects most farm residents, and gives them--according to interviews carried out by Human Rights Watch--the impression that only violent crimes affecting property owners are of importance to the state. At many police stations in farming areas, serious assaults among farmworkers are the most common violent crime reported to the police, yet farm residents noted that in such cases there was little or no police response. The statistics also do not include assaults committed by farm owners against farm workers, which go largely unreported; to a large extent this type of crime appears to be invisible to the criminal justice system, except in the most extreme cases. 

Whatever the faults of the statistics, it is clear that many white farm owners are living in fear. "People are living with guns all the time, they are being terrorized. There was one murder when the victim was chopped with a cane knife, and when the farmwatch arrived the perpetrators were sitting there having breakfast. These guys feel nothing." (378) In several areas, farmers reported to Human Rights Watch that local commando units conducted patrols not only at nights, but also every Sunday when the white farming community is at church, since farmsteads have become a target from crime during that period, and it is usually the old or sick who may be left at home alone. In some cases, the same farm owner has been the victim of repeated crimes, or of ongoing low-level harassment punctuated by more serious incidents. One woman in her seventies living alone on a smallholding just east of Johannesburg, told Human Rights Watch of a series of security incidents escalating since 1994: 

I was attacked in 1994 in winter. I woke up suddenly, heard nothing, but just as I was turning over to go back to sleep, I heard a window being smashed. I sat up in bed. At that time I had no burglar bars or anything. I came into this room [the living room] and found the whole place smashed up and everything stolen. They'd come with a truck. 

In June 1997 it happened a second time. By then I had burglar bars on all the windows, and security doors, and lights put up, and I felt safe. But one night I suddenly woke up and heard a smash. I jumped out of bed and got on the radio alarm and called Pieter [a neighbor]. I got dressed in no time and took my Beretta that I had next to my bed--before, I used to keep it in a safe--and stood next to the wall. They must have had a crow bar because they had lifted up the steel door, and then must have woken me smashing the wooden door, then they'd climbed on the deep freeze to break the window and get in. They were in the kitchen, and I heard one say 'baas, mos ek nou skiet?' [master, must I shoot now?].... Then I fired a shot. Then there was no sound, they were bundled together in the kitchen. I thought to myself, I have three more cartridges, but then I heard Pieter's gun firing outside... he shot their sentry. Pieter called me and I came outside. They had run away.... 

The police only came the next day.... they took fingerprints, but I found the cartridges they had used. I don't know if anyone was arrested, the police tell you nothing anyway, but I've never been called to court. 

About eighteen months later my black was also attacked... they tied him up hands and feet and asked him for his gun. They wanted him to come and ask me to open the door. But then the cell group started and things have been fairly quiet since then--though I still get stones thrown at my roof at night, and I had visitors trying to break into my garage, they came back again and again... (379)

The Motives for "Attacks on Farms and Smallholdings" 

Many farm owners and some of the representatives of the agricultural unions believe that the motive behind the violent crime committed against farm owners is explicitly racial or political, a conspiracy aimed at driving white people off commercial farmland. As noted by one senior police officer with responsibilities for rural safety and security, "It is a complicated issue, an emotional issue, and political because of some of the things that have been said about the land belonging to all. Every attack is perceived by the farmers as having a political motive, based on an organized political attempt to dispossess them, though we can't find a shred of proof that that is the case." (380)

To a great extent, the debate over "farm attacks" has been driven by some especially brutal killings, rather than by the overall numbers of murders--though these are certainly high. According to Jack Loggenberg of the Transvaal Agricultural Union, "We say it is not only crime but something else; they way the people are handled, not only killed, but also tortured brutally, and sometimes nothing is stolen. And not doing anything about it gives the impression that this is acceptable. It could be organized, but we don't have the facts. We find that in farm murders a lot of research is done, in 100 percent of cases there is prior reconnaissance and then there is extreme violence used. This is planned, very organized, a sweeper involved in removing evidence. It is usually outsiders; often the farmworkers try to stop them and they are also killed. If it is to do with bad relations with farmworkers we can do something about it, but this is more worrying, there is nothing leading up to the attacks." (381) (Others who have investigated farm killings, however, note rather that in many cases "their hallmark is extreme amateurishness," with evidence frequently left at the scene. (382)) In May 2000, Agri-SA, the Agricultural Employers Association, and the Transvaal Agricultural Union launched a countrywide signature campaign called "Action: Stop Farm Attacks," noting "the attackers do not merely kill the victims, but inflict pain, humiliation and suffering, especially on elderly people. Women and children are not spared." (383) The campaign was endorsed by the Freedom Front and Afrikaner Eenheidsbeweging, two conservative political parties. (384) By November, the petition had gained 372,000 signatures. (385)

Farm owners' organizations have pointed to the campaign against white farmers carried out by APLA during the 1980s and early 1990s, as evidence for the existence of a political movement to drive them off the land. (386) At one point, slogans often heard at PAC and some ANC rallies included "one settler, one bullet," or "kill the boer, kill the farmer." In September 1999, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) granted amnesty to three APLA cadres convicted for the murder of Sandra Swanepoel and attempted murder of her husband Johannes Swanepoel, farmers near Tzaneen, Northern Province, in 1993. (387) To some, this decision, which under the terms of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act included a finding that the crime had a political motive, is proof that similar killings today are also part of an organized terror campaign. (388) Alternatively, a correlation is drawn between the TRC hearings themselves and a rise in violent crime against farm owners. (389) Again, the Freedom Front, a right wing political party, picked up on the statement by a soldier from the Lesotho Defense Force, on trial for treason in connection with an alleged attempted coup in 1998, that he had been trained to regard South African "boers" as the enemy, linking it with news of land confiscation in Zimbabwe and the ANC's proposal to reform the law on gun control, as well as "farm attacks" in South Africa. The Freedom Front called for an independent investigation by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, set up under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, into "the ANC government's racist approach." (390)

At their most extreme, these views lead to a belief that the government is training former members of MK or APLA to assassinate white farm owners, possibly even under the direction of some shadowy international force. "There's someone very clever behind these blacks telling them what to do. Someone is orchestrating the farm attacks; there's a central place where they are being planned. The government wants land prices to go down, and one way is to make the people on the land want to leave. And the farm attacks are professional, carried out with military planning." (391) The Transvaal Agricultural Union sees "farm attacks" as "ideologically driven; we are rushing into a situation similar to that in Zimbabwe with the pressure on agriculture in general and the transformation regarding land. The intent is to make land reform affordable, and the farm attacks are part of the pressure applied to speed up the process. You must see the total picture. We can't come to another conclusion." (392) TAU admits that it has no evidence for an orchestrated campaign of violence: "At this stage we haven't got it, but there is circumstantial evidence that suggests we must put these attacks in perspective," noting that the 1955 Freedom Charter promises that "the land shall be divided among those who work it." (393) Even those with more moderate views wonder aloud if the unnecessary brutality involved in some killings of farm owners is aimed at driving farmers off the land, in the context where the Department of Land Affairs is not delivering on its promises for redistribution through the use of the law. Similarly, there are numerous rumors of "hit squads" made up of criminal elements in the big cities that can be hired if someone has a problem with a farmer, such as a threatened eviction; while links are seen between violent crime against farm owners and land invasions, drawing parallels with the government-backed take over of white farms in Zimbabwe. In March 2001, the chair of "Action: Stop Farm Attacks" told reporters that six suspects in a "farm attack" case had been found in possession of a video including instruction material on how to carry out a farm attack. It later appeared that there was no substance to these claims. (394)

Some academic writing supports the view that violent crime against farm owners is driven by a desire to intimidate farmers to leave their land, though it relies on media reports, police statistics, and theorization about the impact of apartheid on black South Africans and their world view, rather than on studies of particular cases, interviews with perpetrators, or other empirical evidence. (395)

Several farmers interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that they had received threats of various types, ranging from anonymous telephone calls to letters warning them to leave their farm or face the consequences. For some, these are an indication of an organized campaign, others see them as isolated threats from the land-hungry. Extracts from one such letter were published in the Helen Suzman Foundation's Briefing magazine: 

Dear Mr L, 

We write this letter to warn you concerning hiring a part of Mr B's farm. The time now is ripe for the Amachanu tribe to act vigorously to show all the conservative Boers our concern about our ancestors' land which was taken from them forcefully by your nation. We know that you are dealing with livestock to make profit out of them and be able to support your family. Think about the people of B's farm and their livestock. They are still oppressed. We feel that you are part of oppression, but don't be fooled by Mr B. Go away otherwise you will lose.... 

I'm telling you all your livestock is going to vanish like dew during sunrise. If you listen to that dead living man Z, if the land is under black Z will be the victim of all Mdubuzweni people due to his evil deeds. He has treated his people like animals. He has dehumanised all of them threatening to practice his magic over them Mr L, not because they are afraid of him. He is under your armpits just because he is your spy. 

We as the youth of people who were evicted from there from 1879 are united to achieve one goal. Remember Mr L, Z is the most wanted criminal in S.A. who if he might be caught shall be sentenced to life imprisonment.... We want you Mr L to move away from this area. We hope you know that now our chief has been fooled by the government and you (Boers). That land will end up being under black rule like it or not sir we gonna fight sir. I mean underground warfare to destroy everything of farmers who make Mr B benefit from our land.... 

Mr B is a fool. Go--Go Boers Go. (396)

Even where no conspiracy is seen, the rise in violent crime against farm owners is linked by organized agriculture to the government's land reform policies: "There is no way that you can look at the issue of the murder of farmers without also looking at the whole process of land reform and the expectations created. The statements of senior government officials are not helpful.... We don't say there must not be reform and there must not be legislation, but we also don't know if there is not intimidation in the farm attacks." (397) Senior police officers also believe that comments by politicians relating to land rights, evictions, and assaults against farmworkers may reinforce the view among farm owners that violent crime is political. (398) Agri-SA has protested "hate speech" against farm owners by politicians. (399) Mike de Lange, formerly head of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (KWANALU) security desk, who still monitors crime against commercial farms closely commented that, "I don't believe that there is an organized plan to drive farmers off the land; but I do believe that the government knows what is happening and is doing nothing about it. The threats to farmers are being ignored. There is a perception that farmers mistreat their labor and pay too little, so they don't care too much." (400)

From the perspective of many black South Africans the interpretation of violent crime against farm owners is equally clear, but opposite, tending to attribute the "farm attacks" to longstanding ill treatment of farm labor. (401) As one employee of the Department of Land Affairs commented: "The attacks are not politically motivated, in the sense of being organized, but many arise from a culture of barbarism. The taking of the land was done by the gun, and some of the farmers still enjoy today making people suffer just to show their supremacy. Then if something small happens it can lead to brutality in revenge." (402) A union worker put it similarly: "You can't divorce the farm attacks from our history and the fact that farmers refuse to take steps to transform life on farms; they still take it that they are the owners of the universe." (403) A black policeman agreed: "The treatment on farms is not human.... That's why you find attacks on farmers; the attitude of white farmers against black workers causes blacks to retaliate. They still have the attitude that you have no rights." (404) Commenting on reports of a farm owner who forced his workers to share accommodation with pigs, the ANC issued a statement that "it is an open secret that some of the brutal attacks on farmers are revenge attacks by farmworkers who have been brutalized by their employers. It is unfortunate that sometimes it is innocent farmers who pay the price for the actions of their racist colleagues." (405) However, no systematic study has been undertaken that draws any direct correlation between brutality towards farmworkers or evictions of farm residents and attacks on farm owners. 

Just as some farm owners and their representatives are convinced that violent attacks against whites living on farms are part of a conspiracy, so farm residents often believe that attempts to organize private security or commando protection for farms are throw-backs to the "third force" of the 1980s and early 1990s, covert action by the previous government to promote violence among black communities and assassinate black leaders. This view is reinforced by the fact that in some areas, among those employed as private security are ex-members of South Africa's more notorious apartheid security units, including the 32 and Koevoet ("Crowbar") battalions deployed in Namibia and Angola. (406)

Contrary to these beliefs, those few more-or-less systematic studies that have been carried out into violent crime against farm owners have found that in the majority of cases violence was used to achieve another purpose rather than for its own sake: "To the extent that the attacks were violent, the violence generally appeared to be tactical and instrumental, rather than gratuitous. While the culprits appeared to have few qualms about injuring or even killing their victims, violence was deployed in the cases studied either to access safes, to leave the victim incapable of signaling for help, or to overpower the victim." (407) There is no substantive evidence for a coordinated campaign of intimidation to drive whites off the land. Moreover, though the majority of victims are white, reflecting property ownership in South Africa, there is clearly no hesitation in killing people of other ethnic groups. Studies carried out or commissioned by the SAPS have repeatedly concluded that the main motive for these crimes is criminal, especially the theft of firearms, cash, and vehicles. (408) Human Rights Watch interviewed one smallholder, a university professor, just east of Johannesburg who had been the victim of a burglary: 

I came home after class at about 8:30 pm. I phoned my wife when I was about five minutes away to say I was almost home, and she opened the door and waited for me. When I stopped and got out of the vehicle I was attacked by three people and my wife was attacked by another two. They forced us into the bedroom, tied our hands behind our back with flex from the bedroom lights. One guy held a rifle against my wife's head, another held a pistol against my head and they asked us where are the keys of the safe, and where are our firearms. I told them where the keys were and where a pistol was that I had. Then they started ransacking the house looking for money... they took R250,000 (U.S.$33,000) worth of goods, but they were very selective and didn't take things that could identify them; they were very professional. They took the bakkie [pick up truck] and my car and left at around midnight, leaving us tied together on the bathroom floor. (409)

Some have pointed out the links between different types of crime: for example, in KwaZulu-Natal crime against farm owners can often be related to violence in surrounding areas of the former KwaZulu homeland, where organized political violence between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) since the 1980s has continued, or diversified into simple gangsterism or the struggles between neighboring political leaders or clans known as "faction violence." (410) As one police officer commented: "There are a number of cases where attacks are just to steal firearms. Many farmers have nine or ten firearms and the information goes out to the perpetrators that the weapons are there. The farm attacks are also linked to faction violence, since the factions need to arm themselves and know that there are a large number of firearms available. Stock theft also increases with faction violence because you can exchange cattle for guns; and there is theft of cash too." (411) Others have noted strong links between violent crime in rural areas and criminal networks in the big cities, where the proceeds of a robbery can be more easily disposed of. (412) Finally, close monitoring of violent crime against white farms in some areas has revealed a seasonal variation: crime increases in July and August, the "hungry months," when food stocks from subsistence farming in the former homeland areas are running low at the end of winter. (413)

Considering the widespread fear of violent crime in South Africa, where no population group has been invulnerable and people typically purchase the maximum amount of personal protection that they can afford, some farm owners also appear to be surprisingly casual about the threat that violent crime poses to them. Reports by the SAPS have noted the absence at farmsteads of precautions of the type that South Africa's urban population now regards as normal. (414) Again, few attempts are made to screen temporary labor for reliability, and often commercial farms will simply send a truck during harvest season to the nearest "tribal" area, and pick up whoever is first in line to take the work. "Farmers will hire someone from the street, without vetting them at all, and then they work for one or two months and are laid off again. Some of these could get involved in attacks. They know the place but they are not long term residents with a relationship with the farmer. "If there's a group of four or five involved in an attack you often find that one of them has been on the farm, the others from elsewhere." (415) One paralegal advising farmworkers and labor tenants believed that outsiders must be responsible, those hired to work from outside the area; even the security being hired by the farmers themselves. (416)

In accordance with this line of thinking, a police analysis of "attacks on farms and smallholdings" carried out in the first five months of 1998 based on "thorough interrogation" of suspects concluded that "irrefutable evidence exists that the motive for approximately 99 percent of the attacks on farms and smallholdings is common criminality, with robbery being the prime incentive ... at this stage no evidence is available to suggest that any sinister forces are responsible for the attacks. However, there have been a few incidents where racial tension, dismissals and conflict between employer and employee played a contributing role in the attacks." (417) Another study considering "attacks on farms and smallholdings" reported during the first six months of 1998, concluded that the "vast majority of attacks are committed by strangers who are unknown to the victims," based on information that in less than 10 percent of cases was one or more of the suspects an employee, former employee or relative of an employee of the victims. (418) These conclusions were described as "preposterous" by an academic supporting the theory that farm killings are driven by hatred of the Afrikaner and the delays in land redistribution. (419)

However, the most comprehensive and in depth study of the motives for violent crime against farm owners, carried out by Technikon SA, also found that criminal motives were dominant in the vast majority of cases, with a small number motivated by personal grudges against the victim or his or her family. (420) None had a political motivation. The robberies were carefully planned, but the offenders had no special military training, and the planning of the crime was what might be expected for a crime rather than anything more elaborate. Information about the farm was gained from current or former employees; though it was not clear whether such information was gathered by deception or with knowledge of what it would be used for. The offenders were split half-and-half between those who had some connection with a farm themselves and those who did not. Some were experienced criminals, and half had previous convictions; for others it was their first offence. In one case where the motive for murder was a grudge against the farm owner, a farmer's wife was murdered by a farmworker when the farm owner and his wife intervened in a domestic dispute between the farmworker and his wife. The farm owner offered the worker's wife a room outside the main house and told the worker he could not see her; the worker killed the farmer's wife in anger. (421)

There is some supporting evidence that revenge for real or perceived previous wrongs by a farm owner is a motive in some cases. Although the conclusions of police studies of motive are questionable, being based on the off-the-cuff opinions of the station commissioners who fill out the questionnaires circulated by SAPS headquarters, rather than interviews with perpetrators or in-depth studies of particular cases, they can be suggestive. One study found that in 18 percent of 284 "attacks on farms and smallholdings" reported between November 1998 and March 15, 1999, the main motive seemed to be revenge, mainly to do with past labor disputes. In 76 percent of the incidents, at least one of the attackers was known to his victims; in 20 percent of the incidents all the attackers were known to their victims. (422) In June 2000, a spokesperson for the SANDF Regional Joint Task Force North stated to the press that a study of the forty most recent "attacks on farms and smallholdings" in Northern Province and Mpumalanga revealed that as many as 22.5 percent were motivated by revenge; though the majority were perpetrated for criminal motives (40 percent robbery; 27.5 percent petty crimes). According to the statement, which gave no indidcation of the basis for these distinctions, 7.2 percent were motivated by racism, and 5 percent by land claims. (423) In individual cases, the victims identify revenge as a motive: "There is no doubt they came to kill.... We believe they were hired by a farmworker who sought revenge after a disagreement with his employer." (424) In other cases, individuals with knowledge of a case will report that there had been confrontations between the farm owner and a farmworker, and then one of the workers had been involved in the killing. (425) In one April 1998 case in the Piet Retief area, a white visitor to a farm was shot and killed with an AK-47 rifle at the entrance to the farm he was visiting. Nothing was stolen. The police subsequently learned that the murder had been carried out in planned revenge for eviction of several families from the farm, but that the perpetrators had mistaken the identity of their victim. (426) Sometimes, killings appear to be related to a farm owner's sexual involvement with black women resident on the farm. (427) Even when the principal motive for a crime is acknowledged to be for theft, some victims identify aspects of the incident that seems to have racial aspects, such as gratuitous violence. But as the author of many of the police reports on farm attacks noted to Human Rights Watch, "If a farm is attacked and property is stolen and the farm owner murdered, how do we know if murder or robbery is the motive?" (428)

Part of the problem in determining possible motives lies in the definition of the "attacks" which rolls the figures for "farms" and "smallholdings" together. Even the 1998 study that concluded that "irrefutable evidence" existed that the motives for "attacks" were criminal drew a distinction in this regard between commercial farms and smallholdings: a large proportion of the perpetrators of incidents recorded at commercial farms lived or had friends or relatives who lived on or near the farm; in the case of smallholdings, many lived rather in informal settlements nearby and had no specific connection with the site of the crime. (429) Given the difficulty of gaining access to a commercial farm in a remote area without detection, and the fact that many of the incidents in which farm owners had been subject to violent crime or burglary have been based on local knowledge, it makes sense that current or former employees or residents might have some connection with the crime. Police officers in farming areas interviewed by Human Rights Watch about farm attacks agreed that employees or former employees or people who knew the area well were involved in a number of attacks. But though the evidence from the large commercial farms is somewhat ambiguous, it does seem to be clear that in virtually all violent crime committed on smallholdings, the perpetrators are strangers. (430) There seems little reason to distinguish in terms of motive between smallholdings and crime committed in neighboring suburbs; especially since gratuitous violence is a feature of much South African crime, wherever committed. 

Those convicted in these cases share similar profiles. (431) They belong to a frustrated generation of un- or underemployed young people, with more education than their parents and less tendency to accept their lot, but without marketable skills. They have seen democracy come to South Africa, but have little to show for it themselves--though they see the privileged status of white farm owners apparently unaltered by the new order. These frustrations are no excuse for crime, but can provide some explanation for why the property of others can seem less than sacrosanct, and taking guns, cattle and money from the commercial farms, even killing in the course of taking them, justified. Among young men from farms interviewed by Human Rights Watch, anger was widespread at the lack of transformation in relationships in the countryside since the new government took power. 

Despite the SAPS findings that the motives for violent crime against farm owners are largely criminal, the police and the army continue to use the terminology of "farm attacks," reinforcing, through the use of the word "attack," the idea that there is a military or terrorist basis for the crimes, rather than a criminal one. As an official working for the Northern Province Department of Safety and Security noted, "The idea of 'attacks' has support from conservative whites and the media, but I don't agree with that. It sounds as if you're talking of an organized military force or crime syndicates or a terrorist war; I prefer to call it rather violent crime on farms and smallholdings, since we have no evidence that it is organized in any way.... We have been saying to the farmers who say there is an organized campaign 'bring us the evidence,' but since 1996 we have found nothing." (432) Use of the language of "farm attacks" tends to cloud analysis of possible solutions to the violence. (433)