Horror tales from South African farmers are harrowing and include torture, murder and rape among other things.
They came for Nicci Simpson at her farm west of Johannesburg at 10 am, as she was preparing to go out. It was sudden, ferocious and planned. They seized her keys, panic button and bag, and kicked her in the knees, forcing her to drop.
Police have classified her attack by three men on March 10 last year as a “house robbery”, even though her two feet were drilled through with a power tool on the smallholding where she grows cattle fodder. Simpson, who spent two months wheelchair-bound with steel pins in her knees, does not wish to give her age — not because of vanity but because she says older people are the preferred targets.
“I’m red-faced to tell you what they said,” she says. “I kept being referred to as ‘a white f…ing bitch’.
“Once they gained access to the house, they dragged me to a steel gate which leads to upstairs. They said, ‘We want the safe upstairs.’ My own firearm was being trained on me. The knifeman was slashing at me. I began to get dizzy from being kicked around.”
They knew where everything was in her home, leading her to believe a former employee gave them the information they needed. She was tied to a chair.
Kyle Stols, 21, who was shot dead last year on a game farm near Bloemfontein.
“One said, ‘If you do not give us the key to the safe, we will cut your legs off.’ There was no money in the safe but there was a very big grinder. I knew if they got the safe open and they saw the grinder, I was finished.”
During this time, they “began taking chunks of skin off my arm, and the tip of the blade was being pushed in my head”.
They broke into a storeroom and brought up electric tools and crowbars. “It went on for six hours and they were getting more bold and barbaric.
“The knifeman, he was sauntering around. He leaned over my right shoulder and began drilling through my feet without warning.” What did you do? “I didn’t scream and I didn’t cry. It was painful, it was. Afterwards, a police person told me the fact that I didn’t scream or beg saved me.”
Nicci Simpson in the chair where she was found after having her feet drilled through with a power tool on her farm west of Johannesburg, in what police callously called a “house robbery”.
As she was suffocating from a plastic bag over her head, the getaway driver was getting anxious and sounding his horn. By then, the safe was off the wall and they saw it had no money. They left without finishing her off. One man stole her car, but the anti-theft mechanism kicked in and it was abandoned 300m up the road.
“It’s very difficult for me to say what I feel,” she says. “But with this hate speech going on (Julius Malema of the Economic Freedom Fighters party is urging the seizure of white-owned land), this is stirring up the masses who are without things and who are being promised things that are not forthcoming. It’s like: go and take what you want.
“The thought of leaving has crossed my mind, but where does one go? The killing of whites is everywhere — you’re not safe anywhere.”
On Friday, a white farmer from the Eastern Cape was raped in front of her three children. On Wednesday, in the northern Limpopo province, three white people working on a farm were shot, the foreman, fatally in the chest. His partner survived being shot twice in the arm and the farm owner’s son survived a shot to the groin.
The attackers have not been found and likely never will be. Nor have the three men who tortured Simpson been identified. It may not be possible to understand the cruelty but the source of the attacks is in plain view.
Driving through the heaving black township of Mamelodi, on the rural outskirts of Pretoria, reveals some surprises: it has law courts, a hospital, a university branch, a council, police stations and some decent homes. But probe deeper into the million-strong settlement and it becomes evident that these threads of a functional society are failing to hold together a mess.
On the edges, people live in shacks made from flattened 44-gallon drums or scavenged plywood. They are mostly illegal immigrants from places such as Zimbabwe, Malawi and Nigeria who swarmed down on the promise of Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation in the mid-1990s and instead found themselves in a new hell.
It is in such townships that much of South Africa’s crime is plotted: the constant carjacking; the boulders dropped on windscreens from overpasses after which hordes ransack stricken vehicles; the daily and daylight cash-in-transit robberies, where criminals slam armoured vans with automatic rifles and bombs. But such ventures are risky.
Eddie Mnguni, chairman of Mamelodi East community policing forum, says local criminals see attacking nearby farms as hassle-free.
“In the suburbs, you can’t rob easily with all the security,” says Mnguni. “But in the farms, it is easy for criminals. Then came the EFF and the message they are putting forward has a negative impact.
“When people say, ‘Go and occupy land forcibly’, that’s carnage.”
Police are yet to provide answers to the family of Kyle Stols, 21, who was killed from shots to the head and heart on a game farm outside Bloemfontein on October 22 last year. Stols’s brother, Gabriel, 35, said the alarm had been tripping at the lodge for a week, without explanation. Kyle Stols wandered the 500m across from his house to turn off the alarm when he was ambushed.
“There was a struggle, some fighting going on,” Gabriel Stols says. “In that process, Kyle was shot. I am grateful that the fear he experienced was only for a few minutes — but others are being tortured.”
Nothing was stolen, not even Kyle Stols’s mobile phone. Asked why his brother was killed, Gabriel Stols says: “My personal opinion? It’s because he’s white, he lives on a farm and there’s still a lot of hatred. In the media, you see statements that there are only five million whites and 45 million blacks and how ‘we can kill them all in two weeks’.
“We have no help, we are sitting ducks. As soon as you kill someone on a farm, the family doesn’t have the courage to go back to the farm. I was a small child in apartheid. I can’t even remember it. My brother was born in the new South Africa and is killed because he’s white.”
White farmers face trouble on three fronts: the extreme generic crime that plagues the nation; so-called “land grabs” encouraged by the EFF under Malema, whose followers occupy land and refuse to move; and the land expropriation program of the new president, Cyril Ramaphosa.
While Ramaphosa condemns the land grabs as “illegal”, he is pushing ahead with a plan to return the white-held land to black ownership, without compensation. All that is needed to change the South African constitution — in this case, to remove the compensation clause — is the support of two-thirds of the parliament.
Ramaphosa’s African National Congress and the EFF have the numbers. Meetings will be held after Easter when Ramaphosa is expected to reveal further details of the expropriation scheme, which he vows will be “fair”.
White farmers — who now have a fourth problem, of old-school Afrikaner extremists hijacking the debate with their own separatist agenda, fouling the waters — are expecting the worst.
The question of whether farm attacks are “normal” crime or targeted race crime is the subject of much commentary. There is no question that more black people suffer more from crime in South Africa than whites — given their majority, that is not surprising.
However, there are only 30,000 commercial white farmers left in South Africa, down from 60,000 at the changeover from apartheid in the early 1990s. With 400 farm attacks last year, up tenfold from a decade ago, and between one and two farmers murdered every week, this cohort soars above the current annual national murder rate of 34 murders per 100,000.
The heavy toll, along with a tendency for attackers to linger on the scene to commit wilful atrocity, is why white farmers feel certain they are persecuted; and the reason Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton sparked outrage and gratitude when he said he would consider humanitarian visas for them to apply to live in a “civilised” country.
Mostly, the farmers don’t want to come here but they appreciate that it has brought international attention to their plight.
“If I had to decide with my head,” says Gabriel Stols, “I would go to Australia for my children. But with my heart, I still want to stay. The reason is there is so much bloodshed on this ground. My brother’s blood is on the ground. To leave, then his life will mean nothing.
“I want a future for my children. I’m scared for myself, my children and my wife. It is being said on national TV that they’re not calling for the slaughter of white people ‘yet’.”
Leon Kellermann, SC, of the South African bar, lives on a smallholding outside Pretoria. It was a functioning egg-production farm but it became too dangerous for him and his black workers to guard against attack as they shifted produce and cash on the roads.
South Africa, says Kellermann, is teetering. “The courts are still functioning here, there is rule of law,” he says, citing the refusal of the judiciary to dismiss corruption charges against the previous president, Jacob Zuma. “But the rest of the organisations are in turmoil. If it wasn’t for the courts, we would be a pariah state.”
Kellermann, like most South Africans, plans his days around survival. It means changing the time he leaves home and works each day so observers don’t clock his patterns.
“I’ve got eight-foot walls, electric fencing, dogs inside my home,” he says. “I’ve got cottage windows to make access difficult. Going upstairs to my bedroom, I have a built-in gate which I close myself in at night and, of course, alarms. Every day, without fail, I check the perimeter for what we call ‘battle signs’.
“I know the local population and I know who’s who. I grew up with them. I know who’s new.”
This barrister, who by day writes opinions in well-appointed chambers, always has protection at hand. “I’ve got a shotgun and a 9mm that I carry,” he says. “You have to be prepared to use it.”
By: Paul Toohey who is the chief reporter for the News Corp Australia Network.