Facing the dragon

Only true entrepreneurship can energise the economy

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In 2017, crime in all its repugnance is taking a devastating toll on South African farm life. Not only are innocent and irreplaceable lives being lost or permanently disfigured, but the physical and mental repercussions on the families and communities are felt long after the crime has become just another South African statistic. The once-peaceful rural lifestyle which the country enjoyed for so many years is now so vulnerable that it is subjected to circumstances which require a 24/7 awareness, instant preparedness and a state of mind constantly alert to any indication—no matter how small—that all is not well. During some attacks, as many as thirteen assailants armed with military assault rifles have been known to suddenly appear at farm homesteads at any time, day or night.

This mandatory way of living is a reality for most farm dwellers despite the fact that violent crimes on farms have been declared a National Priority Crime since 1998. Current reality indicates that murders on farms and agricultural smallholdings have steadily increased since 2011, according to statistics garnered by TAU SA. Recent incidents have confirmed an ominous trait manifesting itself during these crimes—the fact that, increasingly, victims are subjected to gratuitous brutal torture. Reports of victims having holes drilled in their limbs with electric drills, being burnt with blow torches, and boiling water, hot oil and dripping burning plastic poured over their skin are most disturbing. This tendency provides food for serious thought: while the SA Police Service (SAPS) declares that these vicious crimes merit the classification of “national priority”, this criminal tendency is not handled by the SAPS accordingly. This puts into question the validity of this proclaimed and confirmed status within SAPS ranks..

Statistics tell another story. If it were not for farmers and their workers, who must of necessity accept responsibility for their own safety and security, plus the collective efforts of fellow farmers and farm dwellers in this regard, the consequences of this criminal activity would have been much worse. Because of these extenuating circumstances, many homesteads have been transformed into “fortresses” capable of being defended by early warning alarm systems, security barriers and the physical protection needed to provide a relatively safe environment. When a farmer is confronted with a situation where a stranger indicates an interest “to buy a sheep”, the alarm bells start ringing and the crucial question then arises: what should the reaction of a reasonable person to this request be, bearing in mind the current state of rural criminality? Many a farm dweller victim has been lured beyond the safety of his “fortress homestead” or has been ambushed when required to open a farm gate.

What complicates the current situation is the added problem of so-called “normal” crimes”, which in themselves have a most detrimental effect on commercial agriculture. Whilst the definition of a “farm attack” reflects several specific crimes (murder, attempted murder, rape, assault to do serious bodily harm, common assault, arsons), rural safety and security and, as a consequence, sustainability are also seriously affected by stock theft, common theft (produce, fuel, chemicals, tools, etc), and trespassing (often including illegal hunting). Unfortunately, these crimes are often ignored yet the growing impact thereof contributes in no small degree to further complicating life on a South African farm.

Recent developments reflect an increasing tendency for disgruntled citizens to display their disgust with local authorities or other service providers by blocking national roads or deliberately allowing protest action to spill over into residential areas or CBDs. Many actions are cloaked under the guise of “protest”, but they in fact represent a blatant transgression of the laws of the land. Very little is being done by the authorities to apprehend the instigators and transgressors. On national routes like the N1, the N2, the N3 and the N4, innocent travellers have been caught up in road blockages, notwithstanding the fact that such actions are blatantly illegal. The less said about the carnage caused by uncontrolled looting, the torching of historical buildings, other edifices and vehicles belonging to innocent citizens, and the concomitant disruption of citizens’ normal routines, the better. The fact of the matter is that these disruptions contribute to a state of affairs which can only be described as “approaching anarchy and chaos”.

Much is said about the South Africa’s land “reform” question: indeed, a former cabinet minister declared he was a staunch supporter of the view that “angry landless people” could not be controlled. The current reality is that the country’s status regarding food security is continuously being eroded. But has thought been given to the question of how many more ”angry people” there would be if they had no food? Not only are primary food and fibre producers being subjected to the full scope of crimes which, without doubt, have an impact on food production, but this state of affairs has a deterrent effect on young people who may have been willing to enter a sector which in fact could actually threaten their income as well as life and limb.

Whilst recent reports by Stats SA confirm an increase in poverty levels in South Africa, especially in rural areas, the very sector—agriculture—which could contribute so much to alleviating this poverty by way of employment, is suffering beyond anything considered normal in the developed world.

Fluctuating scales of economy, rising input costs, poor maintenance of infrastructure (especially roads and sewerage works) and the substandard credit ratings of local, provincial and national government sectors promote an atmosphere of doubt and precariousness.

This insecurity within the commercial farming sector is exacerbated by subtle and not so subtle propaganda typecasting farmers as brutal racists. No wonder, then, that cases like the “Middelburg Coffin Case”, concerning the youngster who was apparently killed from the back of a truck near Coligny, plus repeated accusations by employees and tenants (who enjoy security of tenure on farms which they don’t own!) that the land-owner is inhuman, quite frankly appear to dominate media coverage. Despite these provocations, the remaining farmers carry on regardless, feeding a population of which a large proportion firmly believe that the food they eat is produced in the factories of the various supermarkets.

Amidst the current internal strife within the ranks of the governing alliance and the jostling for election candidacy in the next round of general elections in 2019, the time has come to understand that this country’s resources are being stripped to such an extent that a clinical redistribution of current assets will never be able to bring about positive change. Like never before, true entrepreneurship which will energise the economy, and thus promote employment, is needed—no other alternative is feasible. If South Africa is to move forward with a booming economy and a healthy and happy population, it needs to understand that the maintenance of law and order and a sound free market approach encouraging and unlocking private initiative supported by state policy is urgently required to bring about a positive turn-around.

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