South Africa is a very dangerous place. SA is also a very safe place. It depends on who you are and where you are.
I will never be sceptical about the outrage and pain of a victim or the family and friends of a victim of crime. Murder, rape, hijacking and robbery rip people’s lives apart and deeply traumatise communities.
But I do get annoyed when certain communities turn the crime epidemic into a political tool to vent their anger about other things in our society they dislike.
In conservative and right-wing white circles, for instance, the high number of attacks on farmers is labelled a white genocide. This campaign is even waged internationally, as we saw last week when Archbishop Desmond Tutu was shouted down and insulted at a public occasion in the Netherlands. The internet is overflowing with racist propaganda from SA and from South African expats that SA is a murderous, anarchic place where whites are targeted by violent criminals.
There is no white genocide. Whites are not specifically targeted by criminals. The only time they appear to be the preferred target of criminals is when criminals assume that they would have more material possessions than the average black person.
Farm murders are a particularly emotive issue and need to be talked about with great sensitivity. But it is imperative that we counter the propaganda around it.
There are two fallacies around farm murders. The first is that they are primarily politically motivated and fuelled by racial hatred and the desire to drive whites off the land. The second is that most farmers who get attacked were cruel to their workers and that these are mostly revenge attacks.
Two decades of research into farm attacks have failed to deliver any evidence that the attackers had a political motive.
Farmers are simply more vulnerable because they are isolated without any immediate neighbours and they are far from police stations.
Evidence also shows that the belief that most farmers have firearms contribute to making them targets – firearms are sought after because they supply criminals with the tools to commit more crime.
Black commercial farmers are attacked in equal measure, but because there are so few of them, we don’t see news of these attacks in our newspapers on a regular basis.
Research has shown that farm attackers would not hesitate to kill black farmworkers if they got in the way or if there was a possibility that they could identify the attackers afterwards.
Similarly, the large volume of research into farm attacks has shown that the overwhelming majority of these attacks are perpetrated by criminals not associated with the specific farms.
There are very few recorded cases where disgruntled workers have attacked their employers.
There is no doubt that there are still farmers who grossly underpay their workers and treat them with little respect. But these cases are a tiny minority.
Skilled and loyal farmworkers are a valuable commodity. If not out of common decency, most farmers treat their employees properly in order to prevent them from leaving and finding employment elsewhere.
A successful commercial farmer, just like any other sensible employer, knows that a good relationship with his workforce is essential to productivity.
Stories abound of violent farm attacks where nothing was stolen, suggesting murder and assault were the motives. The statistics don’t support this being a trend.
There is no clear explanation for the extreme violence often used during attacks on farms. Perhaps one explanation is that attackers have more time than with other attacks.
SA’s farmers are generally excellent agriculturalists and are critical to food security and stability and employment on the platteland. We need to care about their safety and give them special protection because of their vulnerability.
But we should oppose the efforts of some to turn attacks on farms into propaganda and a rallying point for rightwingers.
Even otherwise sensible parties and lobby groups like Freedom Front Plus and AfriForum should be called to account when they resort to hyperbole in their campaigns against farm attacks.
The reality is that whites are generally the most unlikely part of SA society to get murdered, raped or assaulted. Young black men make up the biggest single category of victims of violence.
An analysis of the crime statistics in the Western Cape is a good example of national trends. According to a report by the provincial community safety department, the province had the third-highest murder rate in the country – 43.4 victims per 100 000 people – between April 2011 and March 2012.
Most murder victims lived in the city’s black townships. Eighty-seven percent of the victims were male. Seventy percent of those killed tested positive for alcohol.
Crime is a cancer eating away at our society. We need to understand exactly how it manifests itself if we want to treat it effectively.