Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Farmer dies after attack

24/04/2006 15:10 - (SA)

Brits - A 40-year-old farmer died in hospital after he was shot on his farm in the North West province on Friday night, police said.

De Ville Roos, 40, and Johanna Roos, 37, were attacked on their farm in Uitvalgrond in the Sonop area near Brits at about 19:30, Marico area spokesperson Inspector Erica Roos said on Monday.

The couple were in the kitchen when an armed man entered through an unlocked door and demanded they lie face down on the floor. He then fired three shots at Roos, hitting him twice in the chest and once in the neck.

A second man entered the house and demanded vehicle keys from Johanna Roos, while a third suspect carried a television set and a computer outside.

The men fled when they saw lights at the gate from a security company responding to the alarm which had gone off when the shots were fired. The stolen items were found outside the house.

Roos was taken to hospital and died on Saturday from bullet wounds. His wife was not injured.

Police are investigating.


Sunday, 23 April 2006

Woman gunned down outside Craighall home

April 22 2006 at 08:29AM

By Noor-Jehan Yoro Badat and Sheree Russouw

It should have been a routine morning on Friday for Tessa Goldworthy as she slowly reversed out of the driveway of her home in Craighall Park, Johannesburg. Her grandchild, three, was in the car, as well as a 23-year-old friend.

Suddenly the sound of gunshots disturbed the quiet suburb as Goldworthy was gunned down by four armed hijackers who approached her car as she was reversing into Hamilton Street.

Police spokesperson Captain Schalk Bornman said the gang had ordered Goldworthy to get out of her silver Mercedes-Benz C180 Kompressor.

'She was a fine friend' According to local security company ADT, a neighbour of Goldworthy's "heard screaming and ran inside his home", where he pressed his panic button.

But it was too late. Goldworthy had been shot twice in the chest and died shortly afterwards. No one else was injured in the attack.

Roy Rawlins, managing director of ADT Security's western region, said his response unit arrived minutes after the shooting.

"When we heard it was a hijacking, we dispatched a back-up vehicle," he said. "Our vehicle was shot at five times - but none of our reaction officers were injured. When our back-up vehicle arrived, the hijackers pushed the officer on the ground, hijacked his car and drove away, obviously not aware that the car was equipped with GPS [global positioning system]. Our other vehicle gave chase."

"The suspects crashed into a vehicle on William Nichol Drive in Sandton," he said.

"When the hijackers drove away, the reaction officers shot after them. We believe we hit one of them because when our officers approached the crashed car, it was covered with blood. The suspects fled on foot. One of the guns was recovered."

When Rawlins heard of the incident, he went to Goldworthy's home, where her son had just heard of her death.

"It was really sad - our officers have had to receive trauma counselling for this. The whole suburb is on high alert now."

Shocked family members, friends and neighbours gathered outside Goldworthy's home. Family members were too traumatised to speak to the media. Her eldest son had apparently collapsed upon hearing the news of her death.

Pam Wilson, a friend of Goldworthy's, said she and Goldworthy, a widow, had just spent "a nice weekend together".

"I had just brought flowers to her to say thanks," she said, shaking her head in dismay.

Apparently it was not the first time that Goldworthy had been the victim of a hijacking.

A domestic worker who worked for Goldworthy for 19 years said: "She was a fine friend. We were born the same year."

Residents added that Hamilton Street had become a target for criminals. "This is the second murder within three weeks in Craighall Park," said one concerned resident.

Bornman said a case of attempted hijacking, murder and theft of a motor vehicle has been opened at Parkview police station.

The Johannesburg Anti-Hijacking Unit was investigating the incident. No arrests had been made by last night.

This article was originally published on page 2 of Saturday Star on April 22, 2006


Man killed, wife injured in Pretoria highway

April 22 2006 at 02:11PM

A man was shot dead and his wife was stabbed when their car broke down on the N14 highway near Olievenhoutbosch, Pretoria police said on Saturday.

Spokesperson Superintendent Paul Ramoloko said the couple and their two sons were on their way to Krugersdorp on Friday night when their car broke down.

"They called someone for help. While they were waiting, unknown gunmen approached them. The husband was shot and he died on the scene."

His wife was stabbed in the arm and was taken to hospital.

Ramoloko said the two boys, aged six and eight, were not injured.

The men also stole some of the family's belongings.

No arrests have been made yet. Police are investigating a case of murder and armed robbery, Ramoloko said. - Sapa


Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Woman needs surgery after hijacking horror

IOL Staff Reporter

April 18 2006 at 05:31AM

A woman who was driven over during a hijacking outside her Pretoria home remains in a serious condition in hospital.

Frieda Lombard, 53, was about to drive into the driveway of her Waverley home on Saturday when a gunman dragged her from her Nissan Almera and threw her beneath the car, before driving over her twice.

Lombard, who was taken to Pretoria East Hospital, sustained a fractured skull, a smashed ankle and lacerations to her legs.

Lombard's husband, Pieter, on Monday said his wife was due to undergo surgery, but it had been postponed.

"Doctors are hoping that she will be stable enough to operate on on Tuesday," said Lombard.

Police spokesperson Inspector Lucas Sithole said they were searching for the hijacker and were appealing to anyone with information on his identity or whereabouts to contact the police.

This article was originally published on page 2 of The Star on April 17, 2006


Monday, 17 April 2006

Hijacker drives over woman during getaway

Graeme Hosken

April 17 2006 at 05:17AM

A Pretoria woman is in a serious condition in hospital after a hijacker drove over her with her car during his attempt to escape.

Frieda Lombard, 53, who is in the Pretoria East Hospital's intensive care unit, was about to pull into the driveway of her Waverly home on Saturday when a gunman attacked her, pulling her out of her car and throwing her to the ground beneath her vehicle.

Screaming for help as she tried to stand up and run to safety, Lombard smashed her head on the pavement and was dragged beneath her new Nissan Almera as her attacker reversed the car over her.

The hijacker, who had a handgun, crushed her left ankle and lacerated her legs as he drove over her again before racing off.

'I ran as fast as I could to see what was happening' Lombard was rushed to the hospital's emergency room, where doctors spent four hours stabilising her.

Lombard's shaken husband, Pieter, 58, said he had been in the kitchen fixing a stove when he had heard his wife screaming.

"I ran as fast as I could to see what was happening," he said.

As he ran outside, Lombard watched and listened in horror as his wife screamed in agony when she was dragged beneath their car as the hijacker drove over her.

Coming to his wife's aid, Lombard shouted for help as his wife lay bleeding on the pavement.

Neighbours and a shop owner, who had tried to stop the hijacker, tried frantically to stem the bleeding while waiting for paramedics.

Lombard said he could not believe how quickly the attack had happened.

"It is as though life means nothing to these criminals. It is as though criminals have a licence that allows them to take what they want and do what they want," he said.

He said his wife would be undergoing reconstructive surgery to her ankles on Monday.

Lombard said he was waiting for the police to contact him to say what was happening with the investigation, or whether there was anything they needed to do to help the police.

Police spokesperson Lucas Sithole confirmed that a case of hijacking and attempted murder was being investigated.

"Although no arrests have been made, we are confident of making a breakthrough soon and are following up on a number of leads," he said.

This article was originally published on page 1 of The Mercury on April 17, 2006


Sunday, 16 April 2006

My parents are statistics

13/04/2006 08:07 - (SA)

Danel Blaauw , Die Volksblad

Bloemfontein - An elderly Free State couple were attacked with hammers and bricks on Wednesday in one of several farm attacks that have flared up countrywide.

Blood splattered on walls, carpets, bed linen and matresses bore testimony to the gruesome attack on a smallholding at Bloemspruit outside Bloemfontein.

Dentures found in a pool of blood and a brick nearby formed part of the scene.

Four of the five dogs belonging to Ivan Jacobs, 72, and Gwendoline Jacobs, 56, were apparently poisoned just minutes before they were attacked.

A young male boerboel was the only dog who survived the attack on the smallholding in Station Street.

Fanie Jacobs, Gwendoline's son from Bloemfontein, said Ivan Jacobs had been overpowered after going to check why the dogs weren't making their usual racket.

Police spokesperson captain Elsa Gerber said the attackers had cut a hole in the fence before allegedly poisoning the dogs. Three men apparently waited for Jacobs and overpowered him when he left the house.

'A lot of blood'

He was hit over the head from behind with a hammer and a brick, before being forced back inside the house, where they continued to assault him, said Gerber.

"Take photographs and show the public what is going on here," said Jacobs jnr. "I was part of the public, until my parents became part of the statistics."

Gwendoline called her son between 08:50 and 09:30. "She just said she'd been attacked and that there was a lot of blood."

It was the first time they were attacked in the ten years they'd been living here. "My mother can't remember anything about the attack. Ivan was beaten on the knee, hip, and body with a hammer. I think he was also stabbed with a knife.

"Both were attacked from behind and beaten," he said.

The three robbers fled with a Nokia cellphone and a .38 Special revolver. They left in Gwendoline's red Ford Laser, registration number BHC 105 FS.

The serious violent crime unit, dog unit, flying squad, Bloemspruit police station and the criminial record centre combed the area for clues on Wednesday morning.

Suspects still at large

The acting commander for the serious violent crime unit, captain Francois Laux, said they'd found the abandoned vehicle in Phase 6, Bloemspruit about 16:00. "Witnesses saw the men get out of the car carrying parcels."

Elke de Witt, spokesperson for the health department, said Gwendoline had been discharged from Pelonomi hospital late on Wednesday afternoon.

She'd been treated for injuries to the head, shock and bruises.

Ivan was being treated for head injuries.

De Witt said he was conscious. His condition was serious but stable.

The suspects are still at large.

Source: News24

Man's feet boiled in farm attack

April 15 2006 at 02:48PM

By Tash Reddy

An elderly KwaZulu-Natal couple have been driven off the farm they have lived on all their lives after a brutal and prolonged attack that caused the wife to suffer a heart attack and left the husband with such severe burns to his feet that the soles came off.

Their assailants had forced him into the bath where they scalded him with boiling water. The soles of his feet were later found on the dining room table.

Koos van Wyk, 82, and his wife Tina, 57, were surprised by a gang of five armed men last Friday evening at their Gluckstadt game farm near Vryheid and endured hours of torture before the suspects looted their home and fled.

Severe internal injuries Van Wyk is recovering at the Bay Hospital in Richards Bay. His wounds are so severe that doctors could only clean and treat them. He will have to wait a further two to four weeks before doctors decide whether a skin graft is possible.

His wife Tina also sustained severe internal injuries, including to her heart, after she was assaulted, stepped on and repeatedly kicked around.

After suffering a heart attack, she has spent a week in the intensive care unit at Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital.

The couple said they believed the criminals were motivated by hate and not greed. "If they wanted the money they would have taken it. It seems like they were not motivated by greed but by a need to be brutal and malicious.

"We hope that, if they are found, the law gives them the maximum penalty. We don't plan to go back to the farm. Our belongings will be kept in storage and we will be staying with family," they said.

'We will be staying with family'

Van Wyk's stepson Len van der Merwe said the family was incensed at the police's inability to find the culprits.

"I think it's pathetic. We've received no word from them after the attack," he said.

Van der Merwe said that he was still finding it difficult to accept the events of that fateful night. "They were watching television in the living room when my stepfather decided to take a bath. He had just got out when they heard the attackers break down the kitchen door and also saw them come inside through windows," he said.

"My mother yelled that they were being attacked and they ran to the bedroom but before they could close the door, the attackers got in. They hit my stepfather in the face with the butt of an AK-47 and then tied up both of them with rope. It was so tight it cut through their flesh," Van der Merwe said.

The attackers then took his mother into the living room and left her on the floor before proceeding to the bathroom with Van Wyk.

"They turned on the hot water and let it run. They used tape to gag him and put him into the boiling water. It severely burned his feet and buttocks.

"While they were busy with him, the two other guys went to my mother and told her they had killed him. They threatened to cut out her eyes if she didn't tell them where the safe keys were. They found only R250 and started ransacking the house," he said.

Meanwhile, one of the attackers grabbed the woman by her feet and started to drag her to the bedroom.

"I am sure he intended to rape her. He told her that he would make her feel like a 'special woman' that night but he was distracted and left her alone," said Van der Merwe.

"She was left in a hallway where all five men stepped on her breasts, legs and stomach.

"After that they loaded my parents' 4x4 bakkie and fled. My mother heard my stepdad groan in the bedroom and crawled to him by sliding along. She found a penknife on the floor and managed to free them. She then called a friend to call the police," he said.

Det Insp GM Zondo said that when he arrived at the couple's farm, their home was completely ransacked.

"They took the television, two sewing machines, money, three firearms, jewellery and the couple's vehicle. We have no leads and don't believe we will make arrests soon," Zondo said.

This article was originally published on page 3 of The Independent on Saturday on April 15, 2006


Friday, 14 April 2006

Man, woman seriously injured in farm attack

April 12 2006 at 09:29PM

A 75-year-old man and a woman suffered serious head injuries in an attack on their Bloemspruit smallholding, outside Bloemfontein, police said on Wednesday.

Free State spokesperson Captain Elsa Gerber said it appeared Willem Jacobs, 75, and Gwenolene Jacobs, 56, were tortured with a hammer and a brick for an uncertain period of time before 9am on Wednesday.

"Both were taken to the Pelonomi Hospital with serious head injuries and police have been unable to talk to them."

Gwenolene Jacobs is the widow of Willem Jacobs' late brother.

Police also found the bodies of four dogs on the property at Stasie Street, Martindale.

"It looks as if they were poisoned," Gerber said.

Police suspect that after the dogs were poisoned four men cut a hole in the wire fence surrounding the homestead and waited for two people to appear from the house.

Gerber said apparently Jacobs opened the back door to see to his dogs when the attackers overpowered him and forced him back into the house.

She said the woman eventually managed to phone her son at work at about 9am on Wednesday who in turn phoned the police.

Police said the attackers took off with the woman's 1995 red Ford Lazer, registration number BHC105FS, and a revolver. - Sapa

Source: IOL

Wednesday, 5 April 2006

Farms of fear

The Sunday Times Magazine

The Sunday Times April 02, 2006

Farms of fear

It’s not the Somme, it’s South Africa — and a memorial to nearly 2,000 white farmers murdered in the last 10 years. The motive? Not theft, nor land grab, as in Zimbabwe — but revenge, fuelled by racism and envy. And as the killing goes on, the police do nothing. Brian Moynahan reports.

The N1 is South Africa’s grand trunk road. It runs north from Cape Town and the Paarl vineyards, clean across the country, past the flyovers and interchanges of Johannesburg and Pretoria, until it ends at Beitbridge, the border crossing on the Limpopo.

Here, a darker Africa begins: Robert Mugabe’s ruined Zimbabwe, the towns squalid and shattered, the countryside desolate and overgrown. Many of its famished and tattered blacks seek to escape at Beitbridge, swimming the river, or paying the waiting omalume, “uncles”, the people traffickers, to smuggle them past the border patrols to a new life in South Africa.

For almost all of its 1,200 miles of polished tarmac and plump service stations, the N1 offers evidence that post-apartheid South Africa has avoided the bloodshed and collapse that have haunted its neighbours. In a continent awash with troubles, its prosperity and stability draw not just illegals from across the Limpopo, but even French-speakers from Niger and the distant Sahara.

A tiny half-mile section of the N1, though, past Mokopane in Limpopo Province, chills the heart. It is overlooked by a large white cross that lies on a green hillside. Look closer, and the cross is seen to be made up of scores of small white crosses planted in neat lines. And then the eye is drawn to what seem to be bursts of snowdrops on the kopjes, the two small hills that lie on each side of the cross. These, too, are little white crosses, swirling on the slope.

The Afrikaners, the native whites of South Africa, have a flair for setting monuments to their rugged history in such sweeps of landscape. The crosses are their handiwork – or, more specifically, that of the “Boers”, or “farmers”. They seem to commemorate some distant epic, a trek with ox wagons, a battle with Zulus or the British.

But Mokopane is not to do with the past. The word “Plaasmoorde” is hand-lettered on the slope. It means “farm murders”. Over 1,700 of South Africa’s commercial farmers and their families, mostly white and Afrikaans, but including a substantial number of English speakers, have been killed since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The ages of the victims vary – from infants to people in their eighties. The attackers usually operate in gangs of three to eight. Extreme violence, including rape, torture and physical mutilation, is often involved. Sometimes nothing is stolen, leading to claims that the attackers are motivated by racism and a desire for revenge.

Mokopane, then, deals with the present, and, in the most brutal way, with a future in which the rural Boers, for more than 300 years the white tribe of Africa, fear they face extinction.

The world has more than an inkling of what has happened in Zimbabwe. Over the past six years, to the accompaniment of farm invasions, beatings, livestock maiming and now mass hunger, Mugabe has seized more than nine-tenths of his country’s white-owned commercial farms. He is about to complete the ethnic cleansing of rural Zimbabwe.

What is happening in South Africa is less known and is, in most respects, different. In Zimbabwe it is government policy, instigated by the president, and seen through by party thugs. South Africa, in which the bulk of commercial farmland remains in white hands, has model policies of land restitution and reform – validation by land claims courts, compensation at market value, incentives for black empowerment and land ownership – whose principles are accepted by most landowners.

The process of restitution is intended to be scrupulously fair, untouched by the rancour that built up over the long years of baaskap, white supremacy. Whites moved from areas designated as black “homelands” by the apartheid regime are entitled to claim on the same basis as displaced blacks, though the latter- are far more numerous. Valuations are by independent assessors. Progress has been slow, though the white farmers have little reason to complain. A decade after apartheid, less than 5% of commercial farmland is in black hands, though the government has set a target of redistributing 30% of white-owned land to blacks by 2014.

For all the legislation and goodwill, there is horror. Zimbabwe’s white farmers were expelled, and uncompensated. Very few were murdered.It is true, sadly, that South Africa suffers from a general epidemic of violence, and farmers cannot expect to be immune in a country where 18,793 people were murdered in the year to March 2005, the great majority of them urban blacks.

But the farmers’ numbers are small, and their vulnerability high: 10 times higher than for the population at large, or so it is claimed, making them the most at-risk profession in the non-military world. Go to the farmlands, and it shows.

The last town on the N1 before Musina and the Zimbabwe border is Makhado. It was named, until recently, after Louis Trichardt, the Boer Voortrekker, who reached the foot of the Soutpansberg mountains here in 1836, on his way north to escape the British at the Cape.Tollbooths mark the approach of the town. A gravel road leads from the tarmac. After some distance, a gate and a long rutted track mark the entrance to a farm set well back from the road.

It is owned by Ernest Breytenbach. He has 120 cattle on 5,700 acres, with a simple house built round an Aga brought in by wagon in the 1920s.His father, André, was killed when he got out of his “bakkie” (pick-up truck) at the gate in August 1998. It was a bad month on the farms: 66 people were murdered – four of them set on fire. In another attack, the farmer had been bound and beaten, but nothing was taken from the house and his firearm was still on the wardrobe.

“They were waiting for my dad to get back from dropping off his workers,” Breytenbach says. “He was shot in the stomach. They made off with his bakkie and dumped him. When we found him, they’d taken the spotlights off the bakkie. They put them by his face, like eyes, and they put the licence plates at his head and his feet. I don’t know why they did it. Maybe it was to say, ‘Look what we did,’ to get on the front page.”

Breytenbach blames the ruling ANC, President Thabo Mbeki’s African National Congress, for continuing incidents on the farm. “I see people hunting with dogs or collecting firewood on my land,” he says. “I ask my people if they know them. It’s always ‘No’ because they have to answer to them. I have a lot of game theft. They make snares from my fence wire. I think it’s ANC intimidation. They want us out.”

His father was the first to be murdered at Louis Trichardt. Many attacks have followed. Werner and Brigitte Wiedeck live close by, in a pin-neat house with garden gnomes in the conservatory and doilies on the armchairs. They have been robbed eight times in three years. Twice they were beaten. The worst was last April.

“They put a gun to my husband’s head and tied him up, and gagged me with a scarf,” says Brigitte. “Then they started beating me with a steel pole. They already had all our money, but they kept demanding more. I was choking on my own blood. I feigned dead and they went.

“I got free and I cut Werner loose. I was very lucky. The doctors were fighting for three days for my life. I had serious skull fractures. I needed nine steel plates. I lost my right eye.” The police, she says, took two hours to drive the few miles from town. “No one checked for bullets, for fingerprints, for tracks in the bush. They did more or less nothing.”

Dolores de Agrella runs Adam’s Apple, a roadside inn on the way into town. “There was a whole spate of attacks in June 2004,” she says. “We were robbed twice: videos, TVs, even a pot of oxtail I was making for Father’s Day lunch. We were cleaned out, so I thought we were safe. One evening, the dog barked, and a figure appeared in my room. He pulled my jaw down and put a gun in my mouth, and pulled the trigger. Without a word. Just like that. But it didn’t go off. Then he started trying to pull me down. I started kicking and screaming and grappling with him. He was a puny little thing. As fast as he’d arrived, he was gone. I’m only alive because he had the wrong calibre bullet in the gun.” The aftermath, she says, was terrible. “The pit of my stomach was churning and churning. My life-saver was a pepper spray. I’d sit clutching it the whole time like a TV remote.

“If we got a good offer, I’d be straight off. It’s harder for the Afrikaners, though. This is their heritage.

Their fathers and grandfathers were born on their farms. It’s different for them.”

One of those is Celia Guillaume. She was the first woman in Africa to become a licensed big-game hunter. She has ranged across southern Africa in her bakkie, an independent and once fearless soul who grew up with the locals. She built a house on her father’s land, looking out across the Soutpansberg, green and alpine in the rain, with thatched rondavels (circular buildings) in a miniature village she built for conferences.

She grows flowers and nuts on her 500 acres, and has a seed export business. “I was 100% self-sufficient,” she says. “I grew maize and coffee, soya beans, chickens, butter, milk. I shot a bushbuck every month. I loved it. I didn’t mind being alone. Now, I won’t come here on my own. I don’t like being here at night, even if I have people staying.”

Her four attackers came one morning last year. “I’m sure it was an inside job,” she says. “I was packed to go to Zambia the next day, and I had a lot of foreign currency. They knew I was alone.

They hit me with guns, and stripped me, and tied me up and gagged me. They had everything they wanted right away. Everything in my safe, my guns, everything with a plug on it – TV, stereo – all my CDs, the keys to my bakkie. But they stayed on for hours. I thought they were going to kill me. My father comes up to see me at 5pm every evening, and I thought, ‘Please, God, don’t let Daddy find me dead like this.’ Then they went off in the bakkie, and I managed to free myself. But it’s still there. They f*** up your future, and they also steal your yesterdays.”

She has no confidence in the police. “We can’t depend on them,” she says. “The farmers were here first. They washed my blood, they found my bakkie. When the police finally came, they fingerprinted everything, videoed it, took still pictures – and all of it has disappeared.

“We knew who’d done it soon enough. Local people know. They came from 40 kilometres away. They were caught with my personal possessions on them and in their homes. The dossier was opened for attempted murder and armed robbery. But because it all went missing, they were charged with possession of stolen property and got a slap on the wrist. They’re already out. If I did pursue it, they might kill me next time. They’ve rung me to say, ‘We know you haven’t got a gun now, we had six months inside because of you, we’re going to get you.’”

Mimie du Toit runs a game farm that caters for hunters, mainly Scandinavian and Spanish. Her husband was killed when the steering column on his vehicle broke on a hunting trip. Her father, Ben Keyter, farmed cattle 30 miles away. He was murdered in January 2005.

“They asked my mom for water,” she says. “She opened the door and they pushed in. Two of them pulled my dad outside. They made my mom watch while they killed him with a spade. They said, ‘Look, you can’t help him.’ Then they hit my mom very bad. She had blood all on one side, and they threw the deepfreeze on top of her and left her for dead. Then she got a stroke. Now she’s in Pretoria for speech therapy.” Her father was 79. He was killed for his cell phone and his 780 rand (£70) monthly pension. Three arrests were made. “It was the farmers who got them,” she says.

“The police did nothing.”

Her father’s farm has to go. “I’m busy selling it,” she says. “I have to, to pay for my mom’s treatment.

But I’m going to stay here. I don’t have an electric fence. I trust in the Lord. He will help me. “I was very bitter at first. That passed with losing my husband. I realised it doesn’t matter how you die.

And I have my three children. “But I will say this: if I killed one of them, you’d hear it all over the world. But if they kill my dad, no one hears anything, not even here.”

There are other stories, one after another. Herman de Jager’s father, Pieter, was shot as years of work came to fruition. The family had cleared the bush from their land, by hand and tractor, and planted 7,800 macadamia nut trees – Pieter de Jager had hand-grafted each one himself.

“That morning, we finished the drip irrigation system,” de Jager says. “We said, ‘Now we’re ready to farm.’ I was away from the house. My mother got me on the cell, she said it’s a farm attack. I found my father under a tree. He died in my arms.”

Billy Meyer, a small-scale farmer, was shot dead through the head at 7.30pm on a Saturday as he sat in his house with his baby. Farmers tracked his killers for 60 kilometres towards the border with Zimbabwe but did not catch them. His near neighbours Gillie and Sophia Fick have a prosperous spread of 17,000 acres. “It’s only God’s will that we’re still here,” they say. At 5.45am, Gillie got into his bakkie to drive out to the fields. There were four attackers. Two of them pointed guns at his head. They pulled him out of the truck and forced him to the ground.

Then they started breaking in the windows and burglar bars with a pickaxe.“I heard the glass go,” says Sophia. “I took my pistol and fired three shots out through the curtains. I wasn’t worried for my husband. I thought he was already dead. Then I pushed the panic alarm. The siren went off. They fired some shots and drove off in our bakkie. They dumped it at the tarmac road, where they had cars waiting.”

“The farmers put up a roadblock and caught some of them,” says Gillie. “We got a helicopter from friends and we spotted another in thick bush and caught him. The police were hopeless. They didn’t even take fingerprints from my bakkie, though the four of them were in it.”

Their farmhouse, like others, is surrounded by a high electric fence. “But there’s no way you can stop them,” Gillie says. “They dug a hole under it. They use aerosol cooking oil or fly killer to deal with the dogs. They smash burglar bars. I’ve put concrete foundations round the fence. Next time, they’re going to have to dig a deeper hole.”

“Kill the farmer! Kill the Boer!” was a slogan of ANC guerrillas in apartheid days. A presidential commission into the attacks examined claims that the ANC remains involved, and that the assaults are part of a deliberate campaign. No evidence has been found. No pattern has emerged.

Some attackers are locals. Some are Zimbabwean. Some drive 200 miles to the farms from the Jo’burg townships. Some are revenge attacks by disaffected employees. Some are motivated by money – attacks the night before payday, when there is cash in the farmhouse. In others, valuables are ignored and nothing is taken. The government is manifestly innocent - of inspiring the attacks, but ministers are more open to charges of neglect. South Africa is a mining and industrial giant.

It is the wealthiest country in Africa. Agriculture accounts for only 3.4% of the economy, though it employs 30% of the labour force. That makes it easier to ignore. The Cape winelands and golf courses, the Garden Route along the coast to Durban, the Kruger national park – the tourist gems that attract visitors by the thousands – are tucked away from the worst areas of violence.

“Rural insecurity gets swept under the carpet,” says Chris van Zyl, who is responsible for security in the TAU (Transvaal Agriculture Union). “It’s stock theft and livestock maiming, too, and harvest theft, fields stripped of maize, orchards of fruit. As a career, farming is blighted. When a farmer dies, the chances are there’s no family member willing to take over the farm.”

His colleague Gideon Meining, a farmer, is a case in point. His one son is a businessman. The other is in London, one of as many as 1.4m South Africans thought to be living in Britain.

Black as well as white farmers are targeted. “We’ve black members who’ve lost so much cattle and sheep, they say they can’t continue with livestock,” says Kobus Visser, spokesman for another big farmers’ union. “But they have less chance of being murdered.”

The record of livestock thefts from April to September 2005 show that 30,000 cattle and 49,000 sheep were stolen. In the same period, the Krugersdorp rural area reported 29 farm attacks, eight murders, six farmers shot, 22 beaten and one raped, 45 break-ins and 12 armed robberies.

“We recorded 97 farm attacks in this small area last year, with 14 murders,” says Trevor Roberts, who runs the private Conserv security services near Muldersdrift, just northwest of Jo’burg. “This year is worse. We’ve had 28 attacks in less than two months, with three murders. If it was all criminality, they’d do it when people are away,” Roberts says. “But they don’t. They wait for people to come home, and sometimes they torture them and kill them.”

The attackers who shot Peter Binggeli, one of Roberts’s clients, on his farm, waited until the family was home at 11:30pm. Binggeli was shot three times and beaten with an iron bar. He owes his life to his wife. She ran into the bush. The attackers failed to find her and fled, fearing she had called for help. Eiderdowns stolen from a wendy house on the farm were found behind rocks. It was clear the attackers had lain there for days observing the Binggelis before they struck.

The elderly are often targeted. Nearby, Paul Hart grew up on the farm where his parents, John and Sylvia, lived for 43 years. It is called Swing-gate Farm after a lane in Berkhamsted. “Mum and Dad came out from Hertfordshire in 1949. Dad had £46. This place was bare veld.”

The house they built is thatched, the gardens shaded by the trees they planted. A finely restored Jaguar XK140 and a yellow E-type in the garage hint at John Hart’s business. “Dad was a mechanical engineer,” says Hart. “Mum was the farmer – rabbits, asparagus, Jersey cattle, market gardening and dairy. We children would help pack the food to take off to market. They didn’t want to retire to the city. They wanted to stay here. Dad was 88 and Mum was 83. But they were still -fit. Dad swam every day. He restored his cars. He was a perfectionist. He played golf and classical guitar. He took precautions.”

A high electric fence runs round the house and gardens. John Hart checked it every day at 5pm.

The windows and doors are guarded by thick burglar bars. He had a .38 revolver.

At some time between 12.30 and 2.30pm on November 18 last year, he was outside the fence by the cattle sheds when he was battered to death. Sylvia was in the house. The gate in the fence was opened, and the attackers got into the house. They seem to have first beaten her for the key to the upstairs safe. Then, although by now they had John Hart’s .38, they beat her to death with one of her husband’s golf clubs.

Africa had been kind to the Harts. “Not long before they died, Mum gave Dad a big kiss,” says Hart’s sister, Lesley. “And she said, ‘Thank you for bringing me to Africa. I’ve had a marvellous life.’” Her brother says he understands the motives for robbery. “When there’s no work, a man has to feed his family,” he says. “We’re soft targets. Close to town, near highways, nice open farmland, fairly well off. I can accept the crime. But not the violence that goes with it. They had the key to the safe. They had a revolver. Why bludgeon an 83-year-old lady to death? I don’t think robbery was the main motive. The gardener hasn’t been since before the murder. Something Dad said upset him. I think this was a revenge attack.”

The police, he says, are hopelessly under-resourced. “The local police station is only three kilometres away, but it’s two-thirds under strength in manpower. It has so few vehicles that sometimes policemen have to use their own.”

He has put the farm on the market. He and his sister only visit now with their private security guard, Godknows Malulaka, and his shotgun. Though they are still British citizens, like other victims, the British government has shown little interest in their fate.

President Mbeki has said that whites have a “psychosis” of “fear about their survival in a sea of black savages”. He has said, remarkably, that they are “addicted” to their fear. Farmers blame government indifference. “Protection isn’t improving,” says van Zyl. “It’s getting worse.”

“We had our commandos, authorised volunteers who’d served in the army, in country districts,” says Meining. “They gave real security. But the government has disbanded most of them, so we try to look after ourselves with Farm Watch, our own self-defence groups.”

Police are short of manpower and training. Accusations of incompetence – failing to fingerprint, to take blood samples, basic police skills – are widespread. Kiewiet Ferreira, of the Agri SA farmers’ union, spoke last month of the “helplessness and frustration” among farmers, black and white, at the “apparent unwillingness and ignorance” of some police officers.

“It’s common knowledge among prosecutors and the public that cases are not properly investigated,” says Reino Mostert, control prosecutor at Makhado. “Experts should be first at a murder scene. They’re not. The local uniformed men get there and wander round, and the evidence deteriorates. The unnecessary violence is what worries me. I’ve discussed this with fellow prosecutors, and I can tell you, there are no attacks like this on black farmers. I know these people who’ve been killed. Like Ben Keyter, a lovely old man, defenceless, killed like a dog.”

It is, of course, to South Africa’s credit that it has become more difficult to get a conviction. In apartheid days, confessions were wrung from suspects easily enough. But Mostert himself knows the near-collapse of law and order. “I was woken up by breaking glass at 4am,” he says.

“I shouted, ‘Get me my pistol – I’m going to kill them.’ I hoped that would see them off. But it didn’t. They got in and they were taking the DVD and TV by the time I’d got a rifle. I had my wife and kids there. I swear I’d have shot them dead. But then they made off. I fired some shots after them.”

The prosecutor, it should be added, lives across the street from the courthouse and police station.

Makhado boasts a high-security prison too – the most modern in the country. It houses 3,800 hardened criminals. The prison choir performed with Jo’burg’s symphony orchestra in February. It says much for the new South Africa.

So, alas, does what followed last month. The wardens went on strike. The inmates rioted and set one of the blocks on fire. No police or troops were at hand to secure the perimeter. The prison authorities asked Farm Watch for help. As flames and smoke drifted across the night, every 20 yards a bakkie was drawn up at the wire, and a Boer, unmistakable in rugger shorts and a khaki shirt, stood guard until the army arrived.

Zimbabwe’s cull of farmers can be repeated by default, as well as by design. There are signs of growing haste and impatience in land reform. New possibilities of legalised expropriation were opened on March 1. The deputy president, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, spoke at a recent conference in Pretoria. “We’ve got lessons to learn from Zimbabwe,” she said. “How to do it fast. We need a bit of oomph. So, we might want some skills exchange between us and Zimbabwe.”

The remark was made with a smile, it was reported, and “to muted laughter”.

The farmers in her audience might be forgiven for not getting the joke.

Source: The Sunday Times (UK)