Farm attacks in the Free State have decreased significantly during the past three years, although the number of people murdered has remained the same. The eastern Free State had more attacks than other areas, and most attacks took place on weekends.

Lees dit in Afrikaans. 

These statistics are from Free State Agriculture’s (FSA) VKB Safety Desk 2018 analysis which compared statistics over a three-year period. FSA’s analysis applies to farm attacks and murders in the Free State between the start of 2016 and the end of 2018.

According to Dr Jane Buys, FSA safety and risk analyst, the report shows a “reasonable decline” in farm attacks. “During 2016 there were 59 incidents, in 2017 there were 72, and in 2018 there were 39 attacks,” Dr Buys said.

“What is worrying, is that the number of people murdered on farms and/or smallholdings where workers, emerging farmers and commercial farmers are targeted, remained roughly the same. The numbers dropped a little, from seven killings in 2016, to six in 2017 and 2018,” she added.

Targeted areas
The report also shows that the northern Free State had the most attacks and murders in 2016 and 2017, with 26 in 2016 and 30 in 2017. In 2018 the eastern Free State had the most incidents at 18 reported. The southern Free State is the least targeted area with 19 attacks in 2016, 13 in 2017 and six in 2018.

The most targeted towns during the three-year period were Bloemfontein (mostly the smallholding area), Clocolan, Ficksburg and Ladybrand. In 2016, 41 Free State towns and/or agricultural communities experienced farm attacks and murders. This dropped to 30 towns, in 2018.

Violent crimes from attempted murder incidents in agricultural communities have dropped from 15 in 2016 to five in 2017 and 2018. The most serious crime on farmland has been armed and/or house robbery.

Timing of crimes
Free State farm attacks happened mostly in August and March and generally on weekends between Friday and Sunday (19 out of 39 in 2018). Roughly 50% of attacks happen on Saturday; Tuesday has featured during the past two years.

Another fact worth mentioning is that most farm attacks seem to take place towards the middle and end of the month between the 9th and the 15th, and again between the 26th and the 30th.

Only slightly more than 50% of attacks occur at night, between 6pm and midnight.

Shifting trends and age group targets
Most of the victims were alone when they were attacked. However, it is a concern to note that in 22 out of 59 attacks in 2016, in 29 out of 72 attacks in 2017 and in 16 out of 39 attacks (about 37% to 41%), two or more victims were targeted. During the three-year period, 2017 was the year with most attacks on children, during farm attacks. In 2016, 50% of the victims were younger than 50, in 2017, 36,4% were younger than 50, and in 2018, 52,38% were younger than 50. It seems that younger victims are being targeted.

In 47 out of 59 attacks in 2016 (79,66%), in 58 out of 72 attacks in 2017 (80,55%) and in 32 out of 39 attacks in 2018 (82,05%), between two and seven attackers were involved in farm attacks and/or murders. Thus, between 79,6% and 82,1% of attacks were committed by larger groups.

In 48% to 61% of attacks firearms are used by attackers. Other dangerous weapons include walking sticks, bows, spears, garden forks and iron pipes.

In 19 out of 59 attacks in 2016 (32,2%), in 22 out of 72 attacks in 2017 (30,55%) and in 20 out of 39 attacks (51,28%) in 2018, vehicles were used by attackers to move to and from the crime scenes. In 15% to 20% of attacks, vehicles belonged to the victims.

It is worth mentioning that in 2016, in 13 out of 59 attacks, in 2017, in 19 out of 72 attacks, and in 2018, in four out of 39 attacks, there were no robberies. In most of these cases this was due to victim awareness where the victims set off an alarm, or fought off or shot at attackers who left the scene without harming, or robbing, the victims.

In 16 out of 59 cases in 2016, in 26 out of 72 cases in 2017, and in 13 out of 39 cases in 2018, arrests (between 27% and 36%) were made. In many cases, arrests were made by farmers who had mobilised and closed off areas preventing attackers from escaping.

Prevention is key concern
Of concern is that between 22% and 35% of attacks were preventable. In some cases, victims had opened the door to the attacker/s in response to a knock. Sleeping victims were woken at night by attackers who were moving freely inside the house, because there were no security gates in place and no dogs. Some victims were attacked when they went outside to investigate their dogs barking.  There are also many incidents where windows and doors are not closed or locked and criminals gain entry without breaking in. This makes it easy for criminals to overwhelm and attack victims. In 21 out of 59 attacks in 2016 (35,59%), in 16 out of 72 attacks in 2017 (22,22%) and in 11 out of 39 attacks in 2018 (28,21%), attacks were attributed to poor safety measures or victim negligence. – Free State Agriculture newsletter