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Truths for Trump on South African farmers

  • 28 August 2018


The farm attack I remember most poignantly was the one in which an elderly man was beaten about the head and body, forced to hand over money and guns to his attackers and tied up beside his wife.

It wasn't a particularly brutal attack; unlike others I'd reported on, he hadn't had a kettle of boiling water poured down his throat, nor had his wife been gang raped, urinated on and shot dead by her attackers. He'd managed to escape with nothing more than deep wounds to his head and arms and an unwavering sense of humour: he'd scored two bottles of whiskey out of the ordeal. 'I bet the police sergeants a bottle each they wouldn't catch these criminals,' he sighed, holding the bloodstained club that had been used against him. Unsurprisingly, they never did.

It was the mid-1990s, and I was living on a farm halfway between Johannesburg and Nelspruit and working as a regional newspaper and radio correspondent. Attacks and murders were part of my daily beat. Murder rates in post-apartheid South Africa were high, not least in the townships, to which many black South Africans were still confined and where life had always been cheap (especially when the apartheid-era security forces came knocking). Democracy had brought with it riches for the expanding political elite, ongoing prosperity for most white South Africans, and unrelenting poverty for those who had suffered most under apartheid.

My interview with the farmer — an Italian migrant who'd lived in South Africa for almost 40 years — was memorable because I'd taken my two small children along (they often accompanied me on my rounds), and his wife had fed them Smarties and taken great pleasure in their Italianesque names. It was such a beautiful day I'd written about it in my diary afterwards: 'We clattered past the cows, who had come home for milking, and a farm labourer grinned broadly at us and waved. As we made our way back to the main road, we silently absorbed the beauty of this land. I marvelled once again how wonderful it was to be alive.'

Such was the complexity and dysfunction of this newly democratic country: the farmer's wife clucked about my children despite her recent ordeal; and I was filled with gratitude for this place amid the unbearable violence that was being inflicted upon it.

By the time I left my homeland at the end of 2001 (for