Nechama Brodie challenges myths of the ‘white genocide’ in her book Farm Killings in South Africa
Brodie’s new book explores news reports, data, legal cases and expert research on violence on farms, including violence experienced by farm labourers and in black communities surrounding mostly white-owned farmlands, which is often overlooked and under-reported.
Very few farm murders appear to be committed for political reasons. But the response to them is often political. Making up less than half a percent of all homicides reported each year, farm killings dominate the national narrative on violence. At the heart of the conflict is a long history of violence on agricultural land, and deep-rooted fears and prejudices about race, belonging, and who gets to feel safe in South Africa.
In this powerful new book, journalist and violence researcher Dr Nechama Brodie challenges many of the myths used to narrate farm killings. The story it reveals lays bare the connections and disconnections between people, place and past history that contribute to the violence of the present.
Brodie is a journalist and the author of several books; she holds a PhD from Wits University, where she is also an occasional lecturer, and heads the Homicide Media Tracker project, researching media coverage of violence. Here is an excerpt of Farm Killings in South Africa.
Note: In Farm Killings in South Africa, Brodie discovers previously unknown links between online accounts posting often false and unproven claims about farm murders in South Africa, with right-wing international movements including Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik. In this extract, she discusses how the term ‘genocide’ started being used to describe the murders of white South Africans.
Around the early 2000s, a woman by the name of Adriana Stuijt began to pop up in South African news articles, mentioned in connection with various ‘internet freedom’ projects she was working on, including a website that was collecting and publishing statistics about farm murders in South Africa.
Stuijt was Dutch born but had grown up and worked for many years as a journalist in South Africa, under the name of Ada Stuijt. At one time she’d been married to Boerestaat Party founder Robert van Tonder; the party, which was never officially registered, advocated the creation of a new Boer state incorporating the former Boer republics. Somewhat surprisingly, given her later extreme views, she worked extensively for the Rand Daily Mail, which was generally considered the most left-leaning of the mainstream papers.
After Van Tonder’s death, Stuijt had remarried, and had returned to Holland in the early 1990s with her second husband, a press photographer by the name of Pierre Oosthuysen. He passed away in 2002. At the time of his death, Stuijt was said to be operating a site called Journalism Under Apartheid, which reportedly covered crime in South Africa, particularly crimes committed against white farmers, and another site called Censorbugbear.
The name for the latter platform appeared to have stemmed from Stuijt’s growing agitation about what she claimed was increasing internet censorship in South Africa. The previous year, in August 2001, the Mail & Guardian had published an article about a viral disinformation campaign led and coordinated by Stuijt that had claimed, among other things, that South Africa was on the verge of Chinese-style clampdowns on freedom of speech under the Interception and Monitoring Bill that was about to be introduced to parliament. While the contents of the Bill did raise some valid concerns, particularly about potential abuse by the state, Stuijt’s accusations bordered on the absurd: they included that censorship by South African authorities had contributed to the global spread of foot and mouth disease. She also claimed that there was a ‘media blackout’ on the violence being experienced by farmers.
By then Stuijt was also writing for conservative or right-wing American sites like NewsMax (one of her NewsMax articles, also from 2001, was titled ‘The New South Africa: Whites Viciously Massacred’) and appeared to have continued her somewhat hyperbolic relationship with facts. A few weeks after Oosthuysen’s death, for example, she had accused the South African police of having used a private ID photo of her dead husband to depict the suspected ‘Soweto bomber’, instead of the photo of the rightwinger who was actually wanted in connection with a series of bomb blasts in Soweto. Both the police and Oosthuysen’s own family dismissed Stuijt’s claims, and the police confirmed that the photograph they’d shared with the media was of the actual suspect, a 30-year-old Bela-Bela resident named Gerhard Visagie. Other news reports at the time claimed that a Dutch woman, ‘Andrea Stuigt’, had deliberately laid a false charge at the South African embassy in the Netherlands in order to ‘create confusion’ about the identity of the suspect.
Fabrication and embellishment served Stuijt well. In 2003, she appeared in a locally produced documentary called Bloody Harvest, about the ‘gruesome reality’ of farm murders in South Africa, which was broadcast on the widely acclaimed investigative show Carte Blanche. A subsequent article about the documentary in the weekly farmers’ publication Landbouweekblad said that, according to Interpol, farmers were being murdered at a rate of 330 deaths for every 100,000 farmers. This figure seems to have been made up by Stuijt; no Interpol source for this claim can be found.
Bloody Harvest also introduced South African audiences to another persona, a retired American law professor by the name of Gregory H Stanton, who had founded an organisation called Genocide Watch and who, the report said, believed South Africa was already at ‘Stage Five’ in what was then his self-defined eight stages of genocide (this was later changed to ten stages).
Over the next decade and more, both Adriana Stuijt and Gregory Stanton would go on to play disproportionately large roles in crafting, enabling and endorsing a new narrative of farm killings, one that would claim that the attacks and murders of white farmers in South Africa were not only race-based hate crimes, but acts of genocide.
Before the 1990s, the Afrikaans word ‘volksmoord’ (genocide) appeared in the South African press almost exclusively in relation to events in other countries – the Jewish holocaust during the Second World War, Muslim ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the massacres of Tutsi people in Rwanda in 1994, and so on. The Afrikaner, the official publication of the Herstigte Nasionale Party, a far-right offshoot of the National Party, did also use the term to refer to ‘forcing’ white people to integrate with black people at public swimming pools and other communal facilities during the Aids pandemic (27 March 1991), while another unnamed Afrikaans publication used the term to describe the actions of white Christian women who had abortions (31 March 1994). And in late 2001 the term was also used in an article that appeared in Rapport, referring to Thabo Mbeki’s fatally flawed Aids policies.
‘Volksmoord’ was also used in connection with the actions of the British government during the 1899–1902 South African War (also known as the Second Boer War or Second Anglo-Boer War), where tens of thousands of Boer women and children had been placed in concentration camps by British forces. The terrible conditions and abhorrent treatment in the camps resulted in the deaths of over 4,000 women and 22,000 children, as well a smaller number of men, who were interred mostly because they were too old to fight. There were also as many as 20,000 fatalities in separate black concentration camps, most of them young children. These camps and deaths have historically been given significantly less attention.
During the late 1990s, as the centenary of the South African War approached, there were many editorials in newspapers like the Afrikaner calling for the British government to acknowledge its past actions and to apologise for the murders of so many Afrikaner women and children. In one such editorial in the Afrikaner, the author/s, never really known for pretending to be anything other than what they were (i.e. flaming racists and bigots), made this comment: ‘Daar word deesdae baie gepraat van volksmoord. Dit word ook in verskillende verbande gebruik. Die propagandamasjien van die Jode het natuurlik die sogenaamde ses miljoen tot onmenslike proporsies opgejaag.’12 [Today there is a lot of talk about genocide. [The term] is also used in different circumstances. The propaganda machine of the Jews has naturally inflated the so-called six million to inhuman proportions.]
At around the same time, in the period before South Africa’s second democratic elections in 1999, the word ‘volksmoord’ began to appear as a metaphor for the perceived danger posed by the ANC majority to Afrikaners, the Afrikaans language and the Afrikaans way of life. For example, the term was used when the licence renewal application of ‘Boere-Afrikaner’ community radio station Radio Pretoria was refused by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa because of the radio station’s discriminatory employment policies – it only hired white, Afrikaans-speaking people. But even here, this use tended to be limited to fringe, overtly nationalist Afrikaans publications like the Afrikaner and Impak, and was less evident in the larger Afrikaans-language news titles.
But in 2003, not long after the broadcast of Bloody Harvest, the term ‘volksmoord’ started to appear in new contexts – related to crime, and crime against whites in particular. A reader’s letter in Volksblad in August 2003, written by an Afrikaans-speaker living in Australia, warned that the crime epidemic in South Africa had signs of a ‘volksmoord’. In March 2004, in the midst of several coordinated local events and protests against farm killings, Die Burger reported that an American hunter named Don Pengelly was planning to join the protest against the ‘volksmoord’ of South African farmers by holding a protest in America at the same place where John F Kennedy had been assassinated. The Afrikaner embraced the moment much more enthusiastically and started to publish frequent editorials about what it was now overtly calling white genocide – the killings of farmers, and the killings of white South Africans.
Then, in August 2003, an informal volksmoord monument of 1,500 white crosses was planted near the John Vorster offramp next to the N1 highway in Centurion between Johannesburg and Pretoria, to draw attention to the number of white farmers who’d been murdered since 1994 (as a note, according to the TLU/TAU’s data, the number of farm murders between 1994 and 2003 was 802, inclusive of both years). When the crosses were removed by the provincial road administration, it drew critical media attention. Landbouweekblad wrote about the incident, once again mentioning Gregory Stanton and Genocide Watch, and including Stanton’s urgent call to the government to save the ‘boere’ from further extinction. The offramp installation was shortly followed by what would become a more permanent memorial site, the Witkruis Monument (White Cross Monument), on land donated by a local farmer at Ysterberg near Polokwane.
In June 2004 it was reported in both Beeld and Landbouweekblad that Adriana Stuijt, now cast in the role of a ‘Dutch journalist’ fighting against farm attacks, had written a letter about farm murders and sent it to Pope John Paul II.
In May 2005, Rapport interviewed former South African journalist Jani Allan – once a renowned columnist, she had become infamous for her creeping conspiracy theories and a fawning interview with AWB leader Eugene Terre’Blanche – who said she had emigrated from South Africa to the United States four years earlier ‘om aan die “volksmoord op wittes” in Suid-Afrika te ontkom’ [to avoid the ‘genocide against whites’ in South Africa].
In November 2008, congregants in Kameeldrift northeast of Pretoria joined and raised hands in protest against crime. They told Rapport that it was a war, that it was genocide.
The word circulated, gaining traction. DM/ ML
In Farm Killings in South Africa you can read how Adriana Stuijt’s discredited work gained popularity, and how it inspired violent right-wing nationalists in Europe, and how it was used as part of the Freedom Front, and others’, submissions to international organisations.
Farm Killings in South Africa by Nechama Brodie is published by Kwela (R295). Visit The Reading List for South African book news, daily – including excerpts!