Chris Esterhuizen, a taxidermist and chairman of his local neighbourhood watch, says the fear of being attacked is taking a big emotional toll on him. (ABC News)
Every night, local farmers go on patrol around Bela Bela in South Africa’s Limpopo province. Armed and wearing bulletproof vests, they cover more than 160 square kilometres.
Chris Esterhuizen says they have little faith in the police, so they look after themselves.
“You wait four or five hours for the police to come out to assist you. So, we decided to do a neighbourhood watch in our area,” he said.
By day, Mr Esterhuizen runs a local taxidermy business. He is always armed, even in the workshop.
He’s determined to stay in South Africa, but the fear of being attacked is taking a big emotional toll.
“I think there are guys who want to leave everything. But I don’t think it’s so easy. You put your whole life — sorry, this is taking me very seriously. You can’t leave this place. Really,” he said.
According to police figures, 71 people were murdered on South African farms in the year to March 2017.
But farming group Afriforum says that figure does not reflect the full extent of the violence faced by its members.
‘They want our money and our land’
Farmer Berdus Henrico shows two of his bullet wounds. Beside him is his partner Estelle Nieuwenhuys. (ABC News)
In February, armed robbers stormed a farm house in the Melk River district north of Bela Bela.
Berdus Henrico was shot repeatedly at close range and pistol whipped until he was unconscious.
“I was shot two times here,” he said pointing to his shoulder.
“And the other one went in here and went out the back of my neck.”
The attackers tried to take one final shot at Mr Henrico’s head, as his partner Estelle Nieuwenhuys watched on in horror, but the rifle jammed.
“I can’t get that out of my head. Because, I believe that if that shot went down, the next one was for me,” she said.
The robbers escaped and are still at large.
The couple have upgraded their security, including an electric fence.
But they are left wondering at the motive for the attack. Was it an opportunistic robbery or race-based violence?
Mr Henrico has his view.
“It’s hatred from them. The most thing they want to do, is disarm our white people. They want our guns, they want our money and they want our land. That’s the main thing,” he said.
White farmers not the only victims
South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, has denounced the violence against farmers, even though it has been accused by some farming groups of failing to do enough.
ANC national spokesman Pule Mabe says farming families must be safe.
“The ANC is in solidarity with the farmers on that issue. We are standing on their side. The ANC has always declared any acts of terror on other human beings to be acts of criminality,” he said.
More than two decades after the end of apartheid, South Africa’s progress is still overshadowed by division and violence. And it’s not just white farmers who are the victims. Some black farm workers and their families are also suffering.
In April last year, 16-year-old Matlhomola Mosweu was found dead after being accused of stealing a sunflower from a white-owned farm, near the town of Coligny in South Africa’s north west.
The death has devastated his father, Sakkie Dingake.
“It was painful, to be honest, because I expected a lot of him. My son had a vision of what he wanted to become in the future,” Mr Dingake said.
Two white farmers have been charged in connection with the killing. Both maintain their innocence. The case is still before the courts.
Matlhomola’s parents are former farm workers. They live in a squatter camp with hundreds of others who are jobless and landless.
“Based on my experience, it’s not blacks who are victimising them. It is them who are victimising blacks,” Mr Dingake said.
Local residents rioted when Matlhomola’s body was found, lashing out at white residents, burning down homes and looting businesses.
‘There is no white genocide’
The tension in some communities is escalating, as the South African government promises to launch a land reform program.
White farmers have accused leaders of political parties, such as the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), of using hate speech to encourage genocide and land invasions.
But EFF national spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi disagrees.
“It’s an exaggeration. It’s not even an exaggeration, it’s a falsehood. There is no white genocide. There is no political movement to kill white people. There are no political intentions to the killing of whites,” Mr Ndlozi said.
The EFF is backing the call for white farms to be handed back to the millions of black South Africans who work the land but don’t own it. After years of avoiding any action, the South African Government says it will change the law so it can seize land without compensation.
“Land is a matter of pride. The best way you can restore the pride of our people is to give them back their land,” ANC national spokesman Mr Mabe said.
White landowners, such as Mr Esterhuizen from Bela Bela, say the land wasn’t stolen.
“I mean, nobody here just gets land. Where ever you go, you have to buy your farm, you have to buy your land. So the EFF guys just want to take land over. They say it’s their land. So, it’s a problem’, Mr Esterhuizen said.
Anger over Peter Dutton’s suggestion
Peter Dutton said he hoped to resettle some of South Africa’s white farmers in Australia. (ABC News: Adam Kennedy)
The suggestion by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton of special visas for white farmers to go to Australia has angered the South African Government.
“No one must ever, regardless of which country they find themselves in, must ever undermine how the people of South Africa process their own revolution. We are peace-loving individuals,” Mr Mabe said.
The EFF has ridiculed the visa suggestion.
“South Africa and the history of white Australia, they share the same racism, the same hatred, the same phobia with white people in South Africa of black people,” Mr Ndlozi said.
“Therefore they are plugging into that. So, we are not shocked that such a thing would come from Australia.
“White people would be running away, if they were to run to Australia, they would be running away from themselves. Because they are afraid of equality.”