PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – Rising violence in South Africa has become a major concern for travelers after the US State Department issued a travel advisory in December. But it isn't just petty theft that is the problem. Some South Africans say the government itself is encouraging lawlessness.
South African farmers Mariandra Heunis and her husband Johann were asleep when the 32-year-old mother of three woke up to a scary sound.
"I heard what the police explained to me later was the cocking of the gun, and I sat up straight and the two attackers were standing at my feet with a gun pointed at me and I started screaming," Heunis told CBN News. "And my husband woke up, and we explained to them that we don't have money in the house but they can take anything they want. Then they shot Johann five times, right next to me.
The men executed her husband in cold blood. But they weren't finished.
"So when they demanded to take me downstairs, we had a little struggle, and I refused. Because I know when they take you aside they normally rape you and then you get killed. At that point, my little girl put her hand up and said 'You want money? I've got money in my piggy bank. You can take my piggy bank. Just leave my mommy alone," Heunis continued.
Farmers Say Violence Encouraged by the Government
Inexplicably the men left without doing any more harm or robbing the house. It was another brutal murder in a series of attacks on predominantly white farmers in South Africa, which some say are being encouraged by the government.
"We have very senior government officials who publicly sing songs about killing farmers," said Ernst Roets, who heads Afriforum, a civil rights organization based in Pretoria.
"They would say, well, this minority community, they have all the wealth, and it's because they stole everything from you and they exploited you," Roets explained.
"Your chances of being murdered if you are a farmer is twice as high as if you are a police officer in South Africa. Which clearly shows that there's a very serious problem," he said.
Farmers and businesses are now forced to hire private security companies for protection. Ian Cameron leads one such team. He is the head of community safety for Afriforum.
"We make sure that our community structures and that our members in the region and that their property is kept safe and, for example, are not burned down," Cameron said. "In the last three years several farms were set on fire and we need to make sure that doesn't happen."
Expropriation without Compensation
The South African Government has over 42 million acres of land that's publicly owned. That means it could give every south African family over two and a half acres of their own property if it wanted to. But instead, it's been pushing this idea of expropriation without compensation, which means taking land away from farmers who have title and deed to their land – some of whom have been on their property for generations. And that's causing some serious unrest. One of the problems is that people have decided they're going to go and claim their land right away, which means they are moving onto people's land and squatting, trespassing, and setting up houses and even whole villages on people's farms.
"For the past two to three years, the expropriation without compensation issue has become a major topic in the public debate," Cameron said. "Since that has happened we've seen a drastic increase in illegal land occupation, in fact, what we've recorded is more than 110 cases since January 2019 where land is being illegally occupied. A lot of it is state land and other times it's private [land]."
The promise of free land is causing another problem – massive illegal migration.
"Now you've got literally millions of illegal immigrants coming across our borders, our borders are not protected at all," Cameron explained.
Social welfare doesn't exist in very many countries in Africa. Just north of Pretoria sits a slum that is inhabited by several thousand people, many of them are illegal immigrants who have come in from other African countries. And the reason they come to South Africa is to work on the farms and because the women can get money for the babies born in South Africa in the form of a stipend. And they actually live on that stipend, which is creating a large number of illegal migrants coming south across the border in order to take advantage of those welfare programs.
I think the risk is that these people are clogging up the health system and local people are being left behind," said Cameron.
Some Claim South African Government "Losing Control"
The massive wave of migrants has caused a backlash of violent riots and protests across the country, which is yet another reason many believe the South African government is losing control.
"We don't have a decent police reservist structure so communities are being left to fend for themselves," Cameron explained. "And that's when they turn to places like Afriforum, where we train them how to act within the framework of the law, what they need to do, how they can defend themselves and that's how we move forward."