|Title:||The Farm Killings|
Shortly after South Africas first democratic elections were held in 1994, white agricultural
associations raised the cry that their members were being killed in increasing numbers by
predatory criminals. A moral panic followed. The killings were dubbed farm murders and
were said to be orchestrated by shadowy forces, possibly connected to the new
government, and aimed at driving white people off the land.
I spent eighteen months conducting intensive ethnographic work in several farming districts around the country. My research findings were presented in two forms. The first was a research monograph (published by the Institute for Security Studies) as well as a string of newspaper and magazine articles. The idea that there was an epidemic of farm murders, I argued, most manufactured by the creation of the category farm murder as a specific recordable crime. When the murder of farmers is placed back in its proper context and compared to other rural murders, it becomes apparent that middle class rural people in general, and not just white farmers, became highly vulnerable to predatory crime during the transition to democracy. The idea that white farmers were targeted in particular had no empirical basis.
The second resarch product was a book titled Midlands, which wons South Africas premier nonfiction award, the Sunday Times Alan Paton Prize. It documented a single killing of a white farmer and analysed the motives of the killers. I argued that a series of unwritten rules governing the relationship between the landed and their tenants was being renegotiated by a combination of cunning, wits and violence, and that the murder was an extreme and tragic moment in this process of renegotiation.
Jonny Steinberg, Midlands, Johannesburg, 2002.
Martin Schönteich and Jonny Steinberg, Attacks on Farms and Smallholdings: An Evaluation of the Rural Protection Plan, Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies, 2000.