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COMMENT: Does AfriForum care about getting farm murder statistics right?

“Can I speak to Kate Wilkinson?”

That’s how a call to our office began on Monday. Our receptionist told the caller I wasn’t at my desk - I was actually on Radio 702 discussing farm murder rates.

When he heard I was unavailable, the caller started shouting down the line about my research on farm attacks.

“Murderers!” he screamed. “Murderers!”

Another march to protest farm murders

This Saturday AfriForum, a non-governmental organisation which seeks to protect “the rights of minorities” with “a specific focus on the rights of Afrikaners”, will march to South Africa’s Union Buildings. It plans to deliver a memorandum about farm murders and attacks in South Africa to the president.

Last month, thousands of protesters gathered around the country in a similar protest called “#BlackMonday”.

Deputy CEO of AfriForum, Ernst Roets, claims that “farmers are tortured to death on farms in unusual ratios”. The “ratio” that he refers to is the farmer murder rate, presented as the number of farmers murdered per 100,000 of them in South Africa.

I have seen a number of different farm murder rates during my time at Africa Check.

There was the 133 per 100,000 cited by the Freedom Front Plus’ Pieter Groenewald. The African Christian Democratic Party’s Steve Swart and the Institute for Security Studies’ Johan Burger pegged it lower at 97 per 100,000.

Calculating farmer murder rate ‘near impossible’

AfriForum added a new farmer murder rate last month.

Their new rate of 156 commercial farmers being murdered out of every 100,000 in the country was reported on by Times LIVE. The news story claimed that “commercial farmers are 4.5 times as likely to get murdered as the South African population as a whole”.

In May this year, I spoke to numerous crime experts, the South African police and trade unions to determine if any farm murder rate was accurate. The conclusion? The numbers being circulated are flawed and we don’t have enough data to calculate an accurate estimate. At the moment calculating a farmer murder rate is “near impossible”.

This is because there are numerous problems with the data. One: farm murders are probably undercounted, experts say. Two: we don’t know exactly how many farmers there are in South Africa and therefore we can’t calculate the rate.

That farmers are victims of violent attacks is not in question. What is in doubt is their risk in relation to the average South African.

Distributing flawed stat - knowingly

So my first reaction when I saw AfriForum’s new commercial farmer murder rate was curiosity.

“How was it calculated?” I thought. “Do they have access to new data?”

I emailed Roets. Curiosity turned to dismay when he responded.

Roets told me that their new statistic “is the same calculation that was already dealt with on Africa Check [sic], but calculated for the year 2016”. In other words, they’ve distributed a statistic that they know has been calculated in a flawed manner.

Roets did not respond to further questions on the calculation of the figure.

Farm attacks are horrific

If I had been in the office to take that angry call on Monday I would have said the following:

I have great sympathy for the dangers people in rural areas encounter. I know too well the fear that these communities face.

I grew up on a farm in Northern KwaZulu-Natal. I know people who have been brutally tortured in farm attacks. In one case, a family friend had the soles of his feet boiled off. He is always in my thoughts when I work on this topic. It’s an image you cannot erase from your mind.

Saying that accuracy and statistical honesty is important is not the same as saying that farm attacks aren’t horrific.

My question is: Does AfriForum care about getting farm murder statistics right? Because at the moment they are being dishonest. They are knowingly sharing numbers that have been calculated with a flawed methodology. They have admitted as much.

Africa Check has meticulously collected and published the available farm murder and attack research, but as with any topic we research, we don’t have the monopoly on it.

Our aim is to enable accurate and informed debate - and advocacy - on the topic. The best publically available data is easy to access and understand in our factsheet. We explain what the research can and can’t tell you in my analysis.

If AfriForum truly cares about their cause they should care about getting the statistics right. They need to be honest with numbers. They need to be honest with the public.


Additional reading:

LISTEN: Bongani Bingwa interviews Kate Wilkinson on farm murders and attacks in South Africa

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