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CORRECTED: South African farmers protest attacks

Hundreds of farmers on tractors, excavators, harvesters, trucks or horses took to the streets of the small South African town of Mookgophong on Tuesday, protesting what they said was a spike in attacks on farms.

Dozens of predominantly white farmers are killed in crime-plagued South Africa every year, and police statistics show that 49 murders occurred on farms in the 12 months up to April.

Wearing face masks and with placards plastered to their vehicles, the protesting farmers drove in a long convoy around Mookgophong, which is about 220 kilometres (135 miles) north of Johannesburg.

The protest was held as three suspects appeared in Mookgophong magistrate court on charges of murdering a 79-year-old farmer in March.

A small group of farmers, including children, stepped out of their vehicles and held up their arms crossed in an “X”, symbolising their call for an end to the attacks.

The farmers want improved security from the police and better prosecution rates of crimes related to farm attacks.

“This is a real problem, we feel it on our skin everyday, the government also has to do something about that because we are also taxpayers,” farmer Hendrik Botha told AFP.

Another farmer Toby Swan said “we don’t need any of this in our country and we need to stop this. This is killing the whole industry.”

Protester Adriaan Pont said that because farmers live in isolated areas, “we are soft targets”.

Murders are generally high in South Africa. In the 12 months up to April, the police recorded 21,325 murders, averaging 58.4 per day and showing a 1.4-percent increase over the previous year, according to official police statistics.

Of that number, 49 were farmers.

AfriForum, a pressure group that advocates on behalf of the country’s nine-percent-strong white population, said 216 attacks have been recorded so far this year, 26 of which were murders.

The group said the assaults and murders are not only targeting whites, but also black people and Indians.

Attacks dropped drastically during the first few months of the country’s coronavirus lockdown due to restricted movement, but from June the assaults “just exploded”, according to Ian Cameron, an independent rural safety consultant who previously worked at Afriforum.

Police minister Bheki Cele last month told parliament that “we do take serious the issue of farm safety”.