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Friday, October 9, 1998 Published at 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK

South African farmers fear widespread attacks

Farmers' demonstration at Government HQ

By BBC South Africa Correspondent, Jeremy Vine

Watch Jeremy Vine's report on the terrified farmers
Brll Meyer is counting his lucky stars. The burly Afrikaner, who has a farm one hour outside Pretoria, came home last month to find his family tied up by armed attackers.

"They took me to the bathroom. I grabbed one around the throat, then crashed through the glass partition into the shower. That was when he shot me."

[ image: Brll Meyer is counting his lucky stars]
Brll Meyer is counting his lucky stars
The bullet passed through Brll's back and came out of his chest - missing his heart by less than one inch. He was taken up a staircase, dazed and bleeding, to the room where the rest of his family were being held - including his two young grandchildren.

"They told me, now we're going to kill you. They held the pistol to my head and fired it. But luckily it jammed."

Very, very luckily. Brll gleefully told me he spent one day in hospital, that was all. When I met his grandchildren, it was clear they were still deeply traumatised. Their mother, Anna, who was not in the farmhouse when the attack happened, had to tell them a piece of our equipment was not a weapon.

[ image: Jeremy Vine:
Jeremy Vine: "This is a crisis for South Africa"
She said, "I feel betrayed - betrayed by the previous government because they've committed so many atrocities that we didn't know about; and betrayed by Mr Mandela's government who led us to believe that we will have a good life, that we will move away from discrimination and build a new rainbow nation. In reality this is not happened. I just feel like leaving South Africa."

The farmers are nearly all white, the attackers nearly all black - so the spate of murders is running scissors through South Africa's fraying social fabric and causing near-panic in rural areas.

Since Nelson Mandela became president in 1994, there have been more than 2,000 farm attacks, which the South African Agricultural Union says have claimed the lives of 553 farmers. Many go around armed and at night they lock and bar their homes.

[ image: A series of protests lead the way to Saturday's summit]
A series of protests lead the way to Saturday's summit
Some need to search their hearts, though. The longstanding maltreatment of farmworkers - who are paid pittances even today - is one of the reasons cited for the violence. Black labourers, fed up with years of abuse, are said to be taking revenge on their former employers.

In Johannesburg a person can hire a hitman to kill a farmer for $30. In the background are government promises of a transformed country, which look superficial when set against the ongoing daily struggle of millions of poor black people.

On Saturday Nelson Mandela will meet farmers and police for a special summit designed to discuss the killings. Meanwhile the value of farmland in some areas has crashed by half. This is a crisis for South Africa, but it's hard to see a one-day summit solving it.

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