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Page last updated at 14:01 GMT, Monday, 4 July 2005 15:01 UK

South Africa's bloody battle for land

By Clifford Bestall
Producer/director of Blood and Land

"Roosenekal, murder, Grobblersdal murder, murder, murder, murder..."

Captain Manie van Zyl
Under apartheid, Captain van Zyl worked for the security police

Monday morning parade at the Serious Violent Crimes Unit (SVC) and Captain Manie van Zyl reads out the crime report for the past weekend.

All in all 14 murders and 18 rapes, followed by a host of lesser violent crimes for Mpumulanga, one of South Africa's nine provinces.

Captain van Zyl is the longest serving member of the SVC, an under-resourced unit of eight men who investigate farm attacks.

Such crimes are virtually hidden in South Africa.

More than 1,500 white farmers have been murdered over the past decade of peaceful majority rule in South Africa.

Sins of history

In 1994 when apartheid ended, whites owned 80% of the land.

Payete and Martha Ndlovana
Payete Ndlovana and his wife Martha look at their ancestors' land through an electric fence

The new government promised land would belong to all who worked it.

But this has not happened and whites still own 75% of the country.

Payete Ndlovana lodged a claim in 1994 to get land back that was taken from his family 20 years before.

"When we voted in 1994, we thought the situation would mean that we and the farmers were going to share 50/50," he says.

The farm in question was recently sold to another white farmer, who has begun to mine sand, rapidly turning the area into a wasteland.

Now, day in and day out, truckload by truckload, the farmer carries away the very soil that Payete considers to be his.

But he does not know how to stop it.

Blood war

White farmer Louis Meintjies
It's all part of the government's action against the white farmer to get the land from him
White farmer, Louis Meintjies

Miles away, against this background of increased land hunger and frustration with the pace of land reform, the violence continues.

Captain van Zyl hunts for clues at a farmhouse where the owner and his wife were murdered.

"The two elderly people were literally chopped up," he says. "The old man was stabbed 38 times."

Other victims the captain has seen have been burned with smoothing irons, poisoned, raped, or had boiling water poured down their throats.

"You can't rest," he says, traumatised by what he has witnessed. "How can you put your head to a pillow and sleep? Why the brutal killing?"


White farmers say that more South African farmers have died in the last 10 years, than in the rest of the African continent during the wars of independence.

The Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU) believes that the government is behind the attacks.

Kommando meeting
Local Kommando units meet with police to search for farm attackers

"I believe it's all part of the government's action against the white farmer to get the land from him," says Louis Meintjies, who runs the operational centre of his local farmers' self-defence unit.

He feels that because the South African constitution stands in the way of Robert Mugabe-style land grabs, a move to intimidate white farmers into abandoning their land to speed up handovers is under way.

Like all theories of conspiracy, it has a coherence that can absorb many elements of government action into a single covert strategy.

One of the most important of these concerns a mechanism that has allowed white farmers to protect themselves: their Kommando units.

The Kommando is a system of neighbourhood watch that goes back to the Boer War.

The government has begun to force these paramilitary units to disband, for fear they might be used by white right-wing elements.

White farmers want the government to reverse this order and beef up rural policing.


Payete Ndlovana
Mugabe is right... 100% right
Land claimant, Payete Ndlovana

A peaceful farm handover in Mpumulanga province is a rare sight. When it occurs, there is often a gathering to celebrate.

Payete goes along to one of these parties to see if he can speak to the chief land claims commissioner.

He finds him, but is not encouraged. The commissioner tells him that land claim procedures take a long time.

Payete feels the ultimate message is clear: land claims will only be settled with willing sellers. The land commission can legally seize a white farmer's land, but has never done so.

By the time he heads home, Payete is convinced the Zimbabwean approach to land reform is what South Africa needs.

"Mugabe is right," he says. "One hundred percent right."


But South Africa is not Zimbabwe. And Captain van Zyl is convinced that greed and not revenge drives the violence in Mpumulanga.

In a country where common crime affects everyone, he believes that farm murders will always be part of life in South Africa.

Statistics just released show black farmers are also coming under attack.

The bloody battle for rights and land in South Africa does not seem to be a simple issue of racial tension and ownership.

"It must be a human being hating another human being," says Captain van Zyl.

Blood and Land was broadcast in the UK on Tuesday, 5 July, 2005 at 2100 BST on BBC Two.

Blood and Land
01 Jul 05 |  This World
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