White farmers in fear of the killers

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The Independent Online
CECIL FRAUENSTEIN'S last words were in Xhosa. "Ndenzeni kuni embi ndixeleleni ...What harm have I done you?" cried the 66-year-old farmer as five black teenagers finished him off with knives.

His son Craig, 30, muses over his father's final sentence, heard by a farm labourer who saw the brutal killing.

"He was a poor man," he says, gazing at the small plot that is part junkyard, part farm where his father was murdered last weekend. "He struggled all his life to give us an education. What is hardest for me is the way he died."

The attack on Cecil Frauenstein was so vicious his nose was almost severed. "I cleaned up the blood," Craig says. He identified the body to shield his mother and twin sisters from the grim necessity.

Mr Frauenstein was one of three white farmers murdered in the Eastern Cape in the past two weeks. George Wylie, 76, was shot in bed at Grahamstown. When his son Peter, who found his body, tried to talk about the murder on national radio two days later, he broke down, howling like a wounded animal.

The day before George Wylie was killed, Jacobus "Bokkie" Human, 46, who farmed at nearby Paterson, was gunned down by four men posing as cattle buyers.

More than 500 white farmers have been murdered in 2,400 attacks on farms since South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994. Almost without exception their attackers were black. Since January, more than 100 farmers and their relatives have been killed. Farmers in Kwa Zulu Natal are threatening to withhold their taxes, others threaten to take the law into their own hands. A worried President Mandela will host a summit on the killings early next month.

The farmers say the attacks are politically inspired. Two government- sponsored reports claimed the attacks were principally criminal. Those conclusions seem dubious, given that farmers have evicted thousands of tenants in advance of new legislation giving farm workers tenure rights.

Dr Piet Gous, president of the Free State Agricultural Union and a right- wing Freedom Front MP, scoffs at the notion that crime alone lies behind the killings. "Why then, do they break in when no one is home and wait up to eight hours to kill the farmer?" Others point to the military precision of some attacks.

Craig Frauenstein finds it hard to believe that there is no racial element when five black youths beat, kick and stab an old white man to death.

The white farmers accuse President Mandela of doing too little. More radical black parties, who say nothing has changed for blacks in post- apartheid South Africa, accuse him of pandering to whites.

Why has Mr Mandela never called a farm labourers' summit, Nkosi Molala asked in a Soweto newspaper, when they are routinely tied to trees by their employers or used as shooting practice? He said white farmers were "digging their own graves".

Derek Hanekom, the ANC land affairs minister, suggested that "poor relations" between farmers and workers were factors in the crisis. Such talk, says Mr Gous, inflames the "illiterates in squatter camps". Relations between white farmer and blacks employees are fine, he insists.

That is not the way many blacks tell it. "I was raised on a farm," says Lungile, 30. "The farmers paid us poorly and children had to leave school and work if a parent died. Otherwise families would be kicked off the land." In one respect he and Mr Gous agree. "I am sure the attacks are 80 per cent revenge. There is so much bad feeling here. There are scores to settle."

At Mr Frauenstein's funeral, the mood of fear was palpable. The murders had frayed the nerves of the hundreds of local farmers who gathered for the ceremony. One leader said his daughter hated black men since a violent robbery at their home, though a black labourer was murdered trying to protect her.

The attacks are hardening attitudes even among white liberals. "I used to take the side of blacks in arguments with friends," said Craig Frauenstein. "I believed apartheid was unjust... but then this." A gun now hangs on his hip. "It is the gun my father should have worn."

A virtual state of emergency has gripped rural areas. Private security firms - including the mercenary outfit Executive Outcomes - are patrolling farms in the Free State, day and night.

"We don't have many problems here," says Mr Gous with a laugh. "We have shot most of them. We hunted some down last week who attacked a woman on a farm. Two were shot to death."

One young Grahamstown farm activist said: "Electric fences are going up everywhere and we're swamped with private security offers. Now its shooting practice instead of tennis. No one sits in the pub after dark and if you go to an evening meeting you take your wife and children."

He says his black workers are as terrified of attacks as he is and believes right-wing racists must shoulder some blame for the crisis. "But I am a 34-year-old democrat," he adds. "Why must I be shot for something I did not do?"

The politicians fear for the economy of South Africa's successful farming sector. Farmers are talking of selling up and emigrating. Cecil Frauenstein's wife will never return to their farm.

Eight miles away Dorte Hennings' husband, Hugo, 80, died after a farm attack in 1994. Eighteen months later, she survived a knife attack by an employee. Mr Frauenstein's death was the last straw. "They just have something against white people," she says. Her farm is up for sale.