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On Black Lives Matter and farm murders

By Ernst Roets

One should not be surprised that the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests spilled over to South Africa: The arguments and tactics of anti-white activists in South Africa are often imported from the US.

However, it is a little far-fetched for the ruling ANC under the leadership of President Ramaphosa to launch an international anti-racism campaign without further ado after the death of the black American George Floyd – especially given the South African realities. Ramaphosa, it seems, has much more to say about the death of Floyd, who died at the hands of white policemen in the US, than about the death of Collins Khoza, who died at the hands of black soldiers in South Africa.

The same Ramaphosa, who wants to launch a campaign against white racism after the death of a black American, said earlier on an international platform that no landgrabs were occurring in South Africa; neither were any murders on farmers – or specifically white farmers – occuring in South Africa.

There is ample reason to oppose these double standards, selective attention and – sometimes blatant – dishonesty by the South African government, the ruling party and mainstream commentators who fuel their mischief. Critics of the BLM campaign sometimes reply that all lives matter and that it is wrong to take a stand specifically for the protection of black lives.

This criticism is misplaced.

If it was indeed true that black people were being targeted, attacked and murdered by police officers in extraordinary numbers, it is indeed well to conduct a campaign against it. The same is true for farm murders. It is extremely ironic that critics of AfriForum’s campaign against farm murders – especially certain high-profile media commentators – so readily react to our campaign by saying that it is immoral to single out a group of victims when talking about crime, but at the same time are quick to proclaim their support for the BLM campaign.

What the campaign against farm murders and the BLM campaign have in common is that both campaigns proclaim that their focus group is targeted in extraordinary numbers because of their identity and that these crises deserve a focused counter-reaction. What the campaigns do not have in common is that the BLM campaign fits in perfectly with the mainstream’s (often artificial) narrative, while the campaign against farm murders presents a challenge to this narrative. The second difference is that the claims by the BLM movement often contradict the true figures; yet the movement is nonetheless supported by governments and mainstream media alike. On the other hand, the campaign against farm murders rests on conservatively calculated figures; yet, despite this, the mainstream continuously attacks the campaign.

Black Lives Matter

Every time when a black person dies in police custody in the US, a major campaign follows. It started with the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012. In 2014 it was Michael Brown and Eric Garner. In 2020 it is George Floyd. There are obviously others, too. These deaths are truly tragic, and it is right that protest should follow such incidents. However, to package these as a tendency requires the alleger to prove that this is indeed the case. And to be able to prove a tendency, it is essential to consider statistics.

If these cases are viewed simply on an individual basis to conclude that unarmed black people are systematically targeted by the American police, one should at least investigate whether the same does not also sometimes happen to white people. There are unfortunately many an example of unarmed white people who have also died at the hands of the American police. There was Timothy Smith, William Lemmon, Ryan Bolinger, Derek Cruice, Daniel Elrod, Ralph Willis, David Cassick, Jeremy Mardis, Autumn Steele, Duncan Lemp and Tony Timpa – to name but a few. They are not that well known, however, because they were white and what happened to them cannot be used to justify a specific racial narrative.

One can surely say that something is wrong with the US police, then? How is it possible that the US police can simply kill all these people? Obviously, the number of unarmed people killed by the police should be zero. The picture makes a little bit more sense if you consider that the US has more than 330 million people and that about 10 million arrests are made every year. The figures must therefore be viewed in this context before conclusions can be made about the conduct of the police.

Can one argue that black people are targeted disproportionally by the American police? It is also necessary in this instance to provide specific context. One part of the puzzle is the proportion of the American population that black people comprise. Another is the proportion of murders in the US that are committed by black people. Thereafter, one should calculate the ratio at which white people are killed by the American police and compare that to the ratio for black people. When considering these figures, one should also distinguish between the total number of people killed by the police and the number of unarmed people.

According to the 2019 census, the American population comprises among others about 60,4% white and 13,4% black people. An analysis of all murders in the US from 1980 to 2008, split up per race, shows that 52,5% of these murders were committed by black people, as opposed to 45,3% of murders committed by white people. 52% of people killed by the American police were white and 32% were black. If one looks at specifically unarmed people who were killed by the police, it emerges that 41 people were killed in 2019, of whom 19 (or 46,3%) were white and 9 (or 21,9%) were black (the rest were from other races). In the same period, 89 American police officers, of whom the vast majority were white, were killed while on duty.

Therefore, one could say that the number of unarmed black people in the US who are killed by the police is disproportionate (21,9% of all deaths, while they make up only 13,4% of the population). It is misleading, however, to argue this in isolation without considering that more than 50% of murders in the US are committed by black people. In this regard, the number of unarmed black people who are killed by the police is disproportionate – but not because it is so many, but rather because it is so few.

The black Harvard economist Roland Fryer studied more than a thousand incidents and found that there exists no empirical evidence for the argument that black Americans are killed in disproportionate numbers by the police. Fryer was so astonished by his own findings that he described it as the most surprising finding of his career – indeed because it is inconsistent with the narrative one finds in the media. Lois James from the Washington State University also found that police officers in the US are less likely to shoot unarmed black people than unarmed people of other races.

Farm murders

In contrast with these figures, one finds that farm murders in South Africa indeed occur in disproportionate numbers. It is quite complicated to calculate a per-100 000-figure for farm murders, for reasons I provide in my book Kill the Boer. James Myburgh, editor of Politicsweb, has already found with data from 2002/2003 that farm murders are shockingly disproportionate to armed house robberies. In fact, farms were targeted more than 16,7 times more in farm attacks than households were targeted in robberies. The freelance journalist Marie-Louise Antoni made similar calculations for 2013 to 2016 and found that farms were eight to nine times more likely to be attacked than other households.

What is more, the disproportionate nature of farm murders is much worse if one considers that social fabric murders on farms are are excluded from the definition of farm murders, because a farm attack per definition implies that the farm is attacked (with associated violence) by someone from the outside. About 80% of murders in South Africa can be considered social fibre crimes – i.e. people who have lost their lives because of domestic violence and drunken brawls. The South African murder rate is about 34 per 100 000 people per year. If the social fibre crimes are excluded, the murder rate is closer to 5 per 100 000 people. If one uses conservative figures, the rate at which specifically farmers are being murdered in South Africa can be calculated at anywhere between 80 and 100 per 100 000 people per year.

It is also important to point out that the plea for the prioritisation of farm murders is not founded on race – as opposed to the BLM plea underwritten by the President.

What now?

There is nothing wrong with saying that the murdering of black people by white people should stop – just as there is nothing wrong with saying that the murdering of farmers should stop. When one tries to argue this by considering figures, ratios and statistics, the plea for the prioritisation of farm murders is very watertight, whereas the BLM plea finds itself in troubled waters.

The good news for the BLM movement is that their arguments are supported by the mainstream, despite the evidence pointing to the opposite. On the other hand, the demand for the prioritisation of farm murders is strongly supported by numbers, while the mainstream attempts to downplay it as some or other devious agenda.

If one truly wants to find sustainable solutions to both these problems, one should start by breaking down the mainstream narrative and establishing an approach that is based on facts rather than on ideological or racially driven political aims.

Ernst Roets

Ernst is Head of Policy and Action at AfriForum

Follow Ernst on Twitter at @ErnstRoets

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