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South Africa is a country all too familiar with violence, but more recently, a new wave of attacks have emerged. Over the past decade, murder, torture and gang-related attacks have escalated against white farmers in South Africa with more than 400 reported last year alone.
There are reports of farm murders in the newspapers almost every day as the issue over land rights rises. The situation is getting so bad that requests are being made to give white South African farmers refugee access to America and Australia.
This letter, by a farmer’s wife (who remains unnamed for safety reasons), shows us just how bad the situation is for white South African farmers, and is an account of survival and preparedness as she writes about her daily life in fear of her or her family being killed or attacked. The letter was originally published on a South African news site (in Afrikaans) as a letter to the editor, titled: A Letter From A Farmer’s Wife.
For a long time now I have been worried about whether I should write this letter or not. Should I or shouldn’t I? Am I going to get bad feedback, public criticism, or persecuted? I’d think. But I need to write this letter, because I am not the only woman in South Africa that feels like this. When I watch documentaries and videos, I burst into tears, because, like many of the women I see in these movies, I too understand what it’s like to have to live every day as though it were my last.
Here is my situation, and why I am writing this letter. I am married to a chicken farmer. I am the mother of an 8-month-old boy and we live on a farm in South Africa.
That’s right, a farm. Growing up on a farm was what we have always wanted. It is what we have always dreamed of, to raise our family on our own farm. It gives an opportunity for kids to play outside for hours on end, only to come back inside when they are hungry. This is what we wanted our lives to be like. But today, in this day and age, it is not all sun and roses. We have all heard the perspective told by people with an agenda, people who are bias, but today, you will hear it from a farmer’s mouth, of what it is like currently living on a farm in South Africa.
First, I will say I do not consider myself a female farmer (“boervrou” in Afrikaans). I do not know what it takes to work on the farm from morning until night, and I feel as though I do not deserve to call myself that. But what I can say is that I am a proud farmer’s wife.
All of the women I know, that are in a similar position as me, have their own fears, but one fear we do share is the fear for our own lives and those of our husbands and children. As a farmer’s wife, you know what it is like to wake up in the morning thankful that eight armed men did not rape your little girl at night, or burn your little boy with boiling water. You know how it feels to wake up and see your husband’s face, and to be reassured you have survived another night.
It is at this point, when I wake up in the morning, as every other farmer’s wife does, and you remove the pistol from under your pillow, and holster it alongside a two-way radio on your belt for the day. Then you walk to the bedroom door, switch off the alarms, unlock the door, unlock the security gate, check if all of the doors and windows leading to the outside are locked and check on the guard dogs to see if they too, have survived the night.
Then, and only then, can I put on the kettle and start my morning.
For many of us, the whole day is spent locked up inside of our homes. It is consistently in your mind that “they come to get you when you least expect”. This is why we never venture outside. And if you have to go outside, you first make sure that the children are in the house and that you have your weapon and radio on you. When you are watering the garden, you are always facing out, towards any entry points to the gated property.
When it comes close to five o’clock, you start to shut the windows and pull the curtains. You do this to prevent people seeing inside, observing how many people there are, and seeing what you are doing. At eigh o’clock, you do a radio check with all of your neighbors, to see if everyone is safe. These are the times when we learn another family’s life has been taken.
At night, we have a standard practice of turning on different lights in the house. This is so that anyone looking in cannot see which rooms we are in, or guess as to how many of us there are. We do not sit in the TV room anymore and watch TV. Instead, at night, we put as many doors and bars between us and the outside so that if they do enter the house, we have more of a warning.
Sometimes, at night, when our husbands are called out because chickens or maize are reported stolen, we spend those hours praying they are alive until they return. We do this, without trying to show any fear to our children. We are trying to raise them in a normal world. When my child asks what is wrong, I tell my boy “Oh no, there is nothing to worry about, everything’s okay, do not be afraid”. I would rather fear the worst-case scenario than for my child to understand what is really going on.
My little boy has a beautiful room that I made for him when I was pregnant with him. He doesn’t sleep there now. He sleeps with us because if they were to get in, they would kill him, or use him to lure my husband and I out to kill us. Where do I hide my son? In what closet do I push my boy and how do I make sure he stays quiet? How do I plead with them do with me what they please so long as they leave my boy alone?
We are not discussing the expropriation of land. Sure, this might be an unpopular thing to say, but I love my husband and my son too much to give them up for a piece of land. What is that land worth for you if there is nobody else to make a success of it together? I would rather emigrate to Australia (as a refugee) and adjust to another country’s customs than to attend the funeral of my loved ones (should I be the survivor).
My husband’s brother has said many a time that he would rather visit his brother in another country, than to visit his grave. I am not going to try and convince anyone here, as these are individual choices we must make. But I will not think twice to leave my country, my family, and my friends, but I must do what I think is the best and what my heart says.
There are just some of the fears I hold as a farmer’s wife in South Africa. I am certain I am not the only one feeling this way, and I know so many other women that have experienced this, and worse.
Today, I say this to you, as the wife of a farmer, I salute you. I take my hat off to every single woman who has had to endure this just because she is living on a farm in South Africa.
My thoughts are with you: the women and families living on the other farms. My prayers are that your husbands and children will be spared for yet another day.
Love, a farmer’s wife.
If you have any comments, opinions or feedback, please leave them in the comment section below.