Discussion of farmer-killings remains highly problematic in South Africa, with the South African Human Rights Commission noting that the term "farm killings" is characterized by "divisive" racial stereotypes. These include the stereotype of the "brutal, racist Boer" who dominates his workers through casual violence, despite good relations between farmers and non-white farmworkers on many farms. In addition, the number of farmer-killings -- and specifically white farmer-killings -- remains heavily contested. The Afrikaner-dominated Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU) counted 64 murders on farms in 2015, 71 in 2016 and 68 in the first nine months of 2017 alone, whereas the South African Police Service noted that 58 people were killed between April 2015 and March 2016, and 74 between April 2016 and March 2017. Johan Burger from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) noted that the murder rate for farmers (97 per 100,000) was almost triple that of the general population (34 per 100,000) whilst the Belfast Telegraph found that it was four times more likely for a farmer to be killed than a police officer. However, though these sources may make it seem like white South African farmers are being persecuted, the accuracy of these numbers is highly dubious and often misleading.
Inequality and Violence
Both the TAU and the police include farmers' families, farm employees and visitors in their statistics, regardless of race. Any attempt to break down the status of the victims is complicated by the lack of available data, as these are not parameters analyzed by the police. Further, claims of white racial persecution are complicated by the findings of a 2003 police inquiry which found that 38.4 percent of farm-attack victims were non-white.
Similarly, although the TAU performs perfunctory crosschecks, its figures are equally inaccurate, lacking a breakdown of the status or even race of victims. That these figures are widely used by independent bodies such as the ISS is highly problematic, though Gareth Newman, head of the crime and justice program at ISS, has conceded that he does "not really know how one could get an accurate estimate of the murder and attack rate on farms given the complexities involved."
Additionally, claims about farmers being more likely to be murdered than the general populace is simply not supported by reliable data. As Burger from the ISS notes, "We have no idea how many people there are in total on farms and therefore we cannot calculate a ratio for farm murders in general." Any attempt to try to estimate the number of farmers in general, or white farmers in particular, by making a set of assumptions about the rural population would be misleading at best, and grossly misleading at worst. As such, it is increasingly clear that we have no clear idea about the murder rate on South African farms. Moreover, farmer-killings cannot be viewed as a separate phenomenon from violent crime nationally, as rates of violent crime and murder are exceptionally high throughout South Africa, and disproportionately affect poorer Black people. This has led researchers to conclude that the South African people "arguably live in as much peril as farmers do."
"Farm attacks" and killings must be understood within the context of broader inequality and poverty. This can in part be explained by the racially skewed distribution of wealth in rural areas, with over 80 percent of the overwhelmingly Black rural population living in poverty, in contrast to the relatively wealthy Afrikaner farming homesteads. As such, the violence inflicted upon victims may be a secondary and spontaneous outcome resulting from apartheid-era grievances. ISS's Burger suggests this may also be explained by the elderly age of the victims (on average 56 years) and the failure of these farmers to acknowledge the reversal of roles during a farm attack, resulting in an escalation of violence.
Given the lack of available statistical data relating to violent crime in rural areas, it is unclear whether farmers are subjected to heightened persecution or experience a higher-than-average murder rate. Where information is available, it is clear that although there may be a small racial bias, farm attacks and killings affect both Black and white farmers. Further, these attacks are crucially linked to wider trends of rural violence and overwhelmingly motivated by the same economic drivers: poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Taken from here