‘Let’s stop the farm murders’: How a UFC fighter brought attention to a South African tinderbox

It took Dricus du Plessis a little more than 3 minutes to make an emphatic statement during his UFC debut. The former EFC two-division…

By: Karim Zidan | 3 years ago
‘Let’s stop the farm murders’: How a UFC fighter brought attention to a South African tinderbox
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

It took Dricus du Plessis a little more than 3 minutes to make an emphatic statement during his UFC debut.

The former EFC two-division champion and KSW titleholder proved himself worthy of a main card debut when he faceplanted Marcus Perez in the opening round of their UFC Fight Island 5 showcase. Then, after scaling the cage in celebration, the 26-year-old headed backstage, where he spoke about the controversial topic of farm attacks taking place in his native South Africa.

“South Africa is going through so much, if you look at it from a political stance,” Du Plessis said during his post-fight interview. “We have farm murders that are really taking the whole country by storm. It’s something unbelievable. People are getting murdered daily and I almost feel like because it’s Africa a lot of the world doesn’t see it, and nobody in the world really knows what’s going on there.

“I’ve just got this opportunity on a bigger stage to say ‘let’s stop the farm murders’ and I want people to see what’s happening in South Africa,” he added. “It’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world and it’s being ruined by stuff like this. “We don’t need that, so let’s stick together as a country, and as humanity, and let’s beat this thing.”

Du Plessis’s statements on ‘farm murders’ taking place with South Africa refers back to an issue that has gripped the African nation for several years with gradually increasing tensions as a result. The aforementioned attacks target farmers, mostly white, and farm workers, who are black, and have been the subject of increased scrutiny and discussion by South African press and the international media. In some cases, the unsubstantiated claims that such attacks are mainly aimed at white farmers has helped propagate the white genocide conspiracy theory that is a hallmark of white supremacists and neo-Nazis around the world.

Rising Tension

When police arrived on scene at the DeRots farm in South Africa’s Free State province, they found the body of Brendin Horner tied to a pole with a rope around his neck.

The 21-year-old farm manager had been brutally assaulted and murdered by two suspects who fled the scene of the crime. According to the report, there were injuries to his head and face and he was declared dead at the scene.

The next day, local detectives arrested two men, aged 34 and 43, and charged them with murder.

“Blood-stained clothes and shoes were found and will be taken in for forensic tests. The two men are alleged to be stock thieves and it is suspected that the deceased could have spotted them on that fateful day,” saidFree State police spokesperson Brig Motantsi Makhele.

The two suspects were scheduled to appear at a Senekal Magistrate court on Oct. 6, 2020. However, when the two men arrived at the courthouse, a crowd of violent demonstrators demanding justice for Horner had gathered outside. Chaos ensued.

The crowd vandalised court property before overturning a police van and setting it on fire. Two shots werereportedly fired by the group but no one was injured. The angry mob then stormed the courthouse, where they demanded the two suspects be handed over to them. The lead instigator, 52-year-old Andre Pienaar, was subsequently arrested and charged with malicious damage to property and public violence.

Photo by Mlungisi Louw/Volksblad/Gallo Images via Getty Images

However, the incident only served to heighten tensions in South Africa. Freedom Front Plus, a right-wing political party founded in 1994, condemned the murder while AfriForum, a nationalist group focused on the rights of Afrikaners (a subsect of the country’s white population), called the incident a “form of terrorism.”

Police Minister General Bheki Cele’s spokesperson, Lirandzu Themba, revealed that she has received numerous threating calls since the courthouse incident, ““It is worrying that I continue to receive abusive and insulting and racist phone calls from anon[anonymous] people and some identify themselves as farmers from Senekal. These calls are being taken seriously and are being looked into by [the police],” Themba tweeted.

South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, appealed to nation by rejecting claims that the farm attacks were part of an orchestrated campaign by Black South Africans against the country’s white minority.

“Numerous studies show that crime in farming communities is largely opportunistic. Rural communities are more vulnerable because of their isolated location and, as a result, the relative lack of access to security and other services. Contrary to the irresponsible claims of some lobby groups, killings on farms are not ethnic cleansing. They are not genocidal. They are acts of criminality and must be treated as such,” Ramaphosa wrote.

Farm attacks—defined as certain crimes or acts of violence committed on farms or small holdings—are not a new occurrence. The South African Agricultural Union (now Agri SA) registered 677 murders and 3065 attacks between 1991 and 1997. In 1997, the police’s Crime Information Analysis Centre (CIAC) began collecting data on farm attacks, and made farm attacks and murders a priority crime in 1998. In 2001, the CIAC revealed that of the 1,398 people attacked on farms, 61.6% were white, 33.3% were Black. However, a 2003 committee of inquiry into farm attacks concluded that none of the statistics were completely accurate. The data is also almost two decades old and should not be considered representative of the current situation.

Photo by MARCO LONGARI/AFP via Getty Images

South Africa’s official crime statistics revealed that 46 of the 62 people murdered on farms and smallholdings in 2017/18 were white. However, this does not necessarily represent a racial motives behind the attacks, as roughly 70 percent of privately owned farmland in South Africa is owned by white people, despite making up approximately 10% of the overall population. They also hold more wealth in the areas they live in, which is the primary reason they are targeted.

Despite statistical evidence and Ramaphosa’s salient points, white supremacists around the world have used these well publicized farm attacks as a battle cry to advance their white genocide conspiracy theories.

Fuel for Conspiracies

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, graphic images of brutal farm attacks have been widely shared across social media, heightening anxiety and tension regarding the heinous crimes and their potential targets.

Despite the growing angst coupled with pressure from lobby groups, statistics have shown that farm murders and attacks have not increased during the national lockdown period. Police figures claim that there were 80 attacks between January and March, while April-June carried 48. In comparison, the Transvaal Agricultural Union of South Africa (TAU SA) found 26 farm murders and 141 attacks in the first half of 2020 (as compared to 194 farm attacks and 29 murders in the first half of 2019).

The police also reported 47 farm murders in the 2018/19 fiscal year, which is down from 62 in 2017/18 and 66 in 2016/17.

It should also be noted that, on average, 58 people are murdered every day in South Africa. The total number of murder in 2018/19 was more than 21,000, up 35% from murder rates seven years prior. According to Ramaphosa, the “majority of victims of violent crime are Black and poor, and it is young Black men and women who are at a disproportionately greater risk of being murdered.”

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa
Photo by SERGIO LIMA/AFP via Getty Images

As such, there is little evidence that white South Africans are being targeted with excessive violence or racially motivated attacks. However, this has not stopped groups such as South Africa’s white rights activists from using the fear of a racial violence to pressure their government into action, or from white supremacists and sympathetic audiences from amplifying their message.

In short, media attention to violence against white people has increased, which in turn creates the illusion of a race war or genocide.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson has repeatedly devoted time on his show to discuss the supposed campaign against white farmers. In 2018, he claimed that South Africa’s government had begun seizing land from white farmers for having the “wrong skin color.” The report got the attention of U.S. President Donald Trump, who tweeted that he asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures” even though Carlson was forced to walk back his false statements shortly thereafter.

The farm attacks have also gotten the attention of several notable political figures such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, who encouraged South African farmers to immigrate to Russia, and Australian Ministers of Home Affairs Peter Dutton—an anti-immigration champion and proponent of offshore detention for asylum seekers—suggested a policy that would offer special visas for white South African farmers.

Photo by Jacques Stander/Gallo Images via Getty Images

Even the term “farm attacks” has been criticized as a political dog whistle that signals a form of genocidal attack against white people. Human Rights Watch has criticized the use of the term which they regard as “suggesting a terrorist or military purpose.”

While Afrikaners rights groups like AfriForum claim that some of the attacks are racially motivated (race may play a role in some of the murders), other analysts have maintained that the attacks are part of a broader criminality issue plaguing the nation.

“No matter who we are, no matter what community we live in, no matter our race, creed or language, we should be as deeply affected by the death of Brendin Horner as we are by many other South Africans who die violent deaths each year,” president Ramaphosa said last week.

Though Du Plessis statements on the “farm murders” were likely an attempt to raise awareness regarding an issue that has gripped his homeland, it is important to understand that it is part of a wider problem with crime in South Africa and not a racially driven genocide against the country’s white minority.

Share this story

About the author
Karim Zidan
Karim Zidan

Karim Zidan is a investigative reporter and feature writer focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. He has written for BloodyElbow since 2014 and has served as an associate editor since 2016. He also writes for The New York Times and The Guardian. Karim has been invited to speak about his work at numerous universities, including Princeton, and was a panelist at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival and the Oslo Freedom Forum. He also participated in the United Nations counter-terrorism conference in 2021. His reporting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s involvement in MMA, much of which was done for Bloody Elbow, has led to numerous award nominations, and was the basis of an award-winning HBO Real Sports documentary.

More from the author

Bloody Elbow Podcast
Related Stories