Rights group alleges racism in South African rural crime

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- The South African government is failing to adequately protect residents of commercial farming areas from violent crime, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released Wednesday.
The New York-based rights group said in the 230-page report that in the "Black farms, residents are most severely affected by this failure, and black women are most vulnerable of all".
The report titled "Unequal Protection: The State Response to Violent Crime on South African Farms," is being published ahead of the 28 Agust-7 September World Conference Against Racism, in Durban, South Africa.
It is based on research carried out by Human Rights Watch in rural areas of South Africa during 2000.
The rights group also said that State response to violent crime against white farm owners and managers could and should be improved, noting, however, that black farm workers and their families have much more difficulty getting help from the criminal justice system.
"Attacks against farm owners have (received) most of the attention, but attacks against other farm residents are a much bigger problem," said Bronwen Manby, Deputy Director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch and the main author of the report.
"Farmworkers and other rural dwellers are more vulnerable to violence, including from their employers, and less likely to get help from the police and courts," he added.
In South Africa, where land ownership was restricted to whites for most of the 20th century, most farm owners are still white, whereas farmworkers are mostly black.
Since the early 1990s, there has been a marked increase in assaults and murders of the owners and managers of commercial farms and their families, the report said.
In response to calls from commercial farmers' organisations for action against violent crime, it said the South African government has implemented a "rural protection plan" in commercial farming areas.
But according to Human Rights Watch, many farm owners, however, do not believe the plan has been effective, adding that "representatives of the State security forces still tend to give greater priority to crimes committed against farm owners than against their employees.
"This is the case even when the crimes committed are of equal seriousness.
Women subjected to sexual violence are least likely of all to obtain a satisfactory response from the system".
It said "in some areas, the heightened security measures of the rural protection plan have even increased insecurity for black farm residents, who are targeted for beatings and other harassment by over-zealous security agents.
Private security companies hired by farm owners have also committed serious abuses.
" The report highlighted abuses committed by regular and reserve members of the army and police and by private security companies in the Wakkerstroom area of Mpumalanga and the Ixopo area of KwaZulu-Natal.
Members of the Wakkerstroom commando, a reserve army unit, for example, are accused of carrying out assault, torture, forced and illegal evictions, and murder of farm residents.
"The rural protection plan needs a complete rethink," said Manby.
He warned that "unless it becomes a broader response to the security concerns of all those living in commercial farming areas, it will continue to fail even those white farm owners who have caused it to be created.
" Human Rights Watch, therefore, called on the South African government to implement a range of measures to ensure that "it lived up to its obligations under international law to provide equal protection to all its citizens, black and white, men and women.
In particular, it urged that: "the government must ensure that the criminal justice system responds effectively and promptly to any reported serious crime, without discrimination; that only police should carry out policing duties, and not members of the army; and that both police and army should ensure proper disciplinary or prosecutorial action against those responsible for abuses.
The report also urged that private security initiatives, whether voluntary "farmwatch" groups or private security companies, should be brought under more effective control.

22 august 2001 23:12:00

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