Violent attacks on South Africa’s farmers, most of whom are white, are on the rise and 67 farm murders occurred last year, according to data released on Thursday.
The issue of crime on the farm is an emotive one in South Africa, with white commercial farmers seeing much of the violence as racially motivated.
Police say farmers are often targeted because of their remote locations and the perception that they have valuables such as cash or guns.
Farming and land in general are sensitive issues in South Africa, where two decades after the end of apartheid the white minority still holds around 87 percent of commercial farm land.
AfriForum, an organisation that mostly represents white South Africans on issues like affirmative action, and farming group TAU SA, said the number of verified farm attacks had risen to 277 in 2014 from 96 in 2011.
Farm murders – defined as a homicide against a farmer, family member or one of their employees during an attack by an outsider – had risen to 67 over the same period from 54 in 2011.
Ernst Roets, AfriForum’s deputy chief executive, told Reuters that farm murders had been declining since hitting a peak of 115 in 2004 but have been rising since 2011.
“We can’t say it in all cases but we know some of these attacks are racially motivated,” he said.
Of the 67 farm murders last year, 43 of the victims were commercial farmers while the others were family members, visiting guests or agriculture workers.
South Africa generally suffers from high rates of violent crime, with the latest police data showing 32.2 murders per 100,000 people, close to eight times the U.S. rate.
Roets said based on an estimate that South Africa has close to 33,000 commercial farmers, the number meant that the murder ratio was 134 per 100,000, four times the national average.
Agriculture groups have said concerns about crime could drive farmers from the land in Africa’s top maize producer.