LEAD fellows gain perspective learning of farm attacks

Staff Writer

(April 28, 2015) It was the University of Maryland Extension’s LEAD trip to South Africa in January that put Delmarva’s farming challenges in a rather harsh perspective for class fellow Shelby Watson Hampton.
As part of the group’s larger trip, LEAD fellows were introduced to a farming challenge unique to the African nation: Deadly farm attacks.
Nearly 70 South African farmers were killed in 2014, part of a years-long, ongoing trend.
The issue has become a thorny racial debate as most of the victims are white, and many see the attacks as racially motivated. They may be connected to the contentious issue of farmland ownership in South Africa.
Whites own more than 80 percent of the country’s farmland despite representing less than 10 percent the total population.
The LEAD class spoke with several farmers whose concern about the issue ranged from small to large.
One farmer “said they had had a mob come up on to their farm ... and they threw a Molotov cocktail up on his front porch, and his wife and children were inside the house,” Hampton said. “It was pretty mind-blowing. ... You think we fight a lot of battles here. But we’re not actually fighting for our lives like they are in South Africa.”
After the end of apartheid in 1994, the South African government embarked on a plan to return a third of the nation’s farmland to black owners by 2014. In 2010, only 8 percent had been transferred, leading to widespread criticism of the plan domestically and internationally.
“It was disconcerting for sure,” said Debbie Stanley-Simpkins, LEAD program director. “It was informative. It really puts a different light on things when your life and wellbeing are at stake just because of your occupation.”