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S.Africa Farm Killings Spark Debate

August 9, 1998

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ They found the farmer’s body in the bush with a bullet wound to his stomach. The license plates of his stolen pickup had been carefully placed at his head and feet.

The victim last week was the 74th South African farmer killed since January. The death brought the total to 554 since 1994, fueling charges by the mainly white, conservative opposition parties that the government of President Nelson Mandela isn’t concerned enough about the victims because of their color.

Seeking to end ``the propaganda and falsification,″ Mandela said he was releasing two long-awaited intelligence reports on the killings.

But the reports, described in weekend news accounts, were inconclusive. Opposition leaders immediately demanded an independent investigation, more money for police and commandos to fight crime and deployment of the army to protect farmers.

``There is a psychosis being created in this country that the way for land redistribution, the redistribution of wealth, is to attack the vulnerable,″ National Party spokesman Manie Schoeman said Sunday.

The government and leaders of the African National Congress call such allegations racially divisive propaganda, and assert they are doing what they can.

``Why the emphasis on people with white skin, and not the issue of crime in all South Africa?″ Mandela spokesman Parks Mankahlana said in a recent interview.

The reports said the main motive for the farm murders is robbery, but do not rule out political reasons. They cited the ``viciousness″ of many attacks, in which women often are raped and victims beaten, according to The Sunday Independent.

``The attackers do not merely intend to kill the victims but instead to inflict pain, humiliation and suffering ... . This may indicate that the attacks are linked to racial hatred and-or sheer terrorism,″ one of the reports said.

Other underlying motives cited were labor disputes and contested land.

The issue has become politically explosive ahead of next year’s elections, and feeds into one of the most deeply charged issues in South Africa: land reform.

In the background are decades of mistreatment under apartheid of black farmhands, many of whom still complain of poor conditions and low wages.

Meanwhile, many farmers have armed themselves. They have banded together into rapid-reaction forces, set up checkpoints and created emergency radio networks.

``Innocent people are going to be killed″ by the armed farmers, said Manie Schoeman, a spokesman for the National Party, the former apartheid force.

In the latest case, 60-year-old Andre Breytenbach apparently was surprised Wednesday as he was about to enter the gate to his Northern Province farm in Soekmekaar, about 250 miles northeast of Johannesburg. His pickup, pistol and rifle were stolen, and his body was found several miles away with the plates on the ground.

The far right Freedom Front Party said the gesture symbolized ``political resentment and hate.″

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