The Military Options Of Farmers In Southern Africa
Let me begin by tracing the history of discussions here in Africa regarding the use of force against farm invasions. In the first few months of the invasions, the black farm workers began to realize that they would lose their jobs if the farms were taken over. So then they began fighting back. There were a handful of instances where black farm workers ganged together and fought off Mugabe’s farm invaders. It was magnificent seeing the whites and blacks getting together, making a plan and then winning. But Mugabe did not put up with that. He immediately sent in army officers, dressed in civilian clothes and armed with AK-47’s. From then onwards all resistance stopped.
My brother used to be in the Rhodesian SAS. He traveled up to Zimbabwe on business a number of times in 2000 and spoke to the local farmers. In May 2000, my brother told me that the farmers in Zimbabwe believed that Mugabe wanted them to respond with violence and they believed they would be better off if they did not do so. They would then make Mugabe look bad. They believed if they responded with violence that it would give Mugabe the carte blanche to respond with even greater violence (e.g. send in the army).
In those early months I also heard rumours from ex-Rhodesians that the farmers in Zimbabwe were asking ex-Rhodesian Special Forces to come up and help plan an active defence of the farms. I heard that a number of such people apparently traveled up to Zimbabwe to take a look at the situation. But then the idea faded away, and the white people did not do anything further.
The rising popularity of the MDC in Zimbabwe brought them to the fore. So then people began discussing whether they should use violence against Mugabe since they have massive popular black support. I was personally very much in favour of this idea for several reasons, which will be discussed later.
Because South Africa contains a large number of black ex-Zimbabweans, and also because of South Africa’s tremendous influence in the region, the MDC often sent people to South Africa to talk about the situation in Zimbabwe. A friend of mine attended one of these meetings and the issue was soon raised by white South Africans. They suggested to the MDC that they take up arms against Mugabe. The MDC showed right away that it was not interested in violence as a possible solution. The MDC representative responded with a myriad of weak excuses as to why violence could not be used.
The MDC continues, to this day, to follow a policy of non-violence. I could not understand their mindset until one day the company I was working for signed a contract with a company in Zimbabwe and one of their senior representatives came here. I sat down with him and we had a long chat about the MDC just one week before the March 2002 Presidential elections. This black man then told me how he saw the situation. Firstly, he explained that the MDC’s support consists largely of the “born frees” — a quaint Zimbabwean term for blacks born after the end of white rule. The “born frees” are essentially black youngsters, a lot of them yuppies, who have no knowledge of the war for Rhodesia. Most of the MDC’s membership was under 40 years of age. They are the embodiment of the American Liberal outlook. They regard war as a futile undertaking wherein everyone loses. Instead, their attitude is one of getting the word out of Zimbabwe to the rest of the world and then waiting for the USA (especially) and the rest of the world to actually put pressure on Mugabe to get him to step down. This black businessman told me that the anti-Mugabe sentiment, especially in the urban centers, was very strong. He reckoned to me, one week later, Mugabe would lose and we would see the last of Mugabe! I smiled, not believing in his optimism and wished him well. I left feeling that the MDC was totally inadequate in dealing with the cunning old Fox, Mugabe, who not only had the brains, but the will to sort out any opposition using as much violence as is necessary. It was only once I had spoken to this 40-year-old black man, and heard his naiive views on how easy it was to get rid of Mugabe, that I realized that the MDC could never oppose Mugabe. I still hoped that as hunger and mass starvation set in, that there would be a general revolt. Perhaps, we may yet see that. However, Mugabe’s plan for sucking in UN aid under the pretense of a massive regional drought may help to keep that in check to some degree. Mugabe is clearly out to starve his opposition first anyway and to slowly get rid of them. One wonders if, under desperation, something may yet happen. But clearly, Mugabe has the upper hand all the way. He is ruthless. He has shown himself to be the strongest man in Zimbabwe. No doubt he chuckles at his ability to remain in power against all odds.
Clearly the white and black expectations that the USA would intervene in Zimbabwe are nothing more than wishful thinking. The USA is quite paralysed when it comes to acting against a black nation and so is the rest of the world. Whereas putting sanctions on white people and whipping them into line was no problem when whites ruled colonial Africa, the subsequent black rulers have no such threat facing them. So Mugabe is quite safe.
Let us take a practical look at Zimbabwe at what could have been done if people had been motivated. The first thing to realize is that the white population there is very small. It was under 100,000 in a country with over 12 million blacks. Secondly, it had been the trend for the last 20 years for whites to get their children out of the country. At the first opportunity they would either have their children educated in the West or they would help them to get a job and to emigrate. Thus the white Zimbabwean population consists to a surprising degree of middle-aged folks and older. Whites as a military force are not really an option. They make up less than 1% of the population and are spread out across a country three-quarters the size of France. White power was broken back at the end of the 1970’s when there was a proper organization and an army. So a pure white force is not practical. There are still a great number of those folks who served in the army back then, but their age now counts against them.
So in short, the demographics is against the whites. However, the whites have experience, money and good organizational ability. If they could team up with someone else then there might be hope.
To me, an alliance between the MDC and the whites seemed to offer the real opportunities. This is something that white people in Africa have hinted at many times — that whites and blacks must team up together. It was something I believed a lot in, in the early to mid-1990’s, myself. Whites and blacks have made alliances in various forms for centuries and there have been some successes in this regard. Some black tribes are more pro-white than others.
I believe that even now, a case can be made for the military overthrow of Robert Mugabe. It is actually possible — not as a pie in the sky idea but as a real and practical possibility if only someone had the gumption to go ahead with it. Indeed, such an attempt would also be highly educational as it would serve to force various neighbouring countries to show their true colours. I believe Mugabe is actually backed on the quiet by most of Africa including South Africa. Let us ignore Mugabe’s allies for a moment and talk about overthrowing Zimbabwe in isolation.
Firstly, there are millions of disaffected Zimbabweans in South Africa. They desperately want to return to Zimbabwe and they want to see Mugabe go. They are virtually a ready-made army waiting to happen. They are mostly men of working age. They could be trained and formed into an army and they could begin guerilla operations against Mugabe. They could get arms to the MDC people inside Zimbabwe. The blacks and whites alike could organize, arm and get things done. The MDC definitely has 70% or more of the black population on its side. If a Civil war were funded against Mugabe it would have an exceptionally good chance of succeeding. Mugabe’s army is round about 50,000 strong — maybe a bit more. He also has an armed police force. His army is very battle-hardened, having fought for many years in Mozambique and also having fought in the DRC. I have been told that he probably has the best-trained army in all of Africa. He also ordered 21,000 AK-47’s from Russia in 2000 and bought tanks, grenade-launchers and other equipment from China. Mugabe could put up a stiff fight, but with most of the population against him, he would definitely lose a bloody civil war. Soldiers would probably start defecting. It is said that the 10,000 or so soldiers who had fought in the DRC were almost in a mutinous state of mind. A well-planned war to overthrow Mugabe could succeed easily and he could be gone in a matter of weeks and months.
But the reality is that Mugabe has lots of friends — contrary to the perceptions of most people. The South African government is very friendly towards him, being the only country to send delegations, which reported the Presidential elections to be free and fair. I do not believe for one second that South Africa would allow anyone to come and organize an army on their soil.
Here in South Africa, there has been talk of sending in whites to help in Zimbabwe. This sort of talk originates mostly from Afrikaners who are generally conservative and who believe they will be facing farm invasions in the near future. They feel this way because of the massive number of farm murders in South Africa since 1994. The death toll of whites is well over 1,200.
The most practical arrangements that I heard of personally were the efforts of Colonel Wynand Du Toit, ex-Special Forces in South Africa and the part owner of a security company called LPR (Lanseria Protection Services). Colonel Du Toit trained most of his white employees to the same rigorous standards used in the former South African Special Forces. Du Toit had a small but excellent force, which he believed could be used to rescue whites in Zimbabwe. He was especially concerned with what would happen if Mugabe won the Presidential elections. He approached the Flame Lily Association in South Africa, which is a key element in the worldwide ex-Rhodesian network. The Flame Lily Association is headed by John Redfern, who spent his life in the military — firstly in Rhodesia in Military Intelligence, and then in South Africa. The two of them met and discussed what was to be done if whites were to come under attack in Zimbabwe. Du Toit (to my knowledge), apparently said he had the blessing of the South African government to go into Zimbabwe if need be.
When the plan was communicated to the CFU (Commercial Farmers Union) in Zimbabwe, they were very opposed to it. They said that any attempts at using force would backfire on the whites and then a massive wave of violence would be unleashed on whites across Zimbabwe. Then too, there was the problem of what to do with white Zimbabweans if they were brought into South Africa illegally. The South African government, being friendly to Mugabe, would merely have them returned back to their hell and to perhaps more trouble than they left and then the Flame Lily Association would be in trouble.
Then too, there was the problem of funds. Du Toit did not have the money to hire a helicopter to fly the distances needed and to pay for the expensive fuel. As it turned out, the plan was never needed.
But then there was the situation where a white farmer in Zimbabwe was surrounded and he decided to stay in his house. He did not want to give up his farm. He was holed up for some weeks. Eventually he was indeed helped out by people in Zimbabwe. His farm however, was only 70 Km from the South African border, and it offered a rescue opportunity. A close friend of mine contacted Du Toit and asked about rescuing this farmer during his ordeal. In the subsequent discussions it was recognized that the only time when true force was justified was if whites were being systematically murdered — then a force could go in to fight its way in to rescue the people. But once more, funding was the problem.
All the above is as much as I have been able to establish based on my personal contacts. As can be seen, there is nothing really of note with regard to Zimbabwe, and since the whites are likely to be forced out piecemeal, with no military resistance, it is a given that Mugabe will have his way and most of them will escape with their lives. They will of course lose much of what they have (except for the nest eggs which some of them have cunningly stashed away overseas or elsewhere in Zimbabwe).
Let us turn to South Africa. What will happen here and what is the attitude here? The TAU (Transvaal Agricultural Union), which I have some contact with, is the largest Agricultural Union in South Africa. It has commissioned studies, conferences, called in experts and even sent people directly to Washington to lobby directly for the cause of white-owned land in Africa. The TAU is very outspoken. Its studies and the conclusions of its expert investigators have shown clearly that the trend in terms of “land reform” and legislation in South Africa is following the exact same pattern as Zimbabwe in the early years. They have gathered evidence to show that a systematic war is being waged against white farmers in South Africa, culminating in a total of 1,200 murders since 1994! They have also been advising and helping farmers to take greater security precautions. One interesting thing which statistics show is that even though the number of attacks on white farmers in South Africa has increased considerably over the years, the actual number of casualties remains relatively constant. This is clear testimony that the security precautions are having some effect.
Another interesting “black/white alliance” has been the formation of a black security company called Mapogo. Mapogo is black-owned and run and they have been exceptionally effective in assisting white farmers. The relationship has been mutually beneficial and Mapogo has an impressive track record. In some cases, it has recovered stolen goods from farmers within a mere matter of hours. Mapogo though, has said that it believes the South African government is trying to sabotage its efforts.
TAU openly tells its members that they have little future in farming and that they are not in a position to protect and ensure a future for white farmers in South Africa. It openly tells them that they should consider selling their farms and either leaving the country or moving into another career. Clearly this is not a good state of affairs for the farmers or for this country, which remains the only big producer of food in the region.
Last year the PAC (Pan Africanist Congress), a small, super-radical, Maoist party which looks up to Mugabe as a hero, began illegally “selling land” for about $3 per “plot” to blacks. The land consisted of some government and privately owned land which the PAC had no right to sell. Eventually the ANC (African National Congress) dominated government removed the blacks who had “bought” this land. But I heard via the grapevine that there were land invasions elsewhere in South Africa where some of the blacks had not been removed.
There is also a strange squatter’s rights law in South Africa enacted by the current government. If someone lives on your property for a certain period of time (72 hours I think), you may not evict them without finding alternative accommodation for them. So while the government does not condone land invasions openly (it would no doubt dent its image in the world in a big way), it has nevertheless created a situation which could help favour land invasions. TAU studies show that most of the legislation being passed by the South African government relates to land ownership. In one case it compiled a map of the Mpumalanga region showing that approximately half the white farmland was being claimed by blacks through land claims courts! (This was as in 1998). When the government realized TAU was compiling this map, they then stopped giving out information on new land claims — no doubt to hide the true extent of white farmland which was being claimed.
But TAU officials, such as Jack Loggerenberg whom I spoke to, point out that ultimately legal “land reform” is doomed. If land is to be bought up at market prices from white farmers and given to blacks then eventually they will run out of money — just as Zimbabwe did. Given this situation it is inevitable that at some point violence will have to be used. TAU studies show that there is every reason to believe that violence is being used clandestinely to drive white farmers off their land. This is no different from the guerilla tactics used up in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe during the Liberation war up there. But most farmers are not interested in leaving. So this once more leads to the possibility of a future conflict.
Thus many people in South African farming circles have been coming up with defensive measures, tactics and new organizational ideas to combat what they see as an inevitable fight coming up. As I said above, one can see that in spite of massive increased violence being used against farmers since 1994, the actual casualties remain almost constant and this is clear evidence that counter-measures are working. Even so, the farm murder rate of 120-150 people per annum is too high for a farming community of 30,000-40,000. Studies show that farmers in South Africa have a 700% greater chance of being murdered than farmers anywhere else in the most dangerous parts of the world.
I have heard a number of suggestions on the quiet that military units be set up to defend farmers. Firstly, the farmers have the old Commando system in place which dates back to the time of the Boer war and earlier. This system is actively in use and is similar to the Militia in the USA. It is actively supported by many and they have access to proper military weapons.
Colonel Du Toit’s company had a team of trained security guards (soldiers in reality), who could be flown by helicopter to provide a quick reaction team to counter farm attacks. To my knowledge, his team was never put to use in the area where his company operated. On a sad note, various things happened to Colonel Du Toit, and he lost control of the company he was operating. I have been trying to establish whether the government was actively working against him and I have no further comments on it at this time.
A friend of mine with military experience recently went to the Northern Transvaal, to join a security company there which specializes in protecting farmers and countering poachers. He told me that they were planning a Farm Attack Reaction Unit which could race to the aid of farmers under attack.
I have also heard hints of using such military units to chase black farm invaders off farms if that should happen. I heard a story from a friend, which I cannot ascertain how true it is, that last year, some blacks tried to invade a farm in Natal. According to the story, the farmer asked the police to help but they said they could not. So the farmer then put out word on a local radio station. Other farmers rushed to his aid. Together they drove the blacks to the top of a hill which they set on fire and burned the blacks to death. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this story since one heard nothing more in the media and surely if whites did that, there would be a massive outcry about it?
The demographics of South Africa make military operations against land invasions much more practical. South Africa is not as forested and as isolated as parts of Zimbabwe are. Also, the white population is huge by comparison. There are 4.2 million whites in a land with a total population of about 40 million. Whites make up about 10% of the population.
It is my opinion that Farm Attack Reaction Units are a brilliant and most workable idea in South Africa. If these things are supported as a normal part of existing Security Companies (of which there are a great many due to the massive crime in this country), then they could actually thwart Zimbabwe-style land invasions one day. The bigger question is whether people will have the will to use them. The farming community in South Africa is very alienated from the government and views the government as its enemy. The farm murders have angered them greatly. There is definitely a different type of logic at work in South Africa compared to Zimbabwe. Whereas in Zimbabwe, the whites and blacks are of an extremely liberal non-violent outlook, the South African farming community is much more conservative and they believe a war is being waged against them. Since there are lots of out-of-work white ex-police and army personnel joining Security companies, it is very possible that Farm Attack Reaction Units could be formed easily if the need arose one day.
Thus, for the foreseeable future it seems as if the farm attacks are the major threat and massive land invasions are still a few years off. But things can change.
I do believe that here in South Africa it would be wise to encourage the training and implementation of military units in the long term to protect white farmers. If such a thing is properly done and funded it could completely change the situation here and make Zimbabwe-style “slow motion” land invasions totally impractical and unworkable. The only thing it would not be able to handle would be truly massive, “Blitzkrieg-type” invasions. Such a thing, of course, could also result in an all-out race war.
The point of this article however, is to show that the situation in South Africa could be very different from Zimbabwe. While politically we are about 10 years behind Zimbabwe in terms of “Land Reform” we could easily end up where they are. But, given the different demographics here, the Zimbabwe tactics need not succeed at all. A few well-trained Security operatives could easily chase off hundreds of unarmed or semi-armed black attackers. For farm invasions to then succeed they would have to be undertaken as military operations by the blacks.
I believe that in the long term South Africa is actually slouching towards a fully blown race war- – which is something I have written about in the past and which I believe can happen in 10-20 years time.
Jan Lamprecht is a South African writer and works in the computer industry.