Testing the conceptual boundaries of the 1948 convention on genocide: Bad weather for the rainbow nation & the Boer case

Trekboers crossing the Karoo by Charles Davidson Bell

Testing the conceptual boundaries of the 1948 convention on genocide: Bad weather for the rainbow nation & the Boer case.

It is no mystery that South Africa’s nation-building has been marked by racial tensions and ethnic struggles. The dominating tradition of colonialism and the apartheid system has created deep breaches between communities and until today inequalities reflect this heritage. The figure of Nelson Mandela and his wish for reconciliation between plural ethnicity from a violent past has helped build downloadthe ideal goal of an appeased rainbow nation. From Mandela’s momentum, the post-apartheid regime has made efforts as this direction as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 1996, illustrates (TRC 2018).


Nevertheless, more than five years after Mandela’s death, disillusionment prevails. The country is far from reaching the goal of peaceful coexistence and systemic inequalities, underdevelopment, rampant poverty or corruption are some examples of the daily struggles experienced by the South African population. Recently, voices have raised to denounce the genocide of white farmers in South Africa. But is it not clear to what extent this community, once leading a regime based on racial discrimination, is undergoing a systematic targeting aiming to intently destroy, in whole or in part, this ethnic racial group.

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The term “genocide” is now part of the global lexicon as carrying a set of strong historical and emotional references, but there seems to be a general misapprehension as regards to the legal requirements of genocide under international law, which is not confined only to South Africa (van der Merwe 2013). This research paper aims at addressing this issue by analyzing how the Genocide Convention could tackle the case of white farmers in South Africa and what would be its conceptual limitations.

Genocides are often considered as the ‘crime of crimes’ (Schabas 2016), echoing very tormented times of our recent history. Legally, the concept of ‘genocide’ has been defined as a crime under international law in the Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948, as “any act that attempts to intentionally destroy, in whole or partially, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group” (United Nations Treaty Collection) based on their intrinsic characteristics. The means to do so can be through the active killing of members of the targeted group, serious bodily or mental harm, measures to prohibit the group from having a descendant (measures to prevent births or the systematic transfer of children), or purposively inflicting harsh living conditions (OSAPG Analysis Framework). As depicted above, the Genocide Convention defines in strict and precise terms what is considered in international law as genocide. In the post-WWII context, this international treaty aimed at creating a legal international common ground to avoid the renewal of gross and systematic human rights violations and catastrophes that plagued the second major international conflict of recent human History. South Africa has not ratified the Genocide Convention but has signified its agreement for the Convention to be legally binding through the act of accession in 1998 (United Nations Treaty collection). Today, South Africa is not in a state of war, but the country suffers from strong political, ethnic and social tensions. Seventy years later the creation of UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the context of international relations and Humans Rights across the globe have undergone tremendous changes. Thus, the strict and necessarily limited boundaries of the Convention may be put into question as some forms of genocide escapes the frame of the 1948 UN Convention.

download (2)1948: The Genocide Convention Is Adopted 

I consider question: Is the Boer minority undergoing a new form of genocide that subsumes the actual conceptual boundaries of the 1948 Convention on Genocide? The thesis of this research article is that the Boer community is experiencing a genocide through a variety if dynamics that will be discussed below and that those dynamics fundamentally threaten what makes them unique as a group: the intersection of their ethnicity which trace back to a historical heritage, and their practice of farming the land, which is their only way of subsistence.

The research for this article is focused around demographic statistical reports, violence and crime rates, an analysis of the discourse of the African National Congress (ANC), Julius Malema’s political party Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), journal articles and the NGO “AfriForum.” It is important to keep in mind that all the sources may be biased to the extent that they represent the views and interests of their communities. Tracing the evolution of discourse and its policy implications toward the Boers will shed light on the rational developed around the concepts of decolonization, social and transitional justice and the empowerment of the black majority, also acting as a catalyzer of violence and justifying hatred and racism towards the Boer minority. The objective is to show how the present Genocide Convention’s limits to address the strong racial, social and ethnic tensions observed in South Africa and why it may not fully grasp new forms of genocide happening in a formally post-colonial world.

The South African contextual background: A nation built on institutional oppression and systematic ethnic separation.The ethnic and political context in South Africa is unique for many reasons. This section first circumcises the scope of analysis for this research paper and presents the political facts and ethnic dynamics that argue for the conceptualization of the Boers population as undergoing a new form of genocide. We will first present the main actors being studied: the Boer population, the ANC and the EFF political parties.
The Boer population as a specific group with intrinsic characteristics that makes them unique.

Historically, the arrival of European populations, with the Cape Colony, mostly Dutch and British descent, is situated between 1652 and 1691 (Heese et al. 1971). In other words, more than 330 years ago. The settler colony gradually evolved from being mostly a European trade relay with Asia to become a permanent settlement based on agriculture. The white farmers are understood as a specific racial and ethnic group that occupies a specific activity on the South African territory.  They are white, due to their mostly Dutch, Germans and English origins and they are farmers, due to their social and professional occupancy. It is the intersection of these two specific elements that makes them unique as a group, therefore they are also often referenced as Boers, literally meaning ‘farmers’ in Dutch.download (4)

The term Boer is referring to a very specific part of the population, relating to a historical heritage. The use of the term Boer has to be distinguished from the term Afrikaners that refers to a wider part of the population englobing both the rural and the urban white population speaking the Afrikaans language. This combination of specificities creates a unique ethnicity of the Boer, that is also strongly normatively charged in the popular narrative. As a specific group with hereditary characteristics, this minority is linked to a historical background of oppression and racism with the 17th-century colonization the apartheid regime that last from 1948 until 1991 (Bullier 1990: 62). As mentioned, the Boers correspond to a specific part of the South African population because of their professional occupation: as farmers, they work the land and product goods, their source of revenue and survival entirely depends on the property of the lands they exploit. The majority of the white farming population is concentrated in the East and Northern areas of South Africa (StatSa. 2011).

The objective of this article is not to look at the white population as a targeted group because of racial characteristics, but to look at this specific Boer population, long established in rural regions of South Africa and that is ethnically very different from the white and urbanized population living in the main South African cities such as Cap Town.

Political parties and institutions: the ANC and the EFF. Hathaway (2002) points out the government responsibility in the conduction of genocidal actions.

download (5)The idea that a group can be genocide against for political beliefs supports the argument to look at how the ANC justifies its policies on land confiscation. I will argue why those two parties represent key post-1994 actors in both justifying and suggesting the genocide of the Boer population through the concepts of transitional social justice, reparation and land redistribution. One of the objectives is to determine the ANC and the EFF’s ideological role in the phenomenon and how the leading party’s discourse can potentially participate in justifying the white farmer genocide.

The National African Congress.

The ANC is central to the analysis as it has been the dominating political party in the post-apartheid South African context. From the historical and political contextual background of South Africa presented in this section, it is clear that racial differences in terms of social capital and resources is a central component of violence and instability and should thus be taken carefully taken into account when implementing policies on their basis: “although ethnic identities are socially constructed, they acquire the solidity of effect: they become real for their bearers and have actual consequences, especially in contexts where access to resources is allocated on the basis of one’ identity” (Hendricks. 2004: 113). After 1994, the ANC inherited from the apartheid regime and the expectations for appeasement, reconciliation and economic development from the domestic population as well as for the international community were tremendous. The party had the responsibility to restore social and economic justice and to put forward the process of reconciliation while acknowledging the rights of the variety of groups populating the rainbow nation (blacks, whites but also coloured and Asian/Indian people). The task and the hopes for change were very high, but structural reformation of institutions and policies can cause great instability on the political sphere and the society if not done through incremental change: “the post-apartheid state seeks to reverse the effects of ethnically based politics and race-based citizenship and distribution of resources through the dual process of creating a unified nation and the implementation of policies for redress” (Hendricks. 2004:113). In this sense, many observers argue that there was little to no change between the apartheid and post-apartheid era (Hunt 2014). In some sectors, the country seems to be in even worse conditions: it has one of the most unequal income distribution in the world and despite great efforts from the ANC to redress this situation, the result hardly shows to be effective empirically.

Influence of a communist line of thought as a basic conceptual group for policies.

download (6)From the competition between post-colonial empires to the influence of the Soviet Union and China, the Marxist ideology is strongly implanted on the African continent and the transition to socialism has been tried to be implemented with various successes (Shatten 1966; Henriksen 1981; . To a good extent, the revolutionary component of the South African political agenda seems to be inspired by this ideology (Munslow 1986). Both the ANC and the EFF have a political project inspired by socialism and communism (Callinicos 1996). Conceptually, one can argue that the core Marxian idea of class struggle based on economic inequalities are translated into a struggle based on racial characteristics, as those two characteristics have historically intertwined with the colonial past.

In this sense, the Boer, as a farmer, owns the land, or the means of agricultural production. This ‘elite’ minority has access to agricultural technologies and have the capacities to exploit the lands they own and eventually ensure of their survival, while the black farmer is mostly employed in those farms as an agricultural worker and doesn’t own his own land or means of production. This racially delimited structure of power that could be compared to the Marxian infrastructure is directly inherited from the colonial regime and the apartheid system. As data shows today, the black population is condemned to the position of farm employment. In this sense, by not owning the means of production, or the land they work on, they are alienated and oppressed by the bourgeoisie, or the Boer.

This narrative justifies the claims that have been made in the last decades by the ANC for a global redistribution of the lands that are in majority owned by the Boer minority: “land ownership in South Africa remains heavily skewed across racial lines twenty years after the end of apartheid,” 79% of the South African land is privately owned and 80% is owned by whites 1(Africacheck 2014). Nevertheless, based on this narrative two mains treat relating to the formal Genocide Convention. Here again the numbers are highly controversial and don’t make consensus among researchers.

Julius Malema and the EFF: a central political actor in the fuelling of extremist views on the structural inequality problems in South Africa.

This phenomenon of violent attacks on the farm with a clear a deliberate will to kill its occupants is not new but seems to have been accelerated or ‘radicalized’ in the recent years, through the construction of a narrative, based on the ideology of the ANC and for the most part through the most radical party of the Economic Freedom Fighters, created download (7)2013 and led by the controversial figure of Julius Malema. Julius Malema has been a member of the ANC since the 90s and led the Youth Branch until 2012, he was excluded from the ANC in 2013 because of his stance and calls for violence on the white farming South African minority and was accused of encouraging a climate of extremism and violence against this minority (Le Figaro 2010).

Echoing to this pattern of radicalization that can be conceptually linked to the idea of a necessary Marxian revolution, the EFF is a central actor in its role of inciting genocide towards the Boer minority. The EFF and its leader Julius Malema have consistently made the headlines since his political engagement. The political project of the EFF is strongly embedded in a communist vision with two main political projects for the country, which are, on the one hand, the unity of the land: “the EFF’s approach to land expropriation without compensation is that all land should be transferred to the ownership and custodianship of the state” and on the other hand, the nationalization of the main economical sectors : “owing to the character of the South African economy and the aspirations of the people for economic freedom, state ownership and control of strategic sectors of the economy should be the foundation for sustainable economic transformation in South Africa” (effonline.org).

If such policy seems to be justified by the fairness and equality, it’s direct and indirect effects could be devastating: “Neighbouring Zimbabwe witnessed a similar situation in the 2000s when Marxist dictator Robert Mugabe instituted a programme of mass land confiscation. Many were murdered as squatters seized white-owned farms and ran them into the ground, ultimately leading to a collapse in agricultural production and economic depression.” (Breitbart 2017)  It seems that the roots of the ANC and for the most part of the EFF’s ideology represents a fertile ground for more extreme forms of what is advocated for in substance with those policies. Thus, if they implement their political project in its entirety, could strongly reshape the socio-economic order of the country in its entirety, but also ultimately signify the end of the Boer community through institutional means.

Why should it be conceptualized as genocide? From direct to indirect clues of systematic targeting.

Transition towards democracy and the wish for a true rainbow nation: how post-apartheid regime is far from effective reconciliation.

South Africa is a democratic country since the post-apartheid era, marked by the 1994 elections that made Nelson Mandela the first elected president (Hunt 2014). One can affirm that the transition towards democracy has been successful in South Africa, as elections have been occurring since then and as the institutions survive through political change. Nevertheless, such success in political-regime transition does not necessarily equate to a full social reconciliation from a past of racial segregation and oppression, which indicates that the inherited patterns of inequality run deep into the country.

Despite being a formal democracy, South Africa suffers from many systemic issues that make some claim that genocide is happening despite political efforts for reconciliation:  The lack of true social reconciliation and the contemporary relevance of the crime of incitement to commit genocide are exemplified by an ongoing debate surrounding the existence of a so-called “Boer genocide” in South Africa. Those who argue in favour of its existence frequently cite crime statistics (the high murder rate among white South African farmers relative to other population groups) along with the failure to act preventatively on the part of the South African government as proof of an ongoing genocide (van der Merwe. 2013: 350).

The issue seems to purposely not be addressed by domestic and international actors: denial and dissemination as a clue of genocide. Another important aspect is that the systematic attacks on farms owned by whites seem to have been mostly occulted by the traditional media: only article relating to the problem of governance, sporadic articles on crimes committed in farms, but rarely any mention of the aim, intention and rational behind these crimes. Recently the ‘far right alternative media’ has been trying to put the issue into the international political agenda, whether it is to further their own political agenda or coming from a real concern for the fate of this community, the phenomenon should not be overlooked and should be issued. The fact that the genocide is happening insidiously, without the international community being aware or willing to put this issue onto the agenda, is another aspect that escapes the actual Genocide Convention:

“It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses. They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes and continue to govern until driven from power by force when they flee into exile.” (Genocide Watch 1996). Nevertheless, it is not new as historically, nations rarely recognize acts of genocide whether directly or indirectly committed. What one could conceptualize as a ‘denial stage’ very often inherently part of the process of genocide:

Conceptual and theoretical considerations: Limits of the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Coming back on the very content of the 1948 Genocide Convention, we will review, through the light of the information brought above, why genocide is targeting the Boer population and what are the conceptual boundaries that prevent from grasping the entirety of dynamics at stake.

Article II of the Genocide Convention. Genocide, moreover, with torture, is universally acknowledged, as one of the most broadly prohibited human rights violations. The Convention of Torture mentions that genocide could be conducted through ‘(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group’ or ‘Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.’ For the South African case, there is no evidence of a forced assimilation or dilution of the farmer’s ethnicity. download (8)As presented previously, the means of genocide are operated with indirect deportation through the implementation of land appropriation without compensation or through the direct killing of the members of the community with the farm assault that have been increasing at high rates, resulting in torture which causes ‘serious bodily and mental harm to the members of the group.’

Article III of the Genocide Convention. In the list of acts that shall be punishable under international law are the ideas of ‘© Direct and public incitement to commit genocide’; ‘(d) Attempt to commit genocide’; and ‘ Complicity in genocide.’ If we strictly apply these conditions, the ANC as well as the EFF are guilty of direct and public incitement to commit genocide through the development of a propaganda inciting violence. In 2017, the then former South African President Jacob Zuma, who is the highest political figure of the country but has since there been dismissed for fraud and corruption, was chanting in August 2017 the infamous “Kill the Boer” song, during a political rally of the ANC. download (9)Targeting here both directly the professional activity and the ethnic origin of this minority. This act can be considered as a direct incitation to murder toward an identified minority. Nevertheless, put into the South African context, this chant has a deeper meaning. “Shoot the Boer” (Dubula iBhunu) is part of a historical anti-apartheid ditty that relates to the struggles experienced by the black community during the apartheid regime and their will to break free from the colonizer oppression, essentialized as “the Boer” (The Guardian 2012).

Construction of a radicalized narrative by the ANC.

Similarly, to the Afrikaner Party leading during the first half of the 20th century that developed a strong and holistic identity around a sacred character of their race, closely linked to a Dutch and Calvinist doctrine, the ANC and the EFF have, in recent years, built a similar narrative to justify the targeting of the white farming minority. This reoccurring phenomenon can be linked to the theories of nationalism as political actions need to be conceptually backed up by a strong imaginary and a justifying narrative appealing to the masses. This is why we often find the same dynamics leading to ethnic hatred and genocide: links to an idealized and essentialized past, illusions of a homogeneous identity and interests, sacralization of the group’s identity as ways to justify the use of force and violence.

The issue of multi-ethnicity, policy-making and transitional justice. Land reform has long been present in the South African political agenda as it is perceived to be an effective way to reduce inequalities among communities: “The Ruling African National Congress has long promised reforms to redress racial disparities in land ownership and the subject remains highly emotive more than two decades after the end of apartheid. Whites still own most of South Africa’s land following centuries of brutal colonial dispossession.” (Reuters 2018). It seems as if the discourse built around this set of policies links land redistribution to the colonized past of the country, making this issue an inherently racially divided one.

Thus, if the objective is to appease social tensions between racial groups, the rational on which the land reform policies are built is exclusively fuelled by those same tensions. This is a problem often observed in multi-ethnic and multicultural nations. It is commonly acknowledged that the apartheid era was “a form of pro-white affirmative action” (Ratuva 2013: 219). The danger of the polarization of policies is to create a reversed form of affirmative action that would be systematically pro-black through the movement of black empowerment: “in attempting to find ways in which to affirm multiculturalism and promote nation building we need to understand the process of identity construction and the conditions that induce politicized identity” (Hendricks 2004: 126). Those forms of institutional towards a new form of affirmative action are now a central issue in the domestic political agenda: “South Africa took a step on Tuesday2 to hasten the transfer of land from white to black owners when parliament backed a motion seeking to change the constitution to allow land expropriation without compensation.” (Reuters 2018).

As mentioned previously, the end of the apartheid didn’t solve the problems faced by South Africa when it comes to race and resource divide, on the contrary, group polarization seems to have increased in recent years: “the challenges of the present are to find ways in which to constitute viable political communities that are able to deal with claims for group recognition” (Hendricks 2004: 126) Nevertheless, one could argue that when implemented, the imposition of such extreme measures like requisitions of lands without any form of compensation directly harms the group and prevent it of its survival both because it is a direct financial threat, but also because it eventually destroys the particularity of the Boers as an ethnic minority part of the South African rainbow nation.

Crimes rates and ethnicity: can we observe a pattern?

Since the beginning of the 20th century, there has been a steadily increasing number of murders, with a clear and substantial peak in the beginning of the 90s.  Over time, statistics show a steady decline of the white population in South Africa. In 2011, the white minority represented 8.9% of the population, in 2017, the white estimated population was of 8%. Put in perspective, these numbers are not to be underestimated as this minority lost 93 338 of its members in a period of 6 years (STATS SA. 2017). There is a conceptual difference between a social group based on race and a racial demographic. One could argue that a social group based on race has a strong understanding of its identity and works towards a specific goal to maintain its privileges and the survival of its group, while a racial demographic is a neutral information based on factual reality.

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White farmers have been targeted since the post-apartheid era, with frequent attacks reported on farms, but the authorities and experts are divided as for how to classify those attacks. The way they are listed strongly influences the understanding of this phenomenon: “while they are little-reported even within South Africa itself — the government directed police to stop releasing information about victims’ ethnicity in 2007” (Breitbart 2017).  These numbers could also be illustrating other dynamics such as emigration, nevertheless, the climate of uncertainty and chaos that is acknowledged by many national and international observers may be an encouraging factor. Precautions should be taken when estimating the causes of this tendency. This can also trend is explained by other dynamics such as higher birth rates of other groups and a high level of emigration for white South Africans (The Economist. 2014).

South African farmers have been subjected to an escalating campaign of attacks characterized by extreme brutality, rape and torture, with 82 people killed in a record of 423 incidents last year, according to AfriForum, a rights group representing primarily the white Afrikaner minority. If the rate of violent attacks is not massive enough to erase the Boer population, it nevertheless has a big impact on their perceptions, these sporadic horrifying events send a strong signal to the entire Boer community, this is why many of them consider emigrating to countries like Australia: Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has announced that he has ordered his department to start investigating how to bring white South African farmers into Australia on expedited refugees or humanitarian visas following increased anti-white moves by the African state’s government (European Union Times 2018).farm-attacks-infographic

In this first section, we have argued that the 1948 Genocide Convention falls short into grasping new forms of genocide through the analysis of the white farmers minority community in South Africa. Embedded in a peculiar historical and socio-economical context, we can have shown through the analysis of two main political parties’ rhetoric and through a statistical backup that this minority has been systematically more targeted with policies relating to land property and with violent assault, thus validating part (a) (b) (c) or Article II and parts (b) and (c) of Article III. Nevertheless, the Genocide Convention doesn’t allow to understand the logic of this apparent genocide. It is the intersectionality of an ethnic background and a way of living that is being targeted by the authorities. The next section presents counter-arguments to the classification of a new form of genocide targeting the Boer community in South Africa.

Potential objections to the classification of the Boer as undergoing a new form of genocide: When the with man’s burden becomes the white man’s tragedy.

A presented above, many signs suggest the presence of a reversed dynamic form of racism and prejudice toward the Boer group fuelled by inequality, precarity and socio-political instability. The Boer community becomes the designated scapegoat responsible for the ills of the country. Nevertheless, we will see what objections could be addressed to mitigate the idea of a new genocide ultimately threatening the survival of this community.

A Counter-intuitive genocide? Copernican revolution of the mind: systematic racism is not unidirectional.

In the African context, with its history of colonization and violence from European colonial empires, it seems counter-intuitive to suggest that such extreme form of group eradication could take place. Here, we’ve argued that it is the white population, present in the minority on the territory, that is being targeted because of its ethnicity and its occupancy of the land through two main ways: constitutional changes and farm attacks. Historically with the impact of the European empires, indigenous communities have been to a large extent exclusively the ones targeted by colonization and oppression. This idea of the white man oppressing coloured communities in deeply imbedded in collective memories and South Africa represents the archetype of the European colonial heritage. The AfriForum, main civic organization representing the right of Afrikaners in South Africa asks the following question: “Do the people responsible for the apartheid’s crimes have a claim to their country’s future?” (Foreignpolicy.com. 2017). This question is central to the issue of cohabitation between the many ethnicities composing the rainbow nation. It also echoes to the arguments presented in the first section with the challenge of reconciliation and transitional justice. The recent past, mostly throughout the 20th century, is marked by an Afrikaner-led political environment where laws encouraging racial separation, or apartheid laws, were predominant.

The effects of this institutionalized segregation led to a clear-cut inequality line following race, ethnicity and occupancy. The apartheid government: “reserved the best jobs and the best farmlands for white people; blacks were confined to overcrowded so-called ethnic homelands and had to carry a pass to enter “white” neighborhoods. Apartheid could be vicious. The regime’s police used guns to mow down black protesters and jailed leaders of the anti-apartheid movement (ForeignPolicy. 2017). In this sense, the fact that the Boer community is being more targeted through institutional changes and policy reforms on land issues could be the result of their extinction as a specific community with intrinsic characteristics, but I can also be viewed as a fair reparation for the suffering committed in the past.

Transitional Justice? Changing of the SA constitution: the de-possession without compensation process through legal means as an indirect form of genocide towards the Boers or a necessary compensation to restore equality.

The Parliament has begun amending the Constitution to allow land owned by white South Africans to be confiscated by the government without compensation. As presented above, there has been a radicalization in the construction of a narrative around the idea that the white farmers are illegitimately occupying the lands and that the black population has the right to take it back: “The South African government has a policy called Land Reform, and the goal is to get 30% of farmland into black African ownership. In 1994, at the end of apartheid, almost 90% of the land in South Africa was owned by white South Africans, who make up less than 10% of the population. The government led by the African National Congress (ANC) vowed to redistribute land but implementing land reform policies has been a struggle.” (Farm Futures. 2014). South African government officials find themselves in a deadlock situation as the means for reconciliation and fixing a historical imbalance caused by the refusal of property rights to black people under white minority rule, pose many threats to the equilibrium of the country.

Data on criminality in South Africa.

Another evidence supporting the argument that it is not the white population as a racial minority that is targeted is that the urban white population doesn’t experience higher rates of such organized attacks resulting in acts of torture and deaths. When political officials of the ANC call for the murder of the Boers, they specifically target the farmers. Moreover, South Africa is a very unsafe country, with Johannesburg often being labelled as the crime capital of the world.

Nevertheless, it is challenging to trace causality and identify the true motive at play. Great caution should be taken when drawing conclusions Take into account the past racial tensions. Statistics would let think that white farmers are being murdered at a higher rate than other racial groups. These numbers could also be illustrating other dynamics such as emigration, nevertheless, the climate of uncertainty and chaos that is acknowledged by many national and international observers may be an encouraging factor. The South African social and political context is so chaotic that it is even difficult for experts to make sense of the dynamics relating to crime and violence: “the South African Institute of Race Relations issued research suggesting not; a week later it did a U-turn and suggested they are” (The Guardian 2012). To conclude on this aspect, statistical evidence doesn’t allow to confirm that genocide is currently targeting the white farming population because of the way it is collected and classified. Nevertheless, trends of systematic violence directed toward white families living on farms is indicative of a genocide targeting settlers descend for both racist motives and the occupancy of the land. The problem with the data available is that the government labels these farm attacks as ‘normal burglaries’ that turned violent, and often puts aside the direct intend to make the Boers suffer with almost systematic acts of torture and barbarity. The issue remains highly political and conceptual boundaries evolving around the common understanding of oppression and colonization make the case of the white farmers genocide even more complex to tackle.

Possible limitations relating to data and information bias.

The white farmer genocide is a strongly politically charged issue, as the very veracity of the phenomenon is being contested by some sources when other directly claim that the country is on the verge of a civil war and that Boer identity is doomed to disappear. The challenges to address the white farmers issue as a formal genocide also reinforces the idea that the actual convention doesn’t grasp a wide range of new forms of genocide. South Africa represents an archetype of ethnic tensions and the difficulty for reconciliation in a context of structural and deeply embedded inequalities and development issues when the very root of the nation building was done through segregation and criminal liabilities.


In this article, I argued that a genocide targeting the white farming population is happening in South Africa. Nevertheless, this genocide escapes the conceptual boundaries offered by the 1948 Geneva Convention as it doesn’t take into account the intersectional component of the Boer identity, eventually making the problem more difficult to assess properly. This paper presented how the genocide is based on two closely related dynamics: first, the ethnic origin of the population targeted, and second their activity, that is a central component to their ethnicity and way of living. Those two interrelated components make them a scapegoat of radical political parties such as the EFF as well as targets of violent crimes and assaults, also relating to the historical background that has helped to build a rational targeted towards the Boers and justifying an array of actions from the direct killing and torture during farm assault to the most insidious institutionalization of laws of confiscation of their lands without compensation. Nevertheless, the unicity of the South African context and the position of the white farmers makes the analysis blurry and incomplete, as the evidence available is very often politically biased and represents the interests of a specific group.

The difficulty to make conclusions from the available data depicts the state of incomprehension of what is currently happening in South Africa. Genuine dialogue between the community’s needs to be appeased to break down the growing cycle of violence.  The case of the Boer genocide in South Africa shows that seventy years later, the Genocide Convention needs to be reformed in order to include a more complex understanding of genocidal dynamics. As an Amnesty International report on South Africa (2017/2018) has underlined, the genocide of the white farmer minority needs to be put in a broader perspective in order to understand its underlying causes. South Africa suffers from deep inequalities based on race and ethnicity but also on gender. Structural issues concerning the endemic corruption at the political level and the failures of the justice system need to be addressed urgently to break this cycle of division. This case study has shown that ethnic tensions, precarity, corruption and inequalities are the drivers of criminality, violence and justifies acts of hatred between communities (Amnesty International Reports 2018). This research paper has also shown that contemporary genocidal episodes happen in societies where such structural issues are predominant.

The ongoing genocide of the Boer community can be in great part explained by the incredible challenges the South Africa faces on many fronts. If not done directly and objectively, the destruction of the totality or a great part the Boer community seems to be a reality. Reconciliation needs to come from an actual process of peace building between communities and racial hatred, faults of the past need to be recognized and the redistribution of resources is a fundamental condition to reduce inequalities. As the analysis of the ANC and EFF’s discourse has shown, those unbearable conditions faced by the black majority are a dangerous fuel for the legitimization of acts that should be considered as genocidal.

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