White South African farmers are enrolling in specially designed self-defense courses based on fears that they’ll be attacked by black South Africans.
According to Newsweek, which cites local news sources, a number of white farmers have tapped Idan Abolnik, a former soldier with the Israeli special forces, to help them protect themselves. This follows the South African Parliament’s move earlier this year to redistribute land from white South African farmers to black workers, raising fears among those white farmers of violent attacks.
The South African government has said that it will not compensate the farmers for their land.
Abolnik told South African TV channel News 24 that his class is specially designed for the farmers, focusing on a “a variety of different attacks” using weapons and hand-to-hand combat.
“We train them to deal with a variety of different attacks. We teach them hand-to-hand combat, bush warfare, semi-bush warfare, urban warfare and how to collect information,” he said.
Marli Swanepoel, one of Abolnik’s students, says she’s targeted because she’s a white landowner.
“What is happening in our country is intense and I get very emotional,” she told Sky News. “Our people are getting murdered, tortured. Our old people can’t defend themselves and are being burned with cooking oil.”
While the farmers say violence against them has surged recently, no available data backs up that claim.
AgriSA, an agricultural organization, found that murders of farmers were at a 20-year low, according to Newsweek, which reports that between 2017 and 2018, 47 farmers were murdered—down from 66 in the previous year.
The reports adds that the deadliest period for farmers was between 1997 and 1998, when 153 were murdered; the most recent data has the number of farm workers killed at less than a third of that. There has been a “small uptick” in nonlethal attacks on farmers, Newsweek notes.
None of the data is disaggregated by race, meaning that this number includes black farmworkers, too.
Still, the panic over what may happen to white South African farmers has spread. Some Americans started a petition to give them special refugee status, while an Australian minister recently called for “special attention” to be given to the farmers, saying that they needed aid “from a civilized country like ours.”
South Africa demanded a retraction from Australia for the comments.
South African International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu told The Guardian there is no need for the farmers—or anyone else—to fear.
“We are engaged in a process of land redistribution, which is very important to address the imbalances of the past,” Sisulu said. “But it is going to be done legally, and with due consideration of the economic impact and impact on individuals.”