It takes an unwavering courage to farm. Daily, producers are faced with a multitude of risks. A lost crop, theft, unpredictable weather and crime. And, in the case of Allison Oates, also a brutal rape attack.
The 64-year-old Free State cattle farmer survived the worst of these risks. First, she fought for her life during three hours of sexual assault and torture, and later, she endured a four-year battle to get one of her attackers convicted. Instead of giving up, her pain shaped her into a warrior with a smile.
Oates farms on a 1 350-hectare farm inherited from her parents nearly 20 years ago.
With the help of six farmworkers, she farms with about 100 cattle, occasionally supplying beef to a local butchery and feedlot near Harrismith in the Free State.
“My parents were farmers, and I did not expect to become a farmer, but then my husband left me, and I had a choice to try farming or not. I tried it and I have never regretted it,” she tells Food For Mzansi, reminiscing about her journey.
Everything went well until 2015 when an unthinkable crisis threatened her farming spirit. For hours, Oates was raped, tortured and assaulted by an assailant demanding weapons and cash on her farmstead.
When the unthinkable happens
“We have burglar bars on our houses. We have panic buttons. We have radios… One Sunday afternoon I came home, and two people accosted me. I thought they were some friends playing a practical joke, but they were not,” Oates says.
“They were after guns and money and I had neither. They did not believe me and for three hours they were very vicious to me.”
It is no secret that over the past two decades, South Africa has become one of the world’s rape capital, following a surge in femicide and rape cases. Oates, however, could never imagine that it would happen to her too.
“I absolutely agree that people are innocent until proven guilty, but I do think our court system needs to be jacked up.”
To have survived three hours fighting for her life, and then to give up was simply out of the question, she says.
“It was astoundingly difficult to get over this stuff. No farmer is ever safe.
“I love farming. I did not work so hard in those three and a half hours to stay alive just to die afterwards. It was quite grim and quite difficult to get over,” she says.
Themba “Steen” Makhubo was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Harrismith Magistrate Court in November 2020 and handed a further 15 years for armed robbery with aggravating circumstances.
The wheel of justice turn slowly
A true test of her courage came in the criminal proceedings of the case, she says. Police manged to nab Makhubo six months after the ordeal. His conviction, however, saw Oates in and out of court for four years.
The court reportedly considered the emotional suffering of Oates as Makhubo showed no remorse for his actions, given the continued rise in violent crimes against women and children.
However, she is aware that she is one of the lucky ones.
According to Africa Check, in the 2015/16 financial year the police recorded 51 895 crimes of a sexual nature. A total of 42 596 included acts of rape.
“I absolutely agree that people are innocent until proven guilty, but I do think our court system needs to be jacked up. The DA helped me in pressurising and asking the right people the right questions.
“I was grateful to them, but on a national basis it is an absolute shame that we cannot address the issue (low conviction rate for sexual crimes) so that things do not drag out. That is not how it should be,” she says.
Last year, police minister Bheki Cele revealed that 4 058 people were arrested for violent crimes against women, but only 130 were convicted. That is only 3%.
This, he admitted, was in part due to shoddy police work, prejudice of law enforcement and government and inaccessibility of crucial resources.
To be a female farmer in Mzansi
Women may not have the same physical strength as men do, but it is surprisingly easy to be a female farmer in South Africa, says Oates. All you need is a good labour force.
“I battle sometimes with 50kg bags, but all you do is halve them and then you have got 25kg, which is not impossible for me to move. I do not think the limitations women have in terms of physical strengths should stop them from farming.”
“A woman is always good at multi-tasking. I really do think that farming is ALL ABOUT multi-tasking.”
In her 20 years of farming, Oates says she has been especially pleased by the number of women who had embarked on agricultural journeys and succeeded.
“You just do it. There are lots of women who farm, it is becoming more and more normal, which I am very pleased about. It was fairly unusual when I was doing it, but agriculture is no longer a boys’ club.
“You farm with your brain and not your brawns.
“Any female who wishes to farm should not let her gender stand in the way.”
A woman’s secret to farming, lies in her ability to multitask, Oates says with a slight chuckle. “A woman is always good at multi-tasking, I really do think that farming is multi-tasking.”