With at least two farm murders being reported in the last two weeks alone, experts warn agriculturists should seek immediate counselling if they have survived violent attacks. If they do not, it could haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Often, farmers and their workers who are attacked live in remote areas, far from support service that can help them deal with traumatic events. Dr Frans Minnie, a theologian and pastoral counsellor, tells Food For Mzansi the importance of counselling after an attack is underestimated by farming communities.
Minnie, who has 13 years’ experience in helping these communities with trauma, works with Agri SA as a counsellor within their Agri Securitas Trust Fund. The fund was started to support local security project in creating safer rural environments.
‘Not seeking help is dangerous’
Minnie says victims of farm attacks, or those affected by it, often believe they are strong enough to deal the traumatic experiences on their own. “Or they do not want to ask for help because they feel other people are going to think that they are not strong enough.”
This, Minnie explains, is especially the case with male farmers and workers. In his experience, women are usually more open to counselling and also less afraid to open up about their experiences.
Not seeking help is a very dangerous move, warns Minnie. “It is like a ticking time bomb. You may be able to go on for six months to a year but then suddenly you just give in, and it feels like things are too much for you.”
Survivors often, subsequently, deal with great stress, mood swings and disorientation. By the time they seek counselling, this has developed from trauma to post-traumatic stress. And dealing with post-traumatic stress is no child’s play, he believes.
A recent analysis by Free State Agriculture’s security desk on farm attacks and murders, reveals that in the 2020-2021 financial year, the province had 61 farm attacks and 12 murders. This was the most attacks and murders in a five-year period.
How to support farm attack survivors
Minnie tells Food For Mzansi that because farm attack survivors live in remote areas, it becomes crucial that the affected agricultural community is guided and equipped to support to victims.
“The most important part for someone who is suffering from trauma is to talk about it. That person does not necessarily have to be an expert but should be able to guide the victim. Someone like a family member, friend or colleague must be able to listen,” he says.
Victims can be supported in many small ways, including cooking meals for them or offering to take their children to school. Minnie says this gives the victims a much-needed break from certain activities and time to focus on themselves and getting better.
Attacks impact entire communities
Meanwhile, Dr Jane Buys, a safety and risk analyst at Free State Agriculture, says it is important for the entire farming community to speak up.
Often, after an attack, the greater community experiences anxiety and not just the people who were directly involved with the incident.
“It affects everyone, from the victims to the community and even the police who come down on gruesome scenes. I think it is really important that people are constantly reminded of the importance of trauma counselling because the trauma could have a long-term effect,” she says.
Buys is also a big champion of trauma counselling.
“After a farm attack or murder, the community and police [need to] do a reflection. They sit together and observe how the mobilisation of the farming community and the police took place, where the shortcomings are and what problem areas need to be addressed,” she explains.
The smart thing to do…
Minnie’s advice for farm attack victims is to seek immediate help.
“I know of someone who was inVOLVED IN a farm attack last year. it got so bad that it spilled over to his children who no longer cope in school.”
It is not a shame to seek help, he adds. In fact, you are actually really smart if you choose to go for counselling. Those who do not seek counselling, often start coming unproductive, depressed and hooked on substances such as alcohol.
“If you feel you need help, then you should contact someone who can guide you through the trauma as soon as possible.”