Robert Lynn and Susan Howarth were tortured at their farm in South Africa.
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
LAST month, British woman Sue Howarth and her husband Robert Lynn were woken at 2am by three men breaking into a window of their remote farm in Dullstroom, a small town in the northeast of South Africa, about 240km from the nearest capital city.
The couple, who had lived in the area for 20 years, were tied up, stabbed, and tortured with a blowtorch for several hours. The masked men stuffed a plastic bag down Mrs Howarth’s throat, and attempted to strangle her husband with a bag around his neck.
The couple were bundled into their own truck, still in their pyjamas, and driven to a roadside where they were shot. Mrs Howarth, 64, a former pharmaceutical company executive, was shot twice in the head. Mr Lynn, 66, was shot in the neck.
Miraculously he survived, and managed to flag down a passer-by early on Sunday morning. Mrs Howarth, who police said was “unrecognisable” from her injuries, had multiple skull fractures, gunshot wounds and “horrific” burns to her breasts.
“Sue was discovered amongst some trees, lying in a ditch,” writes Jana Boshoff, reporter for the local Middelburg Observer newspaper. “Her rescuers managed to find her by following her groans of pain and then noticing drag marks from the road into the field.
“Her head was covered with a towel. Her eyes were swollen shut. She was partially clothed with just scraps of her shirt remaining. Her breasts and upper body was bloody. The plastic bag, shoved down her throat, took some effort to remove because her jaw was clamped down tightly.
“How she managed to breathe with the bag in her throat remains a mystery. One of her rescuers later recalled how Sue was unresponsive except for the constant groaning. Whilst the man ran back to the road to see if an ambulance has not arrived yet, she managed to curl one of her arms around her breasts in a last attempt to protect herself.”
She was rushed to hospital and placed on life support, but died two days later. Due to her British nationality, her murder attracted an unusual amount of overseas media attention.
Robert Lynn managed to survive the attack.Source:Supplied
Mr Lynn shows how he was tortured with a blowtorch. Picture: ITV NewsSource:Supplied
In any other country, such a crime would be almost unthinkable. But in South Africa, these kinds of farm attacks are happening nearly every day. This year so far, there have been more than 70 attacks and around 25 murders in similar attacks on white farmers.
Earlier this month, for example, 64-year-old Nicci Simpson was tortured with a power drill during an attack involving three men at her home on a farm in the Vaal area, about two hours drive from Johannesburg.
When paramedics arrived, they found three dead dogs, and the woman lying in a pool of blood, spokesman Russel Meiring told News24. “They used a drill to torture her,” police spokesman Lungelo Dlamini said.
Official statistics on farm attacks are non-existent, due to what human rights groups have described as a “cover-up” by the notoriously corrupt — and potentially complicit — South African government.
The most reliable numbers are released by the Transvaal Agricultural Union, which represents commercial farmers, and civil rights group AfriForum.
According to the TAU, last year there were 345 attacks resulting in 70 deaths — the highest death toll since 2008. In 2015 there were 318 attacks resulting in 64 deaths, and the year before there were 277 attacks resulting in 67 deaths.
In total, between 1998 and the end of 2016, 1848 people have been murdered in farm attacks — 1187 farmers, 490 family members, 147 farm employees, and 24 people who happened to be visiting the farm at the time.
While South Africa has one of the highest rates of violent crime anywhere in the world, the attacks on white farmers are no ordinary crimes.
In a 2014 report, “The Reality of Farm Tortures in South Africa”, AfriForum wrote that “the horror experienced during farm tortures is almost incomprehensible”.
“The well-known ‘blood sisters’ from the South African company Crimescene-cleanup have rightly indicated that, in their experience, farm tortures are by far the most horrific acts of violence in South Africa,” the report said.
“They are of the opinion that the term ‘farm murders’ is misleading and that the terms ‘farm terror’ and ‘farm tortures’ are more suitable.”
An image of an elderly farm attack victim uploaded to Facebook.Source:Facebook
Human rights groups say the number of attacks is increasing.Source:Facebook
While sometimes farmers and their families are tortured to obtain information, such as the whereabouts of keys to the safe, human rights groups say the excessive brutality may be intended to send a message to the general farming community — get out of our country.
Victims are often restrained, harmed with weapons such as machetes and pitchforks, burned with boiling water or hot irons, dragged behind vehicles and shot. Female victims are often raped during attacks.
AfriForum warns that the attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, military-style raids, but says community farm watch groups and sharing of information on WhatsApp and Facebook were thwarting a “significant” number.
The three men responsible for killing Mrs Howarth — Themba William Yika, Nkosinathi Yika and Lucas Makua — were arrested soon after, and more than 150 farmers turned up to demonstrate outside court.
But any form of justice is incredibly rare, and white farmers are increasingly questioning their future. The number of white farmers in South Africa has halved in a little over two decades to just 30,000. Thousands more farms are up for sale.
“The farmers live in fear, because being a farmer in South Africa is the most dangerous occupation in the world,” Henk van de Graaf, spokesman for the TAU, told Swedish newspaper Nya Tider last year.
“The average murder ratio per 100,000 or the population in the world is nine, I believe. In South Africa, it is 54. But for the farming community it is 138, which is the highest for any occupation in the world.”
Since 2007, at the direction of the government, South African police have stopped releasing statistics about the race of the victims. Monitoring group Genocide Watch says the cover-up has been exacerbated by American and European governments, which have “remained silent about the problem, reinforcing the campaign of denial”.
The rise in farm attacks has been blamed on increasingly anti-white hate speech, particularly from the ruling African National Congress.