Know Thy Farm Attack Enemy

To start off, let’s consider some characteristics of the farm attack offender.

References and research are replete with details such as offenders living in, and operating from, close proximity to farm attacks. Some offenders currently work nearby, have worked, or currently work on the farm where the attack is perpetrated.

Not in all cases are these facts true since the average distance traveled is reported to be 40 kilometers Mistry and Dhlamini (2001:28) and some offenders have been known to travel up to 180 kilometers to the scene to perpetrate crime[1].

This Means What?

Farm attackers can pretty much come from anywhere although patterns are emerging fingering locals, current employees, and ex-employees as among an attacker’s information group, or an attacker’s means to be aided and abetted[2] (Schönteich, 2000a:89).

Familiarity With Killing

Farm workers are familiar with the slaughtering of animals as a rudimentary process of the food cycle. Farmers simply do not have the habit or inclination to procure their meat, for self-consumption, at PicknPay’s butchery.

Because farmers have workers and these workers have slaughtering as a task like many other tasks, it stands to reason that workers become familiar with killing animals ranging from a chicken to an ox.

In effect, this means that farm workers are desensitized to killing living creatures, often from a very young age, even as they poach game as small as wild rabbits. Whatever survival-meat can be poached comes free from nature’s kitchen – a welcome supplement to many.

Poaching, in the sense here, does not refer to stock theft by any stretch of the imagination.

Why the Reference to Farm Workers?

It’s imperative to consider that whilst some attackers end up being actual farm workers[3] (Lynch domain-specific model (1987:283-300), largely they are actually good and honest people often working on farms for many generations. That unscrupulous outsiders in the same area, settlements, and townships[4] (Britz, 1998:41; Swart, 2003:110) may extract information from them is a fact that they are exposed to by virtue of the area in which they work and kind of employment they hold.

That farm workers have certain tasks and however desensitized they may be, does not automatically place them in a class of “natural born killers”.

The Real Enemy?

How often, after tragedy, have you read an article where witnesses and neighbors mention that “he looked like the average guy next door”, or “he was a kind and quiet type”?

Humans are extremely complex beings. The 2% difference in genetic code between chimpanzees and human[5],[6] (imagination, discernment, and reason) as per Waller and van Inwagen (98.4% with chimpanzees; Waller, 2002; Van Inwagen, 2006), brings into question whether all humans or perpetrators share the same traits. They don’t.

In the words of Dostoevsky (1958: 278) “[…] people sometimes speak of man’s ‘bestial’ cruelty, but this is very unfair and insulting to the beasts: a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so ingeniously, so artistically cruel. A tiger merely gnaws and tears to pieces, that’s all he knows. It would never occur to him to nail men’s ears to a fence and leave them like that overnight, even if he were able to do it.”[7]

There seems to be a very distinct “sub-set” even among farm attack perpetrators that could begin to explain the difference between some victims merely being tied up, to others physically assaulted in some minor way, and yet other victims being tortured for hours on end.

These differences seem to speak to the general housebreaking criminal, the sociopath, and the psychopath. By no means a criminologist talking here; the mere logic seems just so overwhelming that it needs exploration.

The Sociopath and Psychopath

In all references and reports on farm attacks there seem to be no reference to sociopaths and psychopaths. Has anyone looked into this? Should we be looking into this? Is this still too controversial? Can our hunches about this help us avoid attacks by employees?

Here’s a peek into these two – judge for yourself.

The sociopath is apparently the result of learned behavior and environmental factors[8],[9] (Walsh & Bolen, 2012: 164) but which factors? Is an unstable background, raised by a single parent, grandparents, or family enough “environmental factors” to produce a sociopath?

Sociopaths are also notoriously devoid of feeling empathy yet extremely proficient at creating the illusion of concern, care and compassion[10] (Waller, 2002; Walsh & Bolen, 2012). This, as you can imagine makes them very dangerous, and because they are so adaptable, easily presenting themselves as “the guy next door”, the physical threat to farmers and employees alike might be highly underestimated.

The psychopath on the other hand is chillingly emotionless[11] , utterly incapable of experiencing any sort of feeling[12] (Bouchard et al., 1990; Samenow, 2014), and often described as “born evil”. The psychopath is generally the one associated with the remorseless, emotionless demeanor that moves from one victim to the next without a second thought. If this is true of serial killers, then might it not also be the same for multiple-attack perpetrators?

General Consensus

There isn’t any.

To classify or diagnose a person as sociopath or psychopath takes very careful psychiatric assessment and diagnosis. Has any psychiatrist in the field of criminology or forensics considered these traits of farm attackers though? It remains to be seen and reported.

What is a fact, is that the acts of killing a human being is in essence an evil act. In the often senseless way that these acts are committed, it cannot else but lead a person to start wondering about all manner of things, whether that be justified, or not. Ask the victims of farm attacks, and they would offer many chilling facts to highlight how emotionless and sadistic some perpetrators are.

In the words of Knight (2007: 32), her definition of evil people: “those who, with premeditation, act out perversely and sadistically their aggression on another who may symbolically represent earlier tormentors, whose aggression is particularly destructive, pathological and rooted in violent fantasies, and who obtain intense pleasure in doing so”.[13]

Please be Awake, Aware, and Responsive.

Be safe.


[1] Mistry, D. & Dhlamini, J. 2001. Perpetrators of farm attacks: An offender profile. Pretoria, SA: Institute of Human Rights and Criminal Justice Studies: Technikon SA.
[2] Schönteich, M. 2000a: Attacks on farms and smallholdings: An evaluation of the rural protection plan. Pretoria, SA: Institute for Security Studies.
[3] Lynch, J. P. 1987. Routine activity and victimisation at work. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 3(4):283-300.
[4] Britz, S. 1998. Attacks on farms and smallholdings. Pretoria, SA: South African Police Service.
[4] Swart, L. 2003. Oorwin plaasaanvalle. Cape Town, SA: CLS.
[5],[9] Waller, J. (2002) Becoming evil: How ordinary people commit genocide and mass killing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[6] van Inwagen, P. (2006) The Problem of Evil: The Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of St. Andrews in 2003. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[7] Dostoevsky, F. (1958) The Brothers Karamazov. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
[8],[11] Galimi, D. M. 2017 Shades of Evil: An Interdisciplinary Gaze into the Abyss.
[10] Walsh, A. & Bolen, J. D. (2012) The neurobiology of criminal behavior: gene-brain-culture interaction. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
[12] Bouchard, T. J., Lykken, D. T., McGue, M., Segal, N. L., Tellegen, A. (1990) “Sources of human psychological differences: The Minnesota study of twins reared apart.” Science, 250 (4978), pp 223 – 228.
[13] Knight, Z. G. (2007) ‘Sexually motivated serial killers and the psychology of aggression and “evil” within a contemporary psychoanalytical perspective.’, Journal of sexual aggression, 13 (1), pp 21 – 35.