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More livestock thieves could lose their lives due to police absence, warns FSA

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“More livestock thieves could lose their lives if the state security agencies do not fulfil their legal obligation in terms of the Constitution”, warns Mr Francois Wilken, president of Free State Agriculture (FSA). Wilken refers to the incident on 5 April 2023 at Hobhouse whereby an alleged cattle thief who targeted emerging farmers was so assaulted by community members that he later succumbed to his injuries.

Mr Friedl von Maltitz, vice-president of FSA believes that the police have neglected and largely lost their ability to effectively address and investigate livestock theft. Tremendous shortages are detected at the eleven Stock Theft Units in the Free State in terms of manpower and vehicles. It would appear that the Livestock Theft unit at Ladybrand has only one investigating officer and that the unit is served weekly by relief detectives from other units that are also suffering from shortages. The Ladybrand unit serves more than 10 towns, most of which are border towns, and the district experiences almost 50% of the Free State’s livestock theft cases. The situation has been going on like this for decades.

Wilken is of the opinion that the police’s lack of will and inability to establish the necessary capacity, leaves all farmers, commercial, emerging and subsistence farmers with no other choice than to group together and take matters into their own hands. “Emerging and subsistence farmers have been complaining for years during Imbizo’s that they are suffering huge losses, that certain police officers are involved in livestock theft and have threatened that they are going to shoot the cattle thieves.” Reference is made to the QwaQwa Imbizo in 2021 and livestock losses can annually be estimated at between R1billion and R3 billion for the agricultural sector in the Free State alone. “It also leaves FSA with no choice but to seriously investigate and establish a unit for private investigators for livestock theft. Farming communities and the agricultural sector as a whole are being destroyed due to the lack of the police’s ability to effectively combat, investigate, make necessary arrests and ensure that cases of livestock theft be successfully prosecuted with good sentencing.”

Livestock theft is no longer just a property-related crime, but is also seen as a serious organized violent crime for 2 reasons. Firstly, the impact it has on the psyche of the farming communities where mutilated slaughtered animals are found on scenes, and secondly, the fact that most cattle thieves are armed with firearms to carry out the crime. They have no hesitation in acting against a farmer or police officer who prevents them from carrying out their act. Such incidents regularly take place and especially along the border areas. This leaves farmers with no other option than to heavily arm themselves or employ armed guards.

Mr Jakkals le Roux, chairman of FSA’s Rural Safety Committee, warns the Minister of Police, the Commissioner of Police and top management that community members are increasingly taking matters into their own hands, that frustration levels among all types of farming communities are high, that such a trend can escalate and that it can even play a contributing role to anarchy in rural areas if the police do not actively step forward to effectively address livestock theft.