While Free State farming communities await the return visit of the minister of police, Bheki Cele tells Food For Mzansi that he too mourns the death of Brendin Horner, a 21-year-old farm foreman who has become the face of farm attacks in Mzansi. In an exclusive interview with journalist Duncan Masiwa he also speaks candidly about his controversial recent visit to Normandien in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Police minister Bheki Cele has vowed to restore public transport in the South African Police Service following a tense meeting with Free State farming communities who’ve had enough of farm attacks and crime.
He has vowed to return within three weeks with an action plan to boost the safety of farmers and their workers following a new spate of farm murders.
In the last few weeks, Cele not only got a cold reception when he addressed farmers in Bethelehem, but also in Normandien in KwaZulu-Natal. Both meetings were heated after Cele was called in to ease tension following farm attacks.
Minister, you recently paid your respects to the family of Brendin Horner who is alleged to have been killed by stock thieves. What went through your mind as you consoled the Horner family at their home just outside the town of Paul Roux?
We are also parents before we are government officials. We cannot say we understand the pain of the Horner family as we have never lost a child, but we were sending our deepest sympathies.
It is never an easy task having to face a grieving family and our words won’t bring much comfort, but we have to work harder on prevention rather than reaction. Our job (as the police) is to not to just send condolences, but to find out what happened, give answers and work harder so that such incidents don’t repeat.
Farmers, both in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State, as well as representatives of Afasa and Free State Agriculture allege that some police members are involved with crime in rural areas. Why do police in these areas have such a bad reputation for corruption and incompetence? What is being done about it?
I think that is an unfair, general statement. It certainly is not reflective of all the police (officials) stationed in rural areas. Yes, some of our own are betraying their oath of office, but many are working hand in glove through the national rural safety strategy (NRSS) to bring stability.
The NRSS entails the cooperation of police and stakeholders in the farming community to collaborate and integrate resources and personnel to fight crime. We, as the police, will act on those officers complicit in the crimes in these areas. We will leave no stone unturned until we flush out the bad apples in the service – across the country.
So, Free State farmers are expecting you back within the next few weeks to discuss the way forward. What exactly are you planning to do?
I want to ensure that the policing concerns of this community are adequately addressed by providing tangible solutions. I will be guided by the analysis of the office of the national police commissioner, general Khehla Sitole. As you know, senior officers in his office have been tasked with going through the dossier that was handed to me by the farmers and also to look at how security can be improved in this area, to look at the market for the stock theft and to also address the concerns around police involvement in some cases.
Farmers also seem to be rather upset because you allegedly chased away a farmer in Normandien. In a recent News24 interview, you denied that you ever said that farmers should not complain if they get hurt after impounding cattle. Landbouweekblad editor Chris Burgess, however, writes in a recent editorial that they stand by allegation which, they say, have been confirmed by three farmers.
No one was ever chased away from the imbizo hosted in KwaZulu-Natal. Yes, there were harsh words between me and a certain Mr (Roland) Collyer (chairperson of the Normandien Agricultural Association). But in the meeting, most of the people, many of whom were farmers, spoke fairly and raised issues.
Mr Collyer asked me if it was acceptable for accommodation grazers to let their livestock graze on farmers’ land. Mr Collyer got up and went overboard, asked his question and gave me the command, “Nod or shake your head.”
I found it very arrogant. I was not there for a scrubbing of Mr Collyer. I responded to Collyer, “Who do you think you are?” And: “If you treat me like this, what do you do with your workers?” The live stream of this event is available on YouTube. You can see the exchange for yourself.
Watch: emotions run high at Normandien imbizo
#Cele "Who do you think you are?" @SAPoliceService Minister, Bheki Cele angered by a farmer who put him on the spot to answer if it's justifiable or not for farmers to impound dwellers' livestock grazing on their farms. Cele convened an imbizo in Newcastle amid tensions. @eNCA pic.twitter.com/bjXQ8OM3ix
— Siphamandla Goge (@SiphamandlaGoge) September 21, 2020