Stock theft has more than just economic consequences for livestock farmers. It also affects their health and wellbeing while many of the victims are elderly farmers.
These findings were published as part of a recent study conducted in the Amathole District in the Eastern Cape, by the University of Fort Hare.
Stock theft has long been a problem in the province, with the latest figures released by the National Stock Theft Prevention Forum (NSTPF) showing that more than 14 000 animals were stolen in the Eastern Cape – in the three months from July 2021 to September 2021 alone. This was the highest number recorded across the country’s nine provinces and is almost twice the number of animals stolen in KwaZulu-Natal, which is second on the list.
In an interview with Food For Mzansi, Willie Clack, national chairperson of the NSTPF, said that despite the problem being so prevalent, very few studies have looked into the reasons for the figures.
“No one has actually ever looked at the Eastern Cape specifically. We do know that we have a big problem there. That’s where we have the most top stock theft units in the country. [Stock theft has] always been there. As for why? That’s another question.”
The study, written by Qaqambile Pasiwe, Mike Earl-Taylor and Akhona Sinefu, includes data from the South African Police Service (SAPS) as well as information from stock theft victims. It found that livestock was mostly stolen out of people’s homesteads and from the veld, and that people who stole livestock tended to commit other crimes as well.
So where’s the problem?
According to Clack, livestock theft was historically attributed to enactments of masculinity. It was also attributed to the migration of workers to the mines in Gauteng and even to politics. “In the 90s, there were a lot of allegations that it had to do with politics. But it’s now 30 years down the line so we cannot really [blame] politics now.”
Jason Kümm, Agri Eastern Cape’s manager for rural safety and communications, has a much less sinister explanation. The province is the largest producer of red meat in the country; naturally there would be higher stock theft numbers in the province when compared directly to the rest.
In addition, Kümm said, “We can add that the Eastern Cape also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and even more so in our rural areas. This leads to an increase in stock theft as more and more people are forced to illegally “hunt for the pot”.
The cost of livestock theft
According to Clack, the economic loss to farmers runs up to R1.4 billion per year.
Livestock farmers in the Eastern Cape are particularly vulnerable to sheep theft. Of the 14 169 animals stolen between July and September 2021 more than 9 000 were sheep. But financially, cattle theft makes up for the biggest loss.
“Our biggest loss is with cattle, where we lose roundabout R850 million to R900 million. With sheep, we lose in the vicinity of another R300 million. But our biggest problem, if you look at what the consequences are, is that we’re losing a lot of our breeding value.”
Livestock theft also has an effect on the meat value chain. Clack explained that, once the animal is slaughtered, it is sold for much cheaper than normal.
“So, there’s food in the value chain that’s been stolen. And the more illegal food there is in the value chain, the higher the impact is on the formal value chain. So, it’s not just the R1.4 billion that the farmers lose, it’s also the impact of this meat in the market that reduces the formal price.”
According to Kümm, farmers have been dealing with stock theft in the same manner that they deal with all adversities, “by simply refusing to give up and throw in the towel when faced with a problem. It is extremely frustrating and often heartbreaking for our farmers to deal with these situations,” he said.
Farmers have also begun increasing security measures around their farming operations in order to reduce the risk of stock theft and other criminal activities.
Kümm said that farmers are encouraged to put pressure on the local South African Police Services (SAPS) stock theft units to follow up on outstanding cases.
Barriers to theft prevention
Livestock theft is considered a specialised crime and therefore dedicated stock theft units (STUs) are assigned to fight it. However, organised agriculture in the Eastern Cape said it is concerned with the effectiveness of these police units.
According to Kümm there is a lack of resources made available to SAPS members on the ground to combat stock theft.
“In many cases the SAPS members on ground level have a passion for their jobs and want to assist the farmers as much as possible, but they are not granted the tools needed to do this job, whether that be fully functional vehicles, technology or manpower… the list is endless. The issue seems to stem from higher up the ranks of the SAPS.”Agri Eastern Cape representative Jason Kümm
Furthermore, the latest NSTPF numbers show that dedicated units have a low rate of recovering stolen animals.
Of the 9 079 sheep stolen in the Eastern Cape between July and September 2021, only 990 were recovered. Stolen cattle in the province numbered 2 804 in the same period, with only 559 of the animals recovered.
Looking at the study findings in the Amathole District, one of the barriers to stock theft prevention is indeed poor investigation by the STUs. It also lists police involvement, poor fencing, unattended livestock and repeat crimes by stock theft suspects as further barriers.
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