All eyes are on police minister Bheki Cele as the farming community desperately awaits an action plan to deal with a dramatic rise in farm killings. The plan, to be implemented as part of the national rural safety strategy, is in the hands of a newly-formed task team.
Following the rural safety summit held on Monday, 27 June, a team with different stakeholders was charged to partner with the police to implement an overall strategy. This, as violent crimes in rural areas continue unabated.
At the summit, consensus was reached that the task team should submit an action plan to the Cele within seven days. Nearly a month later, farmers and their workers remain gripped in fear with no feedback yet received from the task team.
Chairperson of Agri SA’s centre of excellence for rural safety, Uys van der Westhuijzen, however, told Food For Mzansi the team was already hard at work in dealing with concerns raised at the summit.
Van der Westhuijzen maintained that in order to address critical issues, words need to be turned into action.
“Agri SA is of the opinion that if what was said at the summit, and the tasks given to the [task team] can be done, then that can provide a firm foundation in ensuring that the rural safety strategy benefits all rural communities,” he said.
According to Van der Westhuijzen these tasks will go a long way in addressing rural crime in a holistic and integrated way whilst also focusing on the prevention of crime.
“Not only the police, but empowering and utilising community structures and other role-players to launch among others, pro-active programmes focused on the needs of communities.”
Farm killings on the rise
Meanwhile, numerous attempts by Food For Mzansi to seek answer from Cele’s office have gone unanswered.
This, as the community of Kestell in the Free State are reeling with shock following the brutal killing of a woman, her son and five farmworkers at the Lismor farm on Friday, 15 July. Two suspects have since been arrested.
In an unrelated incident, two farmers were shot multiple times whilst at the Truck Stop outside Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday evening, 13 July. Gerry Khumalo is injured and in hospital while Sibusiso Gama lost his life. Both were thriving commercial-scale farmers. For this incident, no arrests have been made to date.
‘We must speak in one voice’
Petrus Sitho, a task team member and representative of PPS Stop Farm Murders, said the police minister did not meet his expectations during the summit.
“As part of the task team, we are under pressure to bring solutions. We understand that the crime, including farm attacks, have been on the rise. But I do not think the pressure they are putting us on is fair.”
“I think it is important for the task team to be given tools of trade because once the minister has announced our names to the whole country, the farming community will want answers from us. It will be fruitless to form a task team and not give it resources,” he said.
Sitho called on the authorities to work with rural safety organisations across provinces.
“The minute we start bringing politics into the fight against crime, we are missing the point. We do not want to hear about [political] credentials of the person. We want ways of fighting crime and speak in one voice because crime is really out of control, and we must say enough is enough,” Sitho said.
Fundamental change needed
Head of justice and violence prevention at the Institute for Security Studies, Gareth Newham, told Food For Mzansi that unless there was a fundamental shift in the organisational culture of the police involving values, innovation, responsiveness and accountability, it was unlikely that any strategies or summits would fundamentally improve the situation.
“There is a disconnect between what the police do and public safety. In other words, visible policing activities, such as patrols and roadblocks. If they are not intelligence-led and targeting specific criminals and criminal networks, they will not reduce crime and have no positive impact on public safety.”
Newham said fighting crime needed a collaboration effort by all role players as the police alone cannot do it. “The police cannot ensure public safety alone and need to work in properly managed partnerships with clear goals and protocols for sharing information and undertaking joint tasks.”
According to Newham, the police should always be in the lead and ensure that they have the capacity to manage partnerships effectively.
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