No amount of action plans or strategies will make a difference if police minister Bheki Cele is in doubt about the rate of agricultural-related crimes in South Africa. Farm safety is still one of the biggest issues the agriculture community is facing, seven months after the rural safety summit in Parys, and nothing has been done.
According to Dr Jane Buys, risk and safety analyst at Free State Agriculture (FSA), proactive actions or crime prevention operations by the police derives from the reactive reporting of crime by the public, in this case, farming communities in rural areas.
“If the police and the minister cannot determine how big and or extensive the reporting of crime on the agricultural sector and what it entails, no proactive action plan, strategy and or operations can be launched to combat these crimes,” Buys said.
Cele released the latest crime statistics, which showed an uptick in violent crimes. This includes murder, assault and robberies between October 2022 and December 2022.
The stats, however, did not portray a picture of crimes impacting the agricultural sector. There was no reference to farm attacks and farm murders, Buys said.
Furthermore, she said the stats only references livestock theft, with no indication as to how much livestock was stolen per province, how many animals were recovered, and how many arrests were made.
“With regards to all other crimes, such as theft of produce, theft of implements, theft of fertiliser, diesel, theft of motor vehicles, malicious damage to property, arson, burglaries, etc. there is no indication in the crime stats as to how the agricultural sector is badly affected by this criminal activity,” she said.
Arrests, but few convictions
Looking at it from a crime perspective, South Africa is on a downward spiral, while farmers remain helpless, said anti-crime activist Petrus Sitho.
On the flip side, farmers who defend themselves, face the certainty of criminal charges, he added.
“Only criminals have rights, this is not how the justice system should work. If you look at past statistics of farm killings, arrests and convictions, it is appalling,” Sitho said.
He admits that arrests are made, however, he takes issue with the conviction rate. “There is clearly a problem that needs dire attention.”
Criminal activities running rampant
In the meantime, criminal activities on Mzansi’s farms and smallholdings continue to run rampant. “Every day there are more farm attacks, stock thefts, and arsonists setting fires to farms,” Sitho told Food For Mzansi.
To avoid even darker days for agriculture in the country, Sitho calls on Cele to increase policing units in farming communities and rural areas.
The police, he pointed out, need to gather intelligence on when and where farm crimes are being planned, so that they can be stopped.
What happened to rural safety summit plans?
Last year in June, Cele hosted the rural safety summit in Parys, which was attended by members of the police force and agricultural community.
Plans around the government’s rural safety strategy were tabled, with promises made, but seven months later, Cele is yet to respond to the requests brought forward at the summit.
Kobus Visser, Agri SA’s head of rural safety, said, “We requested that task teams and rapid response units should be established quickly and it is now about seven months after the summit and we are still waiting for a response from the minister.”
A task team was appointed by the minister to look at all the initiatives discussed at the summit. The task team was tasked with coming up with a proposal to combat rural crimes.
Visser said they are eagerly waiting for an announcement by the minister regarding those proposals.
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