Farmers and farmer organisations have welcomed the resumption of farm watch patrols that had been prohibited during levels five and four of the covid-19 lockdown.
Along with neighbourhood watches, farm watches have been given the green light to resume their patrolling activities under alert level three of the national lockdown. Alert levels five and four also saw patrolling activities by community policing forums forbidden by government.
With the scaling down of coronavirus lockdown measures comes the reinstating of patrolling activities under a set of guidelines by the department of health.
Agricultural union the Transvaalse Landbou Unie (TLU SA) has welcomed the news. In April the organisation urged police minister Bheki Cele and Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa to reactivate the farm watches. A petition to allow the watches to operate during lockdown attracted 10 000 signatures.
Lirandzu Themba, spokesperson of the department of police, says that neighbourhood watch programs and other crime prevention initiatives are essential in creating a crime-free society.
She confirms that the farm watches may now resume legally. “As from the 28th of May, community police forums, community patrollers and neighbourhood watches have now been permitted to operate under level three lockdown. They must be in possession of a permit to do so.”
Community patrolling activities were forbidden during the initial stages of the lockdown by instruction from the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs. These measures, Themba says, were taken by government to try and curb the spread of covid-19.
“When lockdown was introduced, amongst other things this included the deactivation of community policing forums and neighbourhood watches and only essential services were permitted. Police and traffic officers were enforcing the law.”
Chris van Zyl, deputy general manager of TLU SA, says the farm watch delivers a crucial essential service to protect rural farming communities. It successfully works with the police and helps to “lighten their load”.
“During the first two weeks of the lockdown it was quite evident that there was a drop in violent crimes on farms and small-holdings, but at the same time there was a dramatic increase in terms of theft of livestock and produce,” van Zyl says.
Many families who could not afford to put a meal on the table turned to theft to feed their families, he says. Farming operations throughout the country were the targets of livestock and produce theft.