Despite countless reassurances from the agricultural ministry that live auctions are essential to the optimal functioning of the industry under the national lockdown, friction continues between farmers and the South African Police Service (SAPS), whose interpretation of the regulations seems to differ.
According to Reggie Ngcobo, spokesperson for minister of agriculture, rural development and land reform, Thoko Didiza, the department has received a large number of similar complaints throughout the country. They have been dealing with the complaints “on a daily basis” and liaising with the SAPS to address individual cases.
“We have no control of how regulations are interpreted,” explains Ngcobo. “We have been clear about this thing since the very beginning. Live auctions are an essential service and has been categorised as such,” Ngcobo affirms.
Dr Jack Armour, operations manager of Free State Agriculture, says they’ve received numerous complaints highlighting live auctions as the main source of confusion amongst farmers and law enforcement officials in the province.
As it stands, the authorities seem to be interpreting the regulations pertaining to livestock auctions differently across the country. This he says, is creating massive constraints in the meat value chain. He emphasises that some farmers in the province are dependent on live auctions to operate and pay workers’ wages.
The Free State is not a unique case, according to Gerhard Schutte, CEO of the Red Meat Producers Organisation (RPO).
As it stands lockdown rules stipulate that gatherings of more than 50 are not allowed, citizens have been encouraged to engage in social distancing and use safety measures and the farmers are adhering to the rules Schutte says.
“The value chain is dysfunctional now. Minister Thoko Didiza went on record to say that auctions should take place, but in some of the provinces the SAPS interpreted it as (illegal) gatherings and don’t allow it. We are working very hard now to get the auction to continue,” Schutte explains.
Johann Vosser, an auctioneer and farmer from Mokopane in Limpopo says law enforcement officials have gone out of their way to impede auctioneers. “The South African Police Service and farmers have since reached common ground and are now able to continue,” Vosser adds.
According to Ngcobo the department has received numerous complaints of a similar nature throughout the country. “We have received calls from as far as Northern Cape. We spoke to legal people from the police to say that this is the issue in the regulations – farmers are an essential service. But whoever gets the copy of the regulation and interprets it there on the ground becomes the problem. On a daily basis, we have been resolving this problem,” Ngcobo explains.
The department has since advised farmers to rethink their practices and use technology to provide this service. “We have encouraged them to do virtual auctions. We even make an example with the gaming industry who makes use of these auctions with no gathering,” he says.
Ngcobo reiterates that all farmers should adhere to the lockdown rules. “No more than 50 people are allowed to attend live auctions. Farmers in attendance are encouraged to actively practice social distancing and safety measure to prevent the spread of the virus,” he says.