“There is a crisis regarding the state of safety in the farming community. We want resources to be directed to stock theft units and rural safety units. It cannot be that when police are called, farmers are being told that the are no cars.”
Petrus Sitho, who heads the organisation PPS Stop Farm Murders in East London, is currently attending the long-awaited Rural Safety Summit in the Free State and lobbying for police minister Bheki Cele and the South African Police Service to step up their efforts on rural security.
Sitho had great expectations for the summit when he posted a video to social media yesterday, titled “Farmers and farmworkers, I’m here to fight for you, our food security, our country”.
In the video he is notably thankful for a gathering of various organisations to derive an action plan, a year after he himself had engaged with Cele about protecting the people who “work 24 hours to make sure that they care for South African food”.
He tells Food For Mzansi that his organisation speaks on behalf of all races because crime affects everyone. “It is on this conference that we will seek to come with practical solutions to combat crime that is crippling the livelihood of farmers. We hope by the end of this summit we will know when and how to implement the suggestions posed by delegates.”
How to implement the Rural Safety Strategy
Sitho and two colleagues are among the delegates attending the two-day summit where farmers hope to help formulate an action plan on fighting farm attacks, the theft of farm infrastructure, tools, equipment and illegal game hunting, among other crimes.
A lack of police investigation and the number of cold cases has tainted the faith farmers have in the government’s existing Rural Safety Strategy, yet they hope that this gathering might allow for the strategy to be implemented in its entirety and without anymore delays.
The aims of the strategy, adopted in 2019, were to respond to the safety and security needs of rural communities, to provide the safe environment to support food security, social and economic development, and to strengthen relationships in rural South Africa.
“What we expect from the summit, is the optimal implementation of the Rural Safety Strategy and that is why we are taking part in discussions that will [among other things] focus on the status of the implementation of the strategy,” Free State Agriculture CEO Gernie Botha says.
He believes that, with all relevant authorities under one roof, the summit serves an essential purpose in finding immediately implementable solutions to the plight of farmers and farmworkers concerning crime. FSA also wants the summit to provide clear answers on “what [SAPS’] operational approach towards rural safety, illegal land invasions, evictions, conflict resolution and land labour rights of farmworkers are”.
“We trust that the discussions on these critical matters will be fruitful and yield results in taking rural safety forward,” Botha says.
Participation from all relevant parties
Meanwhile, the chairperson of Agri SA’s Centre of Excellence for Rural Safety, Uys van der Westhuijzen, tells Food For Mzansi that keeping farming communities safe is critical for putting food on the table and, ultimately, contributing towards national stability.
“That effective implementation and operationalisation of the strategy must be supported by the ministry of police, all levels of the police service as well as relevant state departments and external role players,” he says.
According to Van der Westhuijzen, seven out of ten farmers in South Africa have been subjected to farm-related crimes. “Stock theft tops the list, theft of farm infrastructure, theft of farm tools and equipment, theft of game and illegal hunting and robbery – those are some of the crimes that farmers have to face.”
He adds that the farming community is experiencing tough times that subsequently affect food security in the country. As a result an al-hands-on-deck approach is needed. “We are facing trespassing and land invasions, vandalism of essential infrastructure like the Transnet pipeline, Eskom infrastructure and roads. We are also facing a challenge of poor investigation and solving of reported crime by the police from our members.
He maintains that only the implementation of the existing Rural Safety Strategy is necessary. “The realisation is that no new plans, policies and strategies are needed because an effective implementation rural safety strategy has all the elements to deal with the complexity of rural crime.”
Dirty cops and racism
Meanwhile, addressing delegates on the first day of the summit, Cele said there was no time to point fingers. However, for the sake of fighting crime in farming communities, collaboration was needed.
“We will try to bring all the departments together so that we can deal with crimes such as stock theft. My department, together with agriculture, justice and defence, are determined to ensure that rural safety is realised.
On the issue of corrupt police officials, Cele said provincial commissioners were tasked to crack the whip on dirty cops.
“We are told that police officers who were assigned to stock theft units are now farming. They have cows and other livestock. The work of the police should not be to enrich themselves at the expense [and] the misery of the community,” he said.
Jumping to racism, Cele stated that farmers must take responsibility for tackling racism and the inhumane treatment of farmworkers. He called on industry leaders not to sidestep issues that made them uncomfortable.
“We need to talk about racism also. It is an ugly subject but for us to tackle all issues affecting this industry we must also touch base on that.”
Day two of the summit kicked of this morning and farmers are hoping to have a clear way forward for addressing rural crime. Agri SA has so far proposed greater police visibility in rural and farming communities across the country, as well as the establishment of police task teams and two reservists per farming association.
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