Crime in the agricultural industry is costing South Africa approximately R5.7 billion per year – money which could have created 136 871 employment opportunities instead. This was the stern message from Uys van der Westhuijzen, chairperson of Agri SA’s rural safety centre of excellence, at the official launch of the Western Cape department of agriculture’s recent rural safety summit.
The summit was hosted by the province’s minister of agriculture, Dr Ivan Meyer, at Goudini Spa in Rawsonville, bringing together representatives from Agri Western Cape, the African Farmer’s Association of South Africa (AFASA), the Prestige Agri-Workers Forum, the South African police service, farm and neighbourhood watches, district municipalities and senior officials from the department of agriculture and community safety.
Impact of lockdown
According to Van der Westhuijzen, the sector is tasked with ensuring food security. However, fulfilling this task is being bedevilled by crime. And the high level of unemployment is not helping.
“Operationalise the National Rural Safety Strategy, which is reflected in the Western Cape’s Rural Safety Plan.
“We also need an effective reservist plan; an efficient crime intelligence capability,” Van der Westhuizen pointed out.
In an interview with Food For Mzansi, he said that there was a trend with the sudden increase in farm attacks and that the modus operandi of offenders differed from place to place.
“We’ve seen that the decrease in the lockdown levels have resulted in an increase in crime and we predicted that this might happen.
“People are outside on the roads much later at night and early mornings. This also has an influence in crime rates in rural communities.”
Addressing attendees, Meyer explained that the summit created the platform to share information on existing safety initiatives and on policy responses towards improved security on farms.
Furthermore, it explores the latest technologies and 4IR innovation as an opportunity. Meyer said that the summit reflected their commitment to building safer rural communities in the Western Cape.
The provincial government has institutionalised rural safety in its architecture by establishing an inter-ministerial cabinet committee and a provincial technical committee on the issue.
This is seen as a decision which is “supported by the recommendation captured in the Western Cape department of agriculture’s Baseline Survey on Crime in the Rural Areas of the Western Cape. It calls for efficient and urgent political will to implement the National Rural Safety Plan,” Meyer said.
Efforts pointless without community buy-in
Meanwhile, AFASA’s Western Cape representative, Ismail Motal, said they support any initiatives aimed at reducing rural crime as it impacts farming businesses.
“However, rural safety initiatives must be supported by programmes to tackle social ills such as unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, and gender-based violence. Rural safety is about the farmer and the agri-worker. All our efforts will be pointless if we do not have the buy-in of our communities.”
According to Wimpie Paulse, chairperson of the Western Cape Agri-workers Forum, crime threatens the agri-workers’ ability to care for themselves and their children.
“Therefore, we support any project aimed at dealing with crime. However, we must adopt an inclusive approach to dealing with rural safety while at the same time addressing the challenge of unemployment and reducing the social ills in our communities.
Paulse suggested that perhaps, “we should not only be problem solvers but rather creators of possibilities for our youth.”
Meyer used the opportunity to officially launch the province’s rural safety desk, digital dashboard, brochure and pocket guide, and to release the rural safety baseline study survey.
He further highlighted that the province’s safety plan adopted a whole-of-society approach to the issue of rural safety.
“Addressing the multiple contributors to crime and violence will only be achieved if we enhance collaboration between all stakeholders.
“It is for this reason that we are pursuing a whole-of-society approach, marked by critical and strategic partnerships with relevant stakeholders, including public, private and civil society,” said. Meyer.
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