Following the announcement of Agri SA’s intervention with the police to improve rural security, a 21-year-old beekeeper is believed to be the latest victim of a series of cross-border crimes in the Free State.
Ficksburg entrepreneur Molefe Ralebenya, who was running a beekeeping enterprise in Rustlers Valley farm, was murdered behind the Imperani mountains on the remote part of the farm 13 km away from the Lesotho border.
His brutal death was confirmed by Free State Agriculture operations manager Dr Jack Armour, who suspects that Ralebenya was merely “at the wrong place at the wrong time” as dagga traffickers were trying to make their way from Lesotho to South Africa.
Armour says, “That’s another dynamic to the whole cross-border crime situation. The dagga gets trafficked and often the police ignore certain routes. The farmers who own the land also keep quiet when the traffickers go across their land. If they speak up, they will be attacked or have the farms burned down.”
Gino Govender, managing trustee of the Earthrise Trust, a social development initiative that provides opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, as well as access to quality healthcare and education in Ficksburg, says Ralebenya’s death has left him feeling broken. Govender described him as a young man with a bright future.
“He was running a diversified honeybee keeping enterprise. He was producing honey, doing bee removal and he was also doing training. He was recently awarded the SEED Indalo Award for young entrepreneurs.”
Govender tells Food For Mzansi that Ralebenya already went missing on 28 May 2020, but his family members didn’t initially raise the alarm because he would often stay at different places on the farm when he was working late. His body was found by a search party and by members of the community following a four day search. Ralebenya was buried on 4 June 2020.
“It is a mystery why anyone would want to murder him,” says Govender. “He was a young man, and a very loved, kind person. A very gentle (person) who literally wouldn’t harm a fly and, you know, he loved his bees. I hate talking about it, but it’s unthinkable how something so terrible could happen to him.”
According to Govender the motive for the killing is still unknown, but local police are investigating the matter. Just before his death, the Rustler valley farm management committee was working on a community-based crime prevention strategy after a series of solar panels thefts and other crimes.
He adds that on 18 July 2020 as part of the Mandela Action Day, members in the community held a community prayer for peace and safety in memory of Molefe.
Nationwide protests against farm attacks
Ralebenya is the latest victim of farm attacks in the Free State. Now Agri SA and the police have announced that they are joining forces to crack down on crime. They are working on an enhanced implementation of the national rural safety strategy to not only protect farmers and workers, but also curb stock theft.
Tommie Esterhuyse, chair of Agri SA’s centre of excellence: rural safety, says over the next few days the agricultural community will make their voices heard in various ways, including protesting against violence on farms, opposing bail for suspected perpetrators of farm attacks and expressing support for the police in their efforts to curb such attacks.
“These efforts are welcomed as they create further awareness of and draw attention to the devastating impact that crime has on the farming communities who produce food for the country and contribute towards the economy.”
The actions against rural crime are planned by Agri SA’s affiliates, Agri Northern Cape, Free State Agriculture and Kwanalu in KwaZulu-Natal. Esterhuyse says it forms part of well-considered and well-planned actions that will be conducted in a responsible manner and in compliance with the law.
“Agri SA fully supports the actions by its member organisations. These are spontaneous actions by members to, once again, draw attention to the seriousness of farm attacks and violent crime in their respective communities and to express their condemnation in this regard.”
Meanwhile Armour warns that continued stock theft along the Lesotho-South Africa border many eventually cripple many rural South Africans living there. Recent reports of stock theft came from various towns, including Clarens, Clocolan, Ficksburg, Fouriesburg, Hobhouse, Vanstadensrus, Wepener and Zastron.
Dr Jane Buys, safety and risk analyst of Free State Agriculture, estimates that more than 600 crime incidents took place during June 2020. She says this means that the agricultural sector experiences millions of rands in losses for economic crimes. Besides stock theft there have also been reports of stolen potatoes, copper cables, farm gates, house breakings, among others.
‘Be careful of accusing Lesotho residents’
According to Armour there is evidence that crime syndicates use Lesotho as a hideout location where they can steal from South Africans and retract back to the neighbouring country knowing that police and farmers can’t chase them across the border.
“Police or the farmers can chase you up to the border, but as soon as you cross the border they will have to get permission from the Lesotho police and the minister of defence to get into Lesotho via the border post. And then, by that time, they are long gone into the mountains…”
Armour reiterates that they suspect the crimes are executed by syndicates. “So, it is not necessarily Lesotho residents who commit all these treacherous crimes. One must be very careful not to victimise Lesotho citizens as the criminals are often from other countries and whatever syndicates coming from Gauteng too.”