One On One

Q & A – Bheki Cele

Police minister Bheki Cele has called for better auditing of livestock to curb rampant stocktheft that continues to haunt the country, particularly the Free State, owing to its proximity to ‘porous’ borders with Lesotho. During a recent visit to Senekal in the Free State, Cele vowed to crack the whip on livestock thieves and members of the police who are alleged to be part of the syndicate. Speaking to the Free State Weekly`s Thapelo Molebatsi through written questions, the minister also shed light on the engagements the government has had with farmers in the province.

What prompted the Imbizo?

We visited the community of Senekal following an event that took place on October 6. During that meeting, I and the state security minister, Ayanda Dlodlo, engaged with farmers on various issues and decided there was need for us to come back and seek ways to prioritise rural safety and development of rural areas.

What are some of the critical issues that were raised by farmers during the meeting?

Crime in rural communities was at the top of the list. This includes the senseless killing of farmers and their workers, which affects all of us as South Africans and threatens food security, employment, and economic growth in the country. Criminals have taken advantage of the farming community because of their isolation.

The government has often urged farmers to start security groups to help curb crime in their respective areas. Has this been the case or is this yet to be done?

In this area, farmers have established their own security groups, which work closely with the police under the revised rural safety strategy.

Following several murder incidents, some farmers took to social media to express their disappointments with how police have handled some of the cases, further referring to police as incompetent. During the Imbizo, where these issues brought up and what is your take on this matter?

Farmers expressed dissatisfaction with the conduct of some police officers when they apprehend suspects. They also accused police of confiscating their firearms for pointing at suspected thieves. We`ve taken notes of all these concerns and have agreed to look into them because we cannot have farmers disarmed when they are protecting themselves.

Also, in the Farmers Weekly publication, farmers have alleged police are involved in high stock theft across the province. Surely the involvement of police officials in stock theft should be worrisome.

Allegations of some police officers being part of the stock theft syndicate were raised by the farmers and as a department we take these seriously. We cannot have a situation where police officials are regarded as part of the problem or seen by citizens to be involved in any form of crime. It is because of these allegations that we`ve decided to investigate and give feedback within 21 days. Should any officer be found to be involved in any way in stock theft, they will be dealt with accordingly and made an example of.

Was the meeting able to shed light on where stolen livestock is sold? Farmers Weekly reported butchers are the main culprits in aiding stock theft. Do you share this view?

There are different theories about where the stolen stock is sold. Some people say it’s sold in nearby areas, head to head, or delivered to butchers in areas as far away as Gauteng. Others say stolen livestock is taken across the border into neighbouring Lesotho.

You recently spoke of a livestock audit before the Imbizo. Is this something that the government feels strongly about and sees as a solution?

Livestock auditing is something that will need to be done shortly so that everyone can give a proper account of the stock they own, including members of the police. This will also assist the government in catching out perpetrators of this illicit act that continues to be a problem in our country.

Is the government making inroads against stock theft?

War has been declared on stock theft and the government is determined to achieve this objective. In the Free State, according to recent crime statistics, cases of stock theft have declined between 2018/19 and 2019/20 by 6.9% to 3,785. This is in line with national statistics which recorded an increase in crime since 2015 but a decrease last year.

Theft and murders at farms have been the talk of the town in recent months and well beyond. Does the government have the necessary measures to deal with the problem, especially in rural farming communities across the country?

The government takes rural safety seriously, which is demonstrated through the recent establishment of the national and local joint rural safety command centres agreed to between the SAPS and the farming sector.

A memorandum was handed to your ministry by farmers demanding among other things, that a national task team be established to investigate farm attacks and the involvement of police stealing from farmers. Has this been done?

A task team has been established which consists of the department of justice, state security, defence, home affairs, and the police. These departments will look into the issue of farm attacks in South Africa.

Will the task team only operate in the Free State?

Although stock theft exists in other parts of the country, farmers in the Free State requested the intervention therefore the team will predominantly be focusing on the province.