An added task on the shoulders of soldiers deployed to protect South Africa’s land borders is apprehension and return of stolen livestock as well as handing suspects to police for further investigation.
This is in addition to the primary Operation Corona tasking of ensuring South African sovereignty as far as illegal incursions across all its borders are concerned.
The livestock theft issue has found its way to Limpopo with three suspects arrested in Mookgopong and Roedtan this week. The arrests are the first outcome of a province-wide investigation into stock theft. The investigation, according to Democratic Alliance (DA) provincial council member Jacques Smalle, is a collaborative one with police and private security companies pooling resources.
Another political party, the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), this week brought public attention to bear on another oft-reported rural crime – an attack on a farm manager in the Free State town Zastron, near the Lesotho border.
These, along with other rural security issues, are planned to be a focus activity of the SA Army Reserve’s envisaged Mzantsi Home Guard. One of the taskings proposed for it is intelligence gathering in rural and semi-rural areas, the places targeted by stock thieves because of their remote location. While it’s early days yet for the Home Guard, it is believed intelligence will not be directly acted on initially with police seen as recipients and then responding.
The police response component has yet again been dismissed by the FF+ with party leader Pieter Groenewald pointing out the SA Police Service (SAPS) national rural safety plan was set for implantation on 31 August last year. It was, he said in a statement, put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic with a new date not yet forthcoming.
“When the rural safety plan was initiated in 2019, the FF Plus pointed out similar plans failed in the past because words were not put into action. What is happening currently is a repetition of past mistakes,” Groenewald said in respect of resource shortages, including manpower and mobility.
“The FF+ has long asked for farm attacks to become a priority crime, enabling more resources to be set aside specifically for this type of crime. The latest incident in Zastron is another example of resources wrongly utilised,” he said adding the rural safety plan would not be “forgotten” when Parliament is in session after next month’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Welcoming the Limpopo stock theft arrests, Smalle said livestock, usually cattle and goats, was often the major source of income for many rural communities.
“When animals are stolen, subsistence farmers lose their livelihoods,” he said in partial agreement with Police Minister Bheki Cele who likened stock theft to economic sabotage.
2019/20 crime statistics show 2 332 incidents of livestock theft reported to police. “This is more than six a day,” Smalle pointed out.