Cele launches rural safety strategy

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National police commissioner General Bheki Cele has unveiled a national rural safety strategy that envisages farmers, rural communities and the police co-operating to stop crime. It will see officers being given the right equipment and vehicles, including horses and, where necessary, helicopters.

The country’s largest agricultural union, AgriSA welcomed the announcement. “In terms of the strategy, rural safety and the combating of stock theft will improve considerably because all role players will work together in a co-ordinated manner,” chairman Andre Botha said.

The union worked closely with the police to finalise the strategy, and appreciated the fact that various recommendations made by AgriSA were incorporated, the South African Press Association reports. “The success of the strategy will depend largely on the practical implementation thereof by the local police force.”

He urged Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa to ensure competent and enthusiastic police officers, with the necessary equipment, were assigned to implement the initiative. “AgriSA and its members are ready to co-operate with the police and to offer the necessary support,” said Botha. “We also understand that there is urban crime. There has to be a balance because a loss of property or loss of life in urban or rural areas is the same to everybody. So we understand there will be limitations,” he said.

Cele said livestock theft is high on their rural crime fighting agenda.

The strategy has been some time in coming. Mthethwa in his budget votes to both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces in April and May respectively, said dedicated “focus is being given to the practical implementation of the rural safety strategy. In this regard, particular attention is being given to cross border crimes and stock theft in particular. The ministry, community organisations, agricultural organisations and trade unions continue to work together in addressing rural safety.
“The effectiveness of the rural safety strategy will be assessed in terms of the reduction of levels of serious and violent crimes in rural areas. This assessment will be conducted on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis by means of monitoring reported levels of crime.”

It is not clear how the strategy is different from a Rural Safety Plan Mthethwa announced in Nigel last October. At the time the police minister said South Africa’s rural areas will benefit from equipment purchased for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Speaking at a launch event he said the time for talking about rural safety was over and the time for action had arrived. “We secured a lot of high powered vehicles and [rural] terrain dictates the use of certain types of vehicles, so we want to see those vehicles here. We also have helicopters that were secured for 2010 and their job now is to help in the fight against crime,” he said. The state BuaNews agency added at the time that Mthethwa said the police faced a logistics challenge in distributing personnel and resources between urban and rural areas.

Police have stressed that rural safety was not limited to farming, but also included broader communities living in rural areas. The minister noted that people in rural areas faced the same issues of crime as those in urban areas and also needed to feel safe. He added that police were addressing issues such as the murders of farmers and workers, as well as stock theft. Mthethwa called on farming communities to work together to improve their safety. Botha then also said commercial farmers would support the plan vigorously. “Farm murders are a problem throughout South Africa, especially in Gauteng. We have the unfortunate status of being the province with the most farm murders. Together, we can alleviate the problem and go forward to create a better society for all,” Botha said.