Police to address rural safety


The police is reviewing its rural safety plan. Police minister Nathi Mthethwa say the seriousness of continued acts of violence in rural communities, particularly farm murders, “requires the police to formulate a comprehensive and holistic strategy” to ensure rural safety.

“Our rural safety plan needs to address vulnerable sectors of rural communities including, women, children, elderly, disabled and even immigrants. We would like to encourage all stakeholders within the rural safety sector to work together in a properly coordinated and integrated manner and engage at all levels in our planning and implementation of this plan,” Mthethwa said at a Rural Safety Crime Conference held in Pretoria yesterday by farmers’ lobby group Agri-SA.

The conference comes as SA’s food security comes under threat from climate change, crime and a botched land reform programme. Business Day newspaper added farmers were now losing R500 million a year in stolen stock, crops and farm equipment.

Farmers and even farm workers, described as isolated islands of wealth in a rural sea of poverty, have often complained about the level of crime in rural areas, especially after then-President Thabo Mbeki in his February 2003 State of the Nation address announced his decision to disband the South African Army’s commando system. “Measures will be taken to ensure that the structures meant to support the security agencies, such as the SANDF commandos and police reservists are properly regulated to do what they were set up for. In this regard, in order to ensure security for all in the rural areas including the farmers, government will start in the near future to phase out SANDF commandos, at the same time as we create in their place, a new system whose composition and ethos accord with the requirements of all rural communities,” Mbeki said.

Then Safety and Security Minister Nqakula told reporters the commando system was established during a specific period of South Africa’s history as the first line of defence for rural communities against the “infiltration of guerrillas into the country. Because of this, commandos have never been as accepted as they ought to be by people1.” On fears that rural security would be compromised, he said farm security “was part and parcel of South Africa’s crime prevention strategy”. A rural safety plan was in place and he was awaiting a final report into the matter, following an investigation into farms attacks in South Africa. Farm attacks were not only against white farmers, but also their black colleagues, Nqakula claimed.

Mbeki, an arch-sophist, appeared to reverse himself on the issue some months later2, telling farmers in the Lichtenburg, North West, area, the decision could have been misconstrued. News24 reported on April 25 that year that Mbeki sought to assure farmers government was “going to re-arrange the commando system and not phase it out. We will not leave a vacuum, because that will not help at all to counter crime in rural areas. The hands of the police are strengthened by co-operation from the communities and the public’s assistance is welcomed”, Mbeki said.

Agri SA’s then-president Japie Grobler disagreed, saying the scheme amounted to “the old story of hundreds of plans being hatched while crime continues unabated.” In his commentary, Institute for Security Studies director Jakkie Cilliers cautioned against any plan to abolish commandos before an effective alternative was in place. “Commandos have traditionally been functioning as a blanket of support in rural safety,” he said. Cilliers said the fight against crime in general might also suffer if commandos should disappear.

The last commando unit was closed in early 2008.
A new plan

Mthethwa yesterday said the revised plan was nearing finalisation. Key aspects are:

  • To improve and enhance the service delivery at a local station level. “We have recognised that rural police stations are often isolated and responsible to police vast areas. To address these problems we need to not only create more effective and efficient police stations but also ensure that the local police work in partnership with both rural communities and other government departments responsible for rural development,” Mthethwa said
  • To increase and improve police visibility in rural areas and to increase the response times of police. “The ministry will adopt and ensure a responsive integrated proactive and reactive policing approach to policing of rural areas. At the end of 2009 the moratorium on the recruitment of reservists was lifted and the department is currently finalising its revised approach to address the use of reservists within the force. Our rural safety plan will also find ways of best utilising reservists’ capacity in rural areas,” the minister added.
  • To improve and enhance relationships between the police, farming community, stakeholders and extended rural communities. “We have looked closely at the role of sector policing in rural areas and are ready to roll out the implementation of sector policing in the rural environment. These partnerships will also seek to establish enhanced communication within rural communities and among all role-players.”
  • To improve safety awareness in rural areas and educate rural communities on safety and security matters. “Infra-structural development within the rural environment is essential to ensure equal accessibility to services and service delivery. Our rural safety plan will also support rural development through the implementation of sustainable safety plan,” the police minister said.
  • “In addressing crime generally we have highlighted the need to improve both our intelligence and investigative capacity and this includes our abilities in this regard related to rural crimes,” Mthethwa told the Agri-SA meeting. “We must ensure that in rural areas proper investigation of all cases reported and closer cooperation with prosecuting authorities. In supporting both our crime investigations and our crime prevention we also need to improve our crime intelligence and analysis in rural area.

“Some crime syndicates operate in rural areas, harassing and undermining the safety of communities. In particular; farmers, farm workers and residents within rural communities are considered soft targets of such criminals. Between 1997 and 2007 there were 1 248 murders on farms, both involving farmers and farm workers. However it needs to be noted that a docket analysis done in 2003 indicated that the majority of these murders which occurred between 1997 and 2003, did not actually involve farmers themselves and the victims of these murders were actually farm workers or people visiting farm workers.”

The minister added that the while ministry remains committed to dealing with all rural crimes including murders committed on farms, it is important that farmers themselves also take steps to address vulnerabilities that have impacted on farm killings. While at times government has no control in terms of working conditions and agreements privately entered into between the farmers and these vulnerable workers, it is an area that farmers themselves need to seriously address.
“While these killings are worrying and police will never rest until culprits are brought to book, our investigations have amongst others pointed out to the issue of labour relations having contributed to these killings. There had been empirical evidence that some farmers, not the majority though, hire workers from other foreign countries without proper paper documentations,” stated the Minister.

The minister also appealed to “some of the trade union representatives as well as political parties” not to politicise these farm killings unnecessarily. “To us this is crime and therefore needs to be condemned with vigour. We do not see it as a racist onslaught or politically motivated acts but murder is murder.” Farming in SA remains strongly Afrikaans-orientated and the mostly-Afrikaner Freedom Front Plus political party, as well as the largely-white Solidarity trade union have often commented on farm crime. In addition, numerous right wing web-sites have alleged a anti-white genocide in rural areas, but without any convincing proof.
“Government recognises that both farmers and farm workers are valuable assets in the economic development and agricultural prosperity of our country,” the minister continued. “The two should therefore not be seen as opposing sides but as complimenting each other towards the growth of the country’s agricultural programmes. We commit ourselves to fighting crime in whatever form it manifest itself in our society including farm killings. We have placed the issue of rural development high on the agenda and view the safety and security of the rural community in South Africa as a priority. This priority therefore needs to find concrete expression in our policing strategies and we need to ensure that our programmes speak adequately to this important issue,” said the Minister.

The one-day conference was also attended by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Andre Nel, MEC for Safety and Security Liaison in Northern Cape Patrick Mabilo, representatives from the police, farmers, business organisations as well as various agricultural organisations.

Agri-SA happy

AgriSA’s security head, André Botha, said Mthethwa’s remarks reflected a new political will to grapple aggressively with rural safety issues that farmers had been raising for years. “We are starting to see responsible political leadership,” he said. Business Day added that the plan would also benefit from the SA Army returning to the border,especially “in volatile border regions where stock theft by rustlers from Zimbabwe and Lesotho was rife. From April 1 you will start seeing massive deployment in those areas,” Mthethwa said. “The army will be working together with the police and local (farming) community.”

However, the military are not planning to deploy along the Lesotho border this year and will only deploy 540 troops – four rifle companies – along the Zimbabwe and Mozambique borders.

AgriSA president Johannes Muller welcomed the remarks and said he hoped it would reverse the abandonment of farms because of high crime levels and ineffectual law enforcement. “Now we’re seeing a new willingness in government to deal with these issues,” he said.
* Earlier this month Business Report noted that at least nine out of 10 black farmers given land through the government’s redistribution programme have failed. Rural Development and Land Affairs Minister Gugile Nkwinti acknowledged that the government’s plan to transfer 30 percent of farming land, or 82 million hectares, to black farmers by 2014 would not be reached, said that in the 15 years of democracy the restitution and redistribution programmes had been handicapped “by one big problem… the capacity of those who received the land to continue producing effectively and optimally on the land”. Further measures were being put in place to assist them.