By far the majority of the national lockdown effort is focussed on South Africa’s urban areas even while there are warnings about the impact any spread of the coronavirus could have on thinly populated rural areas.
As the site of national food production, rural areas are important contributors to the health and wellbeing of their fellow South Africans. A representative agricultural organisation and a political party both warn there is a necessity for government to include rural areas in its national state of disaster planning.
The national agricultural community has long been subjected to what some call “unnecessary attention” from criminal elements. This has seen murder and maiming of farmers, their families and workers and brought a warning from Democratic Alliance (MP) Andrew Whitfield.
“Criminal elements in rural areas are likely to exploit the lockdown for their own nefarious purposes. While fighting the Coronavirus we must also ensure crime prevention is top of the agenda,” the party’s shadow police minister said.
“The DA supports the intention of the SAPS instruction preventing Community Policing Forums (CPFs) and Neighbourhood Watches from active deployment during lockdown. This is important in densely populated urban environments to limit the spread of Coronavirus.
“Rural communities, on the other hand, are sparsely populated and increasingly vulnerable to criminal elements during lockdown while police focus on enforcing regulations. It is important for police to consider, on a case by case basis, deployment of existing rural community policing structures to be eyes and ears in rural areas.
“These community policing structures must operate within the existing command structure and comply with all applicable legislation. It must be made clear only SAPS, with the support of the national defence force, are responsible for enforcing lockdown regulations,” he said.
Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU) president Louis Meintjes said: “With around 68% of South Africa urbanised, we realise the role of commercial farmers as a stabiliser in the country. It is easy to accept production of food as a given under normal circumstances. In times of desperate need as South Africa is experiencing now the country realises the value of commercial farmers”.
He urged farmers to keep at their daily tasks “with responsibility, in spite of the risks”.
Both TAU and national organisation AgriSA said farmers must be more alert during the lockdown and appealed to police to maintain and up visibility levels in rural areas.