Stock theft spiraling out of control

2011-06-06 00:00

FARMERS are calling for the army to step in to control spiralling stock theft on the province’s borders with Lesotho, and for stocktheft units to be beefed up. Stocktheft risks have been blamed for the sharp decline in the numbers of animals being raised, and threaten to plunge many meat farmers into bankruptcy and put food security at risk. Instead of stock numbers increasing to meet consumer needs, stock theft has been blamed for the sharp decline, which in some areas sees less than ten percent of the sheep being farmed that there were ten years ago.

Swartberg, Matatiele, Underberg, Lotheni, Himeville, and Impendle areas have been hard hit by stock thieves. This has put some farmers out of business while others are seriously re-evaluating their business operations in these areas as their losses mount.

Stock theft statistics recorded by the Underberg/Himeville Community Watch show that since 2008, farmers have lost an average of 10 cows a month, in addition to sheep losses. Some of the stock was recovered. While numerous cases have been opened, The Witness heard that many farmers no longer bother opening cases, as it’s unlikely they will be solved.

Statistics show that in 2008, farmers there lost about 50 cattle, seven sheep, two horses and eight other animals.

In 2009, they lost 263 cattle and 106 sheep. In September 2010, they lost about 107 cattle, four sheep and 19 horses. In April this year alone, they have lost about 60 cattle.

Farmers said while some stock thieves were from South Africa, the worst threat was along South Africa’s border with Lesotho.

They said thieves have intelligence on the farms which allows them to infiltrate at night and drive off the stock. Cattle are driven through the passes on South Africa’s border with Lesotho while sheep are driven to the road and loaded into an awaiting lorry.

John Pearce, an Underberg farmer, said he knew of some farmers who had quit farming in that area due to the losses.

“The problem is rife, especially on the South African border with Lesotho. Previously, the South African Army was posted there but it was then removed and we do not know why.”

Pearce said while the police stock theft unit posted in that area does good work, they were under-equipped to deal with the high threat stock theft poses. “The thieves know this area very well so they move around easily. At times the police lack the proper resources such as vehicles and also the terrain we are in is not conducive to vehicles. They are also not provided with any air support.”

Pearce said they had made numerous attempts to address the problem. “We meet at Cedara four times a year to come up with plans to combat stock theft, but the issue is that the people who should attend those meeting do not. They normally just send their underlings and therefore nothing ever gets done.”

Dr Merron Galliers, a vet in Franklin, said he had been farming in that area for more than thirty years. “The problem of stock theft is ongoing. You literally cannot relax and you have to keep watch, but it is impossible to keep everything under your eye. If you compare the number of sheep that were in this area to what is left now, there is nothing left.”

He also said a number of farmers he knew were going bankrupt because of the stock theft problem.

Michael Haywood, a farmer in the Swartberg area said drastic security measures need to be taken to avoid the farming industry in that area going bankrupt.

“One of the things we have been advocating for is for passes to be secured with electric fences, and the beefing up of our stock theft unit.”

He said if the problem persisted, it would create food shortages as many of the farmers could not cope with the losses and he had heard of others going bankrupt. “Already mutton is on the decline and we know the cattle are being ‘hit’. We definitely face a food shortage situation.”

Dr Tod Collins, a vet in Underberg, said over the last ten years at least 40 cattle farmers have switched to timber farming due to stock theft.

“I estimate that about 10 years ago, there were 80 000 sheep in this area, now there are about 7 000.”

Hendrik Botha chairman Red Meat Producers Organisation KZN said the stock theft problem was not localised to the Underberg area only, but was prevalent in the whole of KwaZulu-Natal.

Koos Marais of the Security desk at the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union called for the SANDF to be deployed to the border to curb the devastation.

“We believe that our police are ill-equipped to spend nights in the freezing weather and without air support, we cannot expect them to perform these hazardous duties. The SANDF, who may be better equipped, have for some time been withdrawn from the border.”

Police spokesperson, Colonel Jay Naicker said the Underberg area was one of the problematic areas with stock theft and they were putting resources in that area to combat the problem.

He said they will need assistance from community members and traditional leaders to combat the problem as it is not something they could fight alone.

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