Govt steps up farm security
Cape Town - Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson on Tuesday strongly condemned violence against farmers and farmworkers, and said her department was making security and safety on farms a priority.
"The government condemns, in all its manifestations, the violence aimed at farmers and farmworkers," she told MPs in the National Assembly, speaking during the debate on her department's budget vote.
Earlier, briefing the media at Parliament, she told journalists that ensuring security and safety on farms was a "critical and urgent priority" for her department.
"In this regard, under the leadership of the minister of police, we have deployed soldiers to patrol our borders, especially to curb and arrest activities around stock theft and illegal cross-border movement of agricultural commodities.
"In this context, police presence and visibility in our farming areas will be stepped up."
Joemat-Pettersson said a "more visible and tangible presence of police in rural areas" was needed.
Police reservists would be involved in the initiative.
Responding to questions on farm safety, she said violence on farms was not new.
"It is not a new phenomenon. We have had problems on farms even before the term of this government."
Referring to the deployment of soldiers to the country's borders, she said there was concern about the illegal importing of agricultural goods, especially with regard to animal diseases.
Stock theft losses 'astronomical'
"Stock theft has become one of the largest problems along the borders of especially Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The losses that we experience through stock theft are quite astronomical," she said.
Speaking later in the House, Deputy Agriculture Minister Pieter Mülder told MPs that tens of thousands of cattle, sheep and goats were stolen from farms around the country last year.
This had cost South African farmers hundreds of millions of rand.
"In the previous year (2009), losses of animals that have been reported stolen, minus the numbers recovered by the (police) stock theft unit, are 34 000 cattle, with a monetary value of R255m; 28 000 goats, value R40m; and 60 000 sheep, value R71m.
"In total, 152 000 animals were stolen, to a total monetary value of R366m... This is a very serious situation," he said.
Joemat-Pettersson told journalists her department was preparing for a national farmworker summit through a series of regional meetings, which included looking at safety on farms. She also ruled out any re-introduction of the so-called commando system in rural areas.
"No, we are not going back to the commando system. We simply believe we cannot afford porous borders, because where you have these... in other parts of our continent, the capacity for importing and exporting goods is compromised.
"The economy of agriculture depends on us managing our borders more effectively," she said.