Concerns mount as another farm is targeted by robbers in Western Cape

2019-06-04 12:26
Police car at Louiesenhof farm in Stellenbosch. (Jenni Evans, News24)

Police car at Louiesenhof farm in Stellenbosch. (Jenni Evans, News24)

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Robbers have struck again on a farm in Western Cape, this time at Klapmuts early on Tuesday, not far from Louiesenhof where Stellenbosch wine farmer Stefan Smit was murdered on Sunday.

"Four armed suspects gained access to the house, threatened the occupants and fled with a licensed firearm," said police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut.

"They are yet to be arrested."

This comes less than two days after the murder of Smit, whose family trust had just sold a portion of its land to the Stellenbosch municipality for R45m, following an occupation by backyarders who renamed it Azania last year.

Traut said police were still working on tracking down the four people who entered Smit's well fortified home and killed him on Sunday night while he was with friends and family.

Police would not give further details, but detectives and forensics experts were seen scouring the bushes and grounds of Louiesenhof on Monday and putting items into evidence bags.

Smit was killed around 18:50 on Sunday, and Tuesday's robbery in Klapmuts occurred around 06:30.

The farm in Klapmuts is not far from the N1 north of Cape Town, and is near the turn-off to Stellenbosch from the national route. 

'Act hard' against perpetrators

The latest incidents also come after the murder of Bonnievale vintner Tool Wessels and the severe injury of his wife Liezel at their wine farm Kapteinsdrift. A teenager was arrested in connection with that attack and has appeared in court.

Condemnation and concern over the attacks were swift, with Billy Claasen, executive director of the Rural and Farmworkers Development Organisation, urging the police to act swiftly. 

He said that the attacks were instilling fear in people. 

"We ask the authorities to act hard in this case. We don't need people like them in our society."

He said that, at the same time, a conversation was needed on due process regarding the land issue. 

"We need to talk about this and follow due process to resolve the land issue. The government must guard us against land grabs in the agricultural sector. This will be a threat for food security in our country."

Concern

At a media briefing at the Stellenbosch municipality on Monday, Western Cape Agriculture MEC Ivan Meyer expressed shock over the attacks on Smit and on the Wessels couple in Bonnievale in May.

He said these attacks formed a threat to the country, the province's economy and to the livelihoods of farmworkers and farmers.

He said that 17% of the total workforce in the province were on farms, with 45% of total agricultural exports from South Africa coming from Western Cape, earning R2.1bn for the province's economy. 

"It is a matter of not only provincial concern, but also national and international concern, since we are exporting our products."

READ: Stellenbosch farm murder: WC govt demands set up of rural safety unit after killing

Meyer announced a programme of meetings with police and the prosecuting authorities, and said he wanted a rural safety system set up urgently.

He said the motive for the murder was not yet known, but he felt that the "narrative" on expropriation of land without compensation should be checked. He would be monitoring data on farm attacks to see if there was a link between the two.

He also suggested a "cross border" link to the attacks.

'Cornerstone of our industry'

The grape growers' and wine producers' organisation Vinpro called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to speak up strongly against what they believed was an assault on the agricultural sector. 

Vinpro chairperson Anton Smuts also called on Ramaphosa to urgently institute extra safety measures for the sector, which employs around 290 000 people. 

In the meantime, Smuts has urged the farming community to be vigilant and to assist the police wherever possible. 

"We condemn any form of violence, crime or murder directed at people who work and live in the farming community.

"These individuals are the cornerstone of our industry and the country's economy," said Vinpro managing director Rico Basson.

The ANC in the province urged the police to speed up their work on the case, but cautioned against "wild allegations" regarding the murder, and the police's work. 

'Land invasion is not condoned'

Western Cape ANC agriculture spokesperson Pat Marran said: "The ANC denounces criminality and says the culprits must be hunted down, evidence secured and they must be brought before a court for trial and punishment.

"Too many commentators want to prejudge the murder now, instead of practicing restraint and staying calm."

Marran also cautioned groups behind illegal invasions of productive farms.

"Illegal or wanton land invasion is not condoned - people must be settled within a legal framework and expropriation must be done within the law," he said. 

"Farm owners must be dealt with in such a way that the agricultural industry is not destabilised."

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