- Bheki Cele met with farmers and gave an undertaking that allegations of livestock theft syndicates and police involvement will be investigated.
- The minister has given a deadline of 21 days, after which he will come back to farmers to map out a plan of action.
- The meeting came after an uproar over the brutal murder of Brendin Horner.
"To me, this is a stock heist" - these were the words of Police Minister Bheki Cele, who gave an undertaking on Tuesday to investigate allegations of livestock theft syndicates and police involvement in the eastern Free State.
Cele assured farmers in the area the issues they raised would be investigated and that a follow-up meeting would be held to map out the way forward to find solutions to the criminality that has plagued farmers in Bethlehem, Paul Roux and Senekal.
Cele and State Security Minister Ayanda Dlodlo met with the group of farmers at a hall outside of Bethlehem on Tuesday.
The meeting was sparked by the brutal murder of 21-year-old Brendin Horner and the subsequent chaos that unfolded as a small group of protesters stormed the Senekal Magistrate's Court in an attempt to get to the men accused of killing the young farm manager.
Criminality in the eastern Free State
Herkie Viljoen, who is the chairperson of a safety committee that represents around 500 farmers in the area, told Cele that farmers - both black and white - have been plagued by organised criminality.
Stock thieves operating in organised syndicates have been stealing large quantities of stock, amounting to over R1 million in losses every month thus far in 2020, Cele was told.
Viljoen said there were also allegations of police involvement in the syndicate's dealings and that suspected stock theft criminals have been protected by certain police officers stationed in the different small farming towns.
He added that a dossier of these allegations and issues had been compiled and that these issues have already been raised with the police.
To the farmers in the area, it was the operations of these syndicates that led to the death of Horner.
Viljoen told the ministers:
"This is the end of the road for us, we can't go on like this. We can't farm in this environment."
This is a stock heist
Responding to the farmers, Cele said the issues raised sounded like the operations of a stock heist, much like the cash-in-transit heists that have also affected the country.
Cele also dealt with the allegations of police involvement in the stock thefts in the eastern Free State.
"One big thing that has been said around here is that members of the South African Police Service are not clean.
"You have raised that. It has not been raised by white farmers or black farmers, it has been raised by farmers."
The minister added that police would have to look at a number of issues, including:
- The market where the stolen stock is sold.
- Who helps the suspects with the information on the farms?
- What happens when these matters have been reported to police?
- What do police do?
- What happens when these cases have been taken to court?
Cele said there is a rural safety plan in place, but that a plan would be needed to tackle the specific issues in this specific farming community.
The minister said the farming community should have stability and safety, so that they can do their work.
Cele asked for 21 days to look into the matters, after which he will meet the farmers again to plot a way forward and to put a plan into action.
Horner murder accused
Cele also used the meeting to quell tensions ahead of the next court appearance of the Horner murder accused – Sekwetje Mahlamba and Sekola Matlaletsa - who are expected to appear in the Senekal Magistrate's Court on Friday.
Cele asked farmers to do their best for the coming Friday - they could protest, but not to do so unlawfully.
"Let's stay far away [from] anything that can ignite fire," Cele said.
The minister said he would also be at court on Friday.