- Stock theft should be regarded as an economic crime, Police Minister Bheki Cele says.
- A task team is investigating issues of stock theft in the eastern Free State and has uncovered the existence of five groups involved in stock theft, according to Cele.
- Cele met with law enforcement officials, farmers and farmworkers in the province on Thursday.
Tough-talking Police Minister Bheki Cele says that stock theft will be treated as an economic crime and investigations have already uncovered the existence of five groups operating in the eastern Free State.
Cele was in the eastern part of the province on Thursday, where he met with the farming community and other stakeholders.
The minister returned to Bethlehem after having met with farmers following the brutal murder of 21-year-old farm manager Brendin Horner in October.
At the meeting, farmers from Senekal, Paul Roux and Bethlehem detailed the issues they faced and a dossier was handed over which contained allegations of stock theft syndicates and alleged police involvement.
During the meeting - which was addressed by a number of high ranking police officials including the Free State police commissioner - it was placed on record that a task team, comprising Hawks officials, Crime Intelligence, state security officials and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) has started investigating the information contained in the dossier.
The task team also uncovered the existence of the five stock theft groups operating in the area.
The farming community were also told that the team's investigations will include:
- an analysis of stock theft cases registered since 2012;
- dockets that were opened but which never led to the prosecution stage; and
- an analysis of arrests for stock theft and farm murders.
Cele also said there was a clear increase in the arrest of foreign nationals for the crimes. Foreigners from Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Mozambique were implicated, he added, saying that he was in touch with International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor about this.
Cele said that stock theft would also be regarded as an economic crime, especially after looking at the stock theft figures that form part of the quarterly crime statistics which will be released on Friday.
"I saw the stock theft figures. It's hell."
"This is economic sabotage. It cannot be regarded as ordinary crime, it is not petty crime," Cele added.
Cele also touched on race relations within the community telling farmers and farmworkers, both black and white, to "stop fighting each other" because they had a common enemy: Criminality.
Acknowledging issues faced by the farming community collectively, Cele asked that farmers not play into the hands of those who spread disinformation, like talk of white genocide.
Two farmers, who addressed the rural safety imbizo noted that there had already been an improvement since the last meeting.
Two other farmers shared that there still hadn't been help and that farm murders continued to affect them.
Two community policing forum members also told Cele about alleged police involvement in a range of crimes and believed investigations into crimes - including stock theft and rape - were not pursued with any vigour.
Following the meeting, farmers told News24 that they were happy with the outcomes, promises made and the progress so far.
However, they said arrests and convictions need to be seen.