Livestock theft threatens food security

Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Published Nov 21, 2023


The shockingly increasing levels of livestock theft pose a serious threat to the country’s food security, which is already at risk due to high food prices, drought, and economic challenges. As an aspirant farmer, it is discouraging to listen to small-scale and commercial farmers narrating their ordeals about how their livestock is being taken away from them by armed criminals.

What is heartbreaking is the fact that many of these criminals are known among the farming communities but they are never charged or sentenced to deter others from stealing from the farmers. There is a general belief among farmers that these criminals are working with some within the police unit to ensure that they are never arrested or charged.

When I was doing a livestock theft story as a freelance journalist last week I realised that the victims were both black and white. I started to hear black farmers who said that they too are victims of the #FarmKillings. One George Boinamo, 68, narrated the story of how he ran for his life because the thieves wanted to kill him. He alleges that the motive for killing farmers is to weaken the level of security at the farm so that the criminals would have a free entrance.

“For most of this year’s winter, I’ve been sleeping in the bushes because these thugs have been coming to my house in an attempt to kill me. I’ve asked without success the police to patrol my farm at least once a day so as to threaten the thugs,” Boinamo charged.

The food we eat is produced by these farmers, hence it becomes necessary that we call for the authorities to help the farmers to secure their property and lives. While the population is growing, we continue to witness the decline in the number of farmers, which is problematic for all of us, the consumers.

The decreasing number of farmers simply means that there is a significant loss of employment and business opportunities in the agricultural sector. Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies noted that agricultural employment in South Africa’s commercial farming sector is declining at an alarming rate. Between 1988 to 1998, the commercial farm sector shed a staggering 140 000 regular jobs, a decline of roughly 20%.

The unchallenged livestock theft is posing a serious threat to the food production of this country. It is worrying that the ANC-led government seems to be unconcerned about this wicked practice of stealing livestock and brutally killing farmers and farmworkers. A lot of people are fearing for their lives, hence they quit farming to stay in safer places with their families rather than expose their property to being stolen or their lives being taken away from them.

Near Nietverdiend, North West province, near Madikwe Game Reserve, farmers have installed surveillance cameras which have helped to marginally curb the rising livestock theft levels. One on-site surveillance camera costs the farmer about R55 000, and one farmer needs about two or three cameras per farm to cover all the roads used by the criminals.

It is quite disappointing that even with overwhelming evidence showing who the criminals are, there has not been a single successful investigation and prosecution of the known livestock thugs. At times the police do not even bother to investigate the suspects, they simply send out an electronic message to the complainant informing them that the case has been closed due to “insufficient evidence”. There is something wrong with our police service – either they are corrupt or lack training.

There is a strong belief that the police tasked to address livestock theft have strong ties with the known criminals and that they are in cahoots. Some police officials are being reported, few are found guilty, while others are reinstated by their employer, the SAPS.

Although there was livestock theft during the apartheid regime in 1980 when Boinamo started breeding his cattle, the police at the time managed to keep this horrendous crime at a low. Boinamo tells me about the unit known as the Commandos within the defunct apartheid South African Police. “This unit set up stop and search on the road, they patrolled our farms and investigated possible thieves of livestock. Today, we have a police unit mandated to help fight livestock theft; however, those are the same people who are stealing from us,” Boinamo said.

Mokgatlhe is a freelance journalist and thought-leader based in the North West province

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