Cross-border crime increasing between Lesotho and Eastern Cape

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crime
Ten stolen sheep that were tied up. Tied up animals are often so severely maimed they must be put down.

AgriOrbit recently reported on the increase of cross-border crime between the Free State and Lesotho. Further south, the situation seems to be equally dire in Cedarville in the Eastern Cape. This according to Peter Muir, who oversees the safety and security portfolio of the Cedarville Farmers’ Association.

Cedarville, with the former Transkei surrounding it on three sides and Lesotho on the other, is being used as a pathway for crime syndicates.

A crime hotspot

“We are dealing with a lot of cross-border crime between Lesotho and East Griequaland, which includes the Swartberg and Cedarville areas with the Underberg area a close neighbour,” Peter says. “Basotho people cross the border into South Africa with cannabis, heading back to their own country with stolen livestock, mostly cattle and sheep. Farmers can try all they can to block these routes, but the criminals still get through.”

Not only are the commercial farms and producers becoming victims of theft and other crime, but rural subsistence farmers are also being targeted. “We recently had approximately 40 animals driven through the Cedarville area.

Cattle stolen from rural communities that were recovered.

Livestock that was stolen from people in the former Transkei was driven through the Cedarville area, back into the Transkei and finally taken into Lesotho. When this happens, the offenders cut the fences on the way through the South African farms and often take extra animals from the farms,” he says.

Peter also says it is a losing battle. South African authorities do not help people on either side of the border. “Farmers and their informants will work hard on following up and using all their resources to recover the animals. They even identify the thieves for the authorities to capture, only to be let down by the same authorities and ultimately the justice system.”

There is also the additional problem of established local syndicates working closely with people in Lesotho. They help each other to cross the border. It is believed that these syndicates are ‘protected’ by corrupt officials across all spheres, including government, municipal, South African Police Service (SAPS) and pound officials. The police will often impound recovered livestock, only to have them released shortly after, or one finds that these animals are dying of hunger and neglect in the pound.

Animal cruelty is rife

Stolen sheep that were slaughtered.

According to Peter, the main pound in the area is situated in Matatiele. It is linked to yet another criminal element which involves municipal workers who are being used by senior government officials. They impound stolen animals from one area and move them to another. Among other things, they clip the animals’ ears so the rightful owners will never find them.

“The amount of animal abuse involved in all these practices is unspeakable. The thieves often walk the animals to town and then tie them up with wire and ropes. Once they are found, they are so badly maimed they must be put down. We also see plenty of poaching with dogs and if there is no game, the dogs are unleashed on calves, which are easy targets with much more meat. Seeing how a dog gets hold of and rip an animal such as a sheep or calf into pieces is a horrendous experience,” says Peter.

Stock trafficking between provinces

Clothes found at a crime scene.

Another concern is that stolen cattle are moved from Mpumalanga to the Cedarville – and former Transkei –areas and vice versa. It is not quite clear how they get through all these areas, but according to Peter, they often use reputable transport companies and are organised.

“Furthermore, we have been led to believe that the stolen animals are slaughtered by the syndicates who supply the meat to the Lesotho army and police force. The criminals also steal livestock from farms in and around Cedarville, driving them to town, slaughtering and selling to government officials who will pay up to R600 per sheep.

“Most of the trafficking around Cedarville, Matatiele and Kokstad is believed to branch out to places such as Pietermaritzburg, Port Shepstone, Durban and as far afield as Johannesburg. Livestock stolen in Maclear, Ugie, Elliot, Cathcart and Queenstown is usually transported in the direction of East London,” he says.

Criminal offences on the rise

Peter believes certain individuals in the police and stock theft unit are involved in all these ventures. “The problem is so big that it involves weapons, drugs and other contraband. The same groups of offenders also steal farmers’ crops, diesel, batteries, tyres, and so forth,” he says. “We often find that they are, one way or another, involved with the workers on the farms where it happens. Paperwork and dockets disappear or cases do not go to court, while there is certainly some reluctancy from the police to help us in any way.”

Many farmers feel the police are doing the bare minimum and that cases are not fully investigated. According to Peter, the usual excuses are that there is a shortage of vehicles, the investigating officers must attend meetings and are unavailable, or that superiors are attending meetings using police vehicles.

A jacket left at a crime scene. The community recognised the jacket, but no arrests were made.

Another concern is that farmers and their workers are being targeted for so-called abuse of the criminals, ending up in court after the criminals lay charges of assault against them. It seems that the criminals have more rights and protection than the law-abiding, honest tax-paying citizens. “The sad thing is that everyone knows who the culprits are, but nothing happens to them. When they are caught, they are often out on bail a week later and we all know that a substantial number of convicted stock thieves are now out on early parole thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Peter says.

Growing financial pressure

Many farmers are now making use of guards, cameras and security companies. This huge extra expense further affects the sustainability of livestock farming.

Added to these extra expenses, is the further loss of income from keeping livestock in kraals at night. This harms the productivity of herds as well as the environment. Peter believes it has a huge impact on the environment where the veld is not utilised properly. He explains this aspect as follows: “One tends to keep the animals close to the homestead for their safety, so there are more footpaths and erosion in certain areas on the farm. All of these expensive preventative measures lead to the sustainability of farming being under threat and resulting in many livestock farmers giving up farming altogether to try their hand at something else.”

An impossible situation

Many farmers believe the big flaw lies in South Africa’s policing and justice system where law and order are no longer being maintained or upheld. Peter agrees, saying that the offenders know they will be let off and nothing stops them from committing the same crimes repeatedly. “The quality of investigations is yet another problem. We are spending megabucks on putting up cameras and catching these guys, but in the end, they get off easily, all the while laughing at us.” – Carin Venter, AgriOrbit

For more information, send an email to the Cedarville Farmers’ Association at cedarvillefarmersassociation@gmail.com.