Free State Agriculture (FSA), which represents more than 3 500 commercial farmers in the Free State, is very concerned about the increase in cross-border crimes occurring in farming communities located between the South African and Lesotho border.

Lees dit in Afrikaans

Francois Wilken, president of FSA, says the organisation strongly condemns the farm attack on John Parr from the farm Yaxham in the Tweespruit area on 21 June this year. Parr, his wife, son-in-law and two children were attacked and assaulted by five armed attackers. Mitigating the emotional damage suffered by children who become victims of farm attacks should be prioritised.

Farm attacks escalate during lockdown

According to Wilken, the cross-border situation is even worse than before the lockdown. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the South African Police Service (SAPS) cannot enter Lesotho in search of criminals committing cross-border crimes. Apparently, Interpol is also unable to obtain authorisation because it is refused at the highest level by the Lesotho government.

Criminals operating across borders have leverage and they target farming communities, thereby becoming a bigger security threat to such communities. FSA and farming communities cannot accept this situation. During lockdown, more than 30 cross-border crimes took place with more than 300 livestock (sheep and cattle) stolen – nearly 100 animals were later recovered at the Caledon River. Other serious cross-border crimes included house burglaries, theft of solar panels, vehicles, tractors, bales of fodder and even assaults on workers.

In the Hobhouse area, two farm attacks took place where workers were attacked, assaulted and robbed of livestock. Criminal complaints have also been received from farming communities situated in other towns adjacent to Lesotho, namely Clarens, Clocolan, Ficksburg, Wepener and Zastron. The situation has been referred to Agri SA.

Greater co-operation is needed

Police capabilities are currently limited in rural areas and FSA once again calls on the SAPS to make greater capacity available, especially in the border areas, says Tommie Esterhuyse, vice-chairperson of FSA. Greater co-operation between the SAPS and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), involving increased patrols to prevent crimes, is also requested. The increase in cross-border crimes leaves farmers with no other choice but to take the law into their own hands in order to protect themselves, their families and their workers and to ensure food security.

Rural Safety Strategy to combat crime

Jakkals le Roux, chairperson of FSA’s Rural Safety Committee, commends the farmers in the Tweespruit and Hobhouse areas for their prompt response and actions to assist the victims. The rapid response and actions of residents in order to respond to the criminal actions of the attackers are also applauded. Such actions again confirm that an organised agricultural structure within the Rural Safety Strategy, in collaboration with the SAPS, is indispensable in order to arrest attackers. It emphasises that by implementing the strategy, crimes are combated. FSA expresses its gratitude to fellow farmers for their prompt response and preparedness and will assist farmers and victims to ensure that justice is continuously served. – Press release, FSA