On 12 September 2019 the minister of police, Bheki Cele presented the national crime statistics for South Africa and amongst others the livestock theft crime statistics. With this in mind and the following background information, the statistics are analysed as one of the many objectives of the National Stock Theft Prevention Forum (NSTPF).

Reducing livestock crimes is of paramount importance

Solving livestock thefts and reducing their numbers are global priorities based on economic trends and capital incentives to maintain sustainability, profitability and food security. Notwithstanding the claim of importance, livestock theft is a neglected crime in South Africa’s agricultural areas.

During the 1990s livestock theft reached an unprecedented peak in the new South Africa. In response to rampant livestock theft, the agricultural community established the NSTPF in 1995. It comprises role-players within the red meat value chain, criminal justice system and related NGOs in accordance with the South African Police Services National Instruction 2/1999.

Objectives of the National Stock Theft Prevention Forum

The overall purpose of the NSTF within organised agriculture is to be a representative structure in the battle against livestock theft and to prevent livestock theft specifically by ensuring compliance with legislation and the apprehension of those within the red meat value chain who do not comply with legislation.

Provinces also have a Provincial Stock Theft Prevention Forum (PSTPF) functioning according to the same rules as the NSTPF. All nine PSTFs are represented on the NSTPF. The NSTPF and PSTPF are regarded as more formal social networking nodes in the prevention of livestock theft in South Africa.

Furthermore, within the PSTPF various stock theft information centres are established in areas where livestock producers identify the need to host meetings and collaborate to prevent livestock theft.

The extent of livestock theft in South Africa

Figure 1: Number of livestock stolen and the number of livestock theft cases reported since 1995.

The number of livestock theft cases reported to the SAPS for 2018/19 has seen an increase of 2,9% and seems to be insignificant as indicated in Figure 1. An interesting trend in Figure 1 is the pattern of a seven-year increase and then a five-year decrease in livestock theft numbers.

In Figure 1 the number of livestock stolen comprises all cattle, sheep and goats that are stolen each year in South Africa for 2017/18 up to the current year. The number of livestock stolen increased by 9,2% on average.

Table 1 provides a breakdown of the increase per species. The larger increase in the numbers of livestock stolen creates a different picture of the extent of the phenomenon.

If 2014/15 is taken as the base year for livestock theft cases, livestock theft actually increased alarmingly by 18,8% nationally over the past five years and the number of livestock stolen increased by 26,5% over the same period as indicated in Figure 2.

Table 1: Percentage increase per species of livestock stolen 2017/18 to 2018/19.

Figure 2 indicates the number of species stolen over the past five years. It is apparent from Figure 2 that there has been a gradual rise in the number of livestock units stolen, irrespective of the type of animal, since 2014/15. This trend reached unacceptably high figures in 2018/19.

If we calculate the number of livestock units stolen in the country per day, the true horror of the situation becomes evident.

Figure 2: Numbers per species stolen per year.

Table 3 should sound a warning, as the monetary value of stolen animals has increased by R500 million over the past five years.

Table 3: Value of all livestock stolen and recovered, and the resulting financial loss.

Table 4 sets out the monetary value of the different types of livestock stolen. It is obvious that the highest losses relate to cattle, due mainly to their high value, while sheep – number wise – are more susceptible to theft, although in financial terms they represent a smaller loss.

Table 4: Value of livestock stolen and recovered, and the resulting financial loss per type of animal.

Table 5 provides the economic impact and value of all livestock stolen and recovered and the resulting financial loss per province per species.

Table 5: The economic impact of livestock theft per province and per species.

Comments on the minister’s remarks about crime statistics

“Livestock theft is a highly organised crime”. Indeed the NSTPF indicated in 2016 already that 87% in livestock theft is highly organised and only 13% is for “potslagting” (survival).

“The meat of stolen livestock is sold at shisa nyamas”. This has been known for some years already. The community is highly informed as to who the criminal is and the information is made available to the SAPD crime intelligence, but due to the non-existence of proper crime intelligence, nothing is being done to assist in crime prevention.

“Livestock theft is a cross-border crime”. This has been a known fact since the late 1800s. This is nothing new. However, it has become a social phenomenon that creates the impression of acceptance based on the fact that it has become a daily activity. Much research has been done over the past 10 years in this regard, but it is merely swept under the table. No one in the criminal justice system even takes cognisance of the magnitude and impact.

“People are killed at night for their animals”. This matter has been raised on many occasions by the NSTPF. A decision was taken in 2018 already to approach the SAPS to include a new crime category, ‘livestock robbery’, which is in line with the recommendations of the United Nations Organised Crime and Drugs (UNODC) Unit guidelines on crime categories. After many letters, a letter of acknowledgement of receipt has not even been received.

Presentation extract submitted to the government

Below is an extract of a presentation to the portfolio committee of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development on 25 May 2010, nine years ago.

Within the summary, the following is mentioned:

“Members asked questions about the lengthy delay in implementing legislation, what was being done to address the problem of stray animals on national roads, the fee charged for registering identification marks, the data on the theft of sheep, the control of stock being moved across borders, the efficacy of the stock branding campaign, the introduction of specialised courts to deal with cases of stock theft, the concerns raised by animal welfare organisations about branding methods and the lack of measurement mechanisms to track the effectiveness of counter-measures implemented by the Department. Members pointed out that stock theft had a severe negative impact on food security and the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.

Members expressed reservations about the Department’s ability to effectively deal with the problem and requested that the Department present a detailed action plan with time frames and tangible goals to the committee at the next meeting”.

The following legislation was scrutinised:

“The purpose of the presentation was to clarify the roles of DAFF and the SAPS with regard to stock theft. During the previous five years the Animal Welfare Act, the Animal Identification Act, and the Pounds Bill had been under review by DAFF and the Department of Justice. Various issues concerning production and implementation had arisen but the department hoped to finalise the matter with the current plan of consolidation”.

The Stock Theft Act was written in 1959 and have been under review since 2011. After eight years, the new Animals and Produce Movement Act is still awaited.

In conclusion

The NSTPF is deeply concerned that the minister and the SAPS do not take their own established structures into consideration in the prevention of livestock theft. The following words of the late Nelson Mandela in 1998 should be taken more seriously:

“Beyond the immediate human suffering, lack of security and stability in our rural and farming community causes serious disruption to our economy. It threatens to bring reduced growth or production, loss of wages and profits and in time, of unemployment. It brings the spectre of deepening poverty, and potential social instability and upheaval”. – Press release, National Stock Theft Prevention Forum

For any queries contact Willie Clack, chairman of the National Stock Theft Prevention Forum 082 574 2653 or send an email to wclack@unisa.ac.za.