Livestock theft is an increasing problem that threatens to force many farmers nationwide to their knees and farmers between Piet Retief and Ermelo in Mpumalanga are among those who say the situation is now becoming almost untenable.
In addition to the massive financial damage that farmers suffer due to livestock theft, it also puts their personal safety in constant jeopardy. Some farmers say that it also seems that the police have a don’t-give-me-like approach to the incidents, with investigations yielding little or no results.
Three farmers – who all farm in the vicinity of the Driefontein squatter camp and the Geelhoutboom pump station between Ermelo and Piet Retief – told Rhewal on Thursday that their livestock, especially cattle, were stolen in large numbers and in most cases driven to the squatter camp become
There the cattle are brutally butchered and slaughtered. Often all that remains of the carcasses is the skin, tripe or dead calves cut from pregnant cows.
Pieter Rabe, who farms with sheep and cattle in the area, lost seven cattle due to livestock theft in the past week alone. Some of the cows were pregnant. Rabe says that if he were to sell the animals at an auction, he would be able to earn approximately R25 000 each.
“First they stole three cows last week. We couldn’t find anything then. The day before yesterday they stole four pregnant cows. We found the fetuses at the Driefontein squatter camp where they were slaughtered, and also the skins of the cows that were stolen last week.
“They slaughter the cattle there and presumably cut them up. We don’t know how. The head, insides and everything else is then loaded onto a vehicle. It must be a big syndicate. If those cows of mine weigh around 250 kg each, that’s a ton of meat – and that’s without the head and entrails.
“Where this meat is transported or distributed, we do not know.”
Rabe got rid of his sheep at one stage because cattle thieves stole too many of them. Now it’s the cattle walking through again.
Police of little help
Rabe reported the latest incident to the police on Wednesday, but says the livestock theft unit of the police indicated that they did not have a vehicle with which they could drive to the scene. Two officers from the Driefontein police station did arrive later and took statements from two of Rabe’s workers.
Rabe believes that the same suspect against whom he has already filed a complaint in connection with sheep that were stolen from his farm a few months ago, is also responsible for the incidents this past week.
This alleged perpetrator appeared in the Piet Retief magistrate’s court on Thursday morning in connection with the earlier incident and was apparently on bail when the cattle were stolen and slaughtered last week.
“One of the workers said in his statement to the police that it was the same guy. They say, however, that one person’s testimony is not enough to arrest or investigate the suspect. Apparently, they did take him in for questioning after he appeared in court.”
Rabe says the police generally have a “lax” attitude when it comes to cattle theft incidents and investigations.
“No one wants to do anything. A hellish syndicate must know this. It’s not just one or two people.”
Joachim van Wyk, another farmer from the area who farms near Rabe, also told Rhewal that the incidents were “planned meticulously”.
He himself lost 50 cattle last year due to livestock theft.
“We are struggling terribly with livestock theft. We no longer know which way to go. It’s getting out of hand.
“We have already appointed guards, but it is only effective to a certain extent. These guys [veediewe] watch the guards. They are watching us. They know exactly when we are at home and when we are not.”
Rabe says that in addition to the police’s apparent reluctance to investigate these cases, they also do not have the right equipment.
“Often they don’t have vehicles and then they don’t show up until the following week. When they do arrive, they lack equipment to collect forensic evidence. We follow tracks and then find, for example, a knife at the scene. Then the police don’t have gloves or bags to put the evidence in and handle it safely.”
Van Wyk says there are never really thorough investigations and that the police often expect the farmers to collect information and pass it on to them.
He says livestock thieves also have a reign of terror, especially among the local community. So workers and other residents are too afraid to come forward with any information for fear of being killed or maimed.
“These cattle thieves have even opened fire on the police.”
Expensive to secure livestock, farms
Van Wyk explains that cattle thieves will steal large numbers of livestock on a farm for a period of time before it is quiet again for a while. Then suddenly they strike again.
The farmers also say that they are largely dependent on themselves and must take responsibility for their own safety. They must also introduce expensive measures to try to combat livestock theft.
Coert Paul, whose farm is located very close to a squatter camp, says he has already spent large sums of money on tightening security on his farm in an attempt to ward off cattle thieves.
Over the past few months, he has hired specialist guards who cost him R18 000 per guard per month.
“You can’t be everywhere all the time, that’s impossible. So that’s what we have to do now.
“I wish they would just send us a decent detective or someone to investigate.”
Rhewal has made an inquiry in relation to the latest incidents and general problem due to cattle theft to the police in Mpumalanga, but has not yet received any response.
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