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Stock theft investigation by SAPS. The corrupt South African police are working together with the farm attackers. Photo: SAPS

Farmers say horrific murder in Free State could have been prevented

Farmers in the Eastern Free State say the horrific murder of Brendin Horner could have been prevented if a detailed report had been considered in which the suspected members of transnational stock theft syndicates had been identified.

Published: October 11, 2020, 10:37 am

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    A group of about 30 farmers marched on the courthouse on Tuesday and a police van was overturned and caught fire when the police tried to ram into the group. One of the alleged participants, a 51-year-old former farmer and now a construction contractor, André Pienaar, appeared in court on Friday morning on charges of terrorism, attempted murder, incitement to violence and public violence. He has not been identified in the South African media in terms of a court order. Pienaar’s bail application was adjourned until Tuesday.

    In a speech before the court on Tuesday, the farmers, including Pienaar, had challenged the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, to ask the Hawks about the report “on Paul Roux’s corrupt police” which he had already been given in January.

    Herkie Viljoen, safety chairman of the Bethlehem District Agricultural Association, which operates a 24-hour control room for the region in the town, told Sunday newspaper Rapport that Horner was killed “because people did not do their job”.

    “What did they do with that report? If they did their job. . . if they had acted on what we had proven to them in black and white. . . the gang that has been terrorizing us for two years now, then that gang could not do what they did on Friday morning,” Viljoen said.

    He said farmers want the police to appoint a national task team within a week to investigate stock theft in the Eastern Free State and the local police’s involvement in it.

    The incriminating report was handed over to a lieutenant colonel in the Hawks months ago. The Hawks are South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI).

    The real problem appears to be Lesotho. This enclaved British Bantustan, has always been a safe haven for stock thieves. The thieves simply cross the border with their loot.

    Curiously, together with another British Bantustan Swaziland, which also happens to be an absolute monarchy, these two small ethnic countries in Southern Africa survived the international onslaught against Apartheid. While the Bantustans in South Africa were dismantled and the land handed over to ANC-supporting tribal chiefs, Lesotho and Swaziland somehow never caught the attention of the international Anglophone media.

    The South African and Lesotho police’s joint Operation Servamus in August 2019 resulted in the seizure of only 117 stolen cattle, 107 stolen goats, four sheep and seven horses.

    Regarding cross-border raids between South Africa and Lesotho, the stolen animals are hidden along the mountainous border, rebranded and sold back to South Africans. The stolen animals are laundered through stock auctions.

    The lack of border security contributes to the problem. Large parts of the border fence and fence poles have been stolen. This has created opportunities for criminals to smuggle livestock, drugs as well as firearms across the border.

    “With livestock theft comes the problem of drug trafficking accompanied by increasing levels of violence,” a senior law enforcement officer in Lesotho told ENACT on condition of anonymity.

    The mountainous border post between South Africa and Lesotho at Sani Pass. Wikipedia

    In addition to stealing animals, armed criminals attack farmers. Many of these cases are not reported to the police, primarily due to fear of reprisal. The attackers often set alight grazing or even whole farms.  In 2014, the Eastern Free State lost more than 100 000 ha of pasture destroyed by arson.

    “In September 2019, we started by talking to police stations in the district. We did not receive any reply. Then we went to the (provincial) clusters. Again, no reply.” Viljoen then sent the report to a lieutenant colonel of the Hawks in Pretoria – the first was sent in December and a follow-up report containing even more detail was sent in January. He has yet to receive a reply.

    “When I asked him two weeks ago what was going on, because things were getting worse in Paul Roux, he said the report was scheduled to go to the next level. But he never got back to me.” Viljoen says the farmers are convinced that some local policemen have been working together with stock theft syndicates.

    “Often we catch people stealing sheep and acknowledging everything. Then the police come to fetch them and by the time they arrive in town, the cattle thieves suddenly ‘remember nothing’.

    “Two policemen, a sergeant and a constable, strolled around town boasting that they did not touch their police salaries, because the cattle thieves pay them so much more.” Many farmers approached by Rapport told the same story.

    One explained that the police “educated” the accused on what to say when they are caught and have to appear in court. “They would say, for example, that the farmer aimed a firearm at them or used the k-word [a racial slur]. Then the farmer’s weapons are confiscated,” explained one farmer, who did not want to be identified.

    According to sources, stock thieves chase herds of sheep of up to 35 through the field at night, crossing the border into Lesotho. The only hope farmers have of ever finding their livestock is to look for it themselves. “We are no longer farmers, we are now the stock theft unit.”

    The farmers who have tried to alert the media about the scourge, have allegedly been threatened by the police to keep quiet.

    The report contains details of how stolen livestock had been found on a farm belonging to a police general. A herdsman was arrested who eventually died in the cells and the investigating officer was soon transferred to another station.

    A station commander in one Eastern Free State town has repeatedly been seen under suspicious circumstances near farms where cattle have just been stolen. When confronted, he claims to be “on patrol”. The report contains the details of six theft cases – complete with case numbers – to which this particular station commander is directly connected.

    Several other policemen believed to be involved are even identified by name in the report.

    The town of Fouriesburg which borders on Lesotho. Wikipedia

    According to the report, between April and August 2018, 845 cattle were stolen in the area (which includes the towns of Clarens, Bethlehem, Fouriesburg, Paul Roux and Kestell). No arrests were made in these 99 cases. Between April and August last year, the thefts almost doubled: 1 538 cattle were stolen, of which only 186 were recovered. Only one person was arrested in these 137 cases.

    Some farmers have lost as many as 200 sheep in a single night.

    However, the report, which includes the names of senior police officers who are believed to part of the syndicates, photos of suspicious vehicles and their registration numbers and even the names of people with inside knowledge of the corruption and who would be willing to speak, has been ignored by Pretoria.

    Numerous agricultural leaders have admitted that the reluctance of the police to act and the firm belief that senior police officers in the area were involved in the crime, were some of the reasons why thousands of farmers had gathered for the court appearance on Tuesday of two suspects arrested for the murder of Horner (22).

    There were 29 672 counts of stock theft in South Africa in the 2018-19 financial year. This is almost a 3 percent increase from the previous year, where 28 849 cases were registered. These South African Police Service annual crime statistics show that stock theft is on the rise.

    Contrary to the notion that stock thieves steal for food, Willie Clack, a penologist at the University of South Africa, told ENACT that “87 percent of livestock theft involves some form of organised crime while only 13 percent is for survival”.

    Horner, who was described by his boss, Gilly Scheepers, as “a good, peace-loving boy who could have become another top farmer”, was allegedly attacked by cattle thieves at a farm gate when he caught them in the act. He was strangled with a nylon rope and his body hung on a fence post. He had been stabbed several times and the knife used in the stabbing was left next to him as a warning.

    The Hawks’ national spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi meanwhile said he did not know of any such report. Police station commander Mokete Moloi on Paul Roux last week rejected allegations that police were involved in stock thefts. He made an appointment with Rapport on Friday morning to meet him at the Paul Roux police station, but never showed up.

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