Eastern Cape farmers are battling a surge in stock theft during the lockdown period aimed at curbing Covid-19 infections.
Eastern Cape Safety MEC Weziwe Tikana-Gxothiwe told the legislature this week that, between 27 March and 22 June, 5 636 animals were stolen in the province.
During the same period, 228 people were arrested in connection with stock theft, revealed Tikana-Gxothiwe.
The MEC was responding to written questions from the DA’s Bobby Stevenson.
Stevenson said the stolen animals were worth a combined R17.197 million.
Stevenson blamed the spike on the lockdown regulations, which prohibited the movement of people.
He said, because of the lockdown, farm watch patrols could not take place.
“In contrast, there was a decrease in stock theft over the December and January holidays. This was ascribed to a multi-disciplinary approach, which included patrols by commercial and emerging farmers,” said Stevenson.
“However, during the lockdown period, farm watch patrols were not allowed, and this could be one of the significant reasons for the spike of stock theft over this period,” Stevenson added.
Agri Eastern Cape president Doug Steyn said his organisation was greatly concerned about the “escalating” theft.
Steyn said data showed the theft is more rampant in the eastern part of the province, “especially in areas like Stutterheim, Thomas River, Cathcart, to the east of Komani”.
Steyn said his organisation understood that hunger was the underlying factor behind the theft, but farmers’ lives were being destroyed.
“People are hungry, they need food, but we can’t tolerate being the targets of this onslaught. We are trying to help the people in need by distributing food, but there will come a time where we will say enough is enough, we can’t be deprived of our income-generating capacity and still give food to people,” said Steyn.
Steyn said Agri Eastern Cape is in the process of arranging a meeting with the provincial police commissioner, with a view to working together to fight the scourge.
“We need to assist the police to apprehend and curb the stock theft. It is impossible for them to do everything alone, without the farmers’ help.
“We cannot leave it unattended. We will try and collectively work together to resolve it.”
Stevenson said the party noted that, while other crimes might have declined during the government’s lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a massive surge in stock theft across the province.
He described this as a crippling blow to the already struggling agricultural sector.
Tikana-Gxothiwe said the stolen animals included 4 480 sheep, 700 goats, 411 cattle and 45 horses.
“At an average of R2 500 per sheep, R1 200 per goat, R12 000 per head of cattle and R5 000 per horse, the estimated combined value of stock losses comes in at R17 197 million,” said Stevenson.
Stevenson said the DA believed the incorporation of new technology, such as drone cameras with infrared and night vision, could also play a significant role in clamping down on stock thieves.
He added: “Stock theft remains extremely high in the Eastern Cape. The recently released crime statistics show that, while nationally stock theft has declined by 4.2%, the Eastern Cape has seen an increase of 1%.”
Tikana-Gxothiwe said her department had purchased 33 new vehicles, which would be used by the stock theft units in the province.
Stevenson said the DA welcomed the acquisition.
“The DA will be monitoring the extent to which these individuals are successfully prosecuted,” said Stevenson.
“Our agricultural sector is already under severe pressure from the ongoing drought, with both emerging and commercial farmers taking strain.
“We need to stop the haemorrhaging of stock through theft, if we are to save livelihoods and protect the province’s food security,” said Stevenson.