Last week Monday morning, Vryheid SAPS had received seven reports of stock theft in as many days.
The commander of the Vryheid Stock Theft Unit declared that the frequency at which commercial farmers in the area are being targeted by criminals, is a crisis.
“Over the past weekend alone, 31 head of cattle and 22 sheep were stolen. There are a few farms in the Vryheid area that are being attacked repeatedly. A crime syndicate is stealing cattle from their camps at night. We have always had stock theft but never anything like this,” he admits.
He vows that his unit will do everything in its means to overcome this.
However, farmers are unconvinced.
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It’s not the diligence or the determination of the police to fight crime that they are sceptical about. Farmers are aware of the alarming lack of resources police have at their disposal. The stock theft unit in Vryheid has 21 members but only three police vehicles to cover a vast area, making effective patrolling an impossible task, and rumour has it that the unit is unable to ‘take care’ of its informers anymore. Farmers will tell you that the success of stock theft investigation depends heavily on community informants.
Boetman Duminy, a cattle farmer along the Babanango Road lost six head of cattle last week Thursday. Stock thieves had slaughtered five pregnant cows in the camp and loaded the sixth, which they also took with them. The day before that, Mr Duminy had lost six head of cattle to stock theft. On the Sunday before, he had lost three head of cattle and the Sunday before that, he had lost four.
“We know the culprits,” he says. “…but it is a challenge finding the evidence to link them to the crime. In all my years of farming, we have never lost so many head of cattle in such a short space of time.”
“You can imagine how this affects me,” Mr Duminy continues. “Losing so many cattle in a week, I won’t be able to farm much longer. Soon I will be depleted totally and bankruptcy will be the next thing. My costs stay the same but now the income is gone.”
He feels the reason he may be an easy target for stock theft is his location. His farm is close to the road that goes to Mondlo on one side and Dundee on the other.
Mr Duminy’s son, Jaco, is the chairman of the Vryheid Landbou Sakekamer (a business chamber for farmers in Vryheid and the surrounding area). He foresees a grim future for Vryheid as the number of commercial farmers dwindles due to escalating crime and issues around land restitution.
“I think, in the next five years, Vryheid will become a ghost town,” he predicts.
“Membership at the chamber has halved over the past five years as farmers in the area decide to cut their losses, sell their stock and get out of town. While I will still need to verify the exact figures, I believe that five years ago there used to be more than 20 commercial farmers active along the Babanango Road between Vryheid and Melmoth. Today, there are three, and this has a knock-on effect on the town’s economy, and its growth and development.
“I agree with my father that the location of some of the farmland we are leasing makes us susceptible to crime. Some of my neighbours have decided to employ guards to watch over their livestock, but the guards are shot at by stock thieves and many are threatened with their lives to look away when a crime is taking place. This year’s profit has been stolen from my family and we are running the farm at a loss. I am busy discussing if I should carry on. I may have to downscale or even relocate some of the business to another province.”
Residents who have any information which may assist police in their investigation into stock theft in Vryheid and the surrounding area are urged to contact the stock theft unit on 034 989 6809 urgently.