Farm attacks come under spotlight
Durban - The misuse and poor management of police intelligence, coupled with political interference, have led to escalating brutality in violent crime, including in attacks on farmers and those living in remote dwellings, experts say.
Farm attacks have come under the spotlight after seven incidents in 24 hours on smallholdings in the Onderstepoort area, north of Pretoria, last week.
In KwaZulu-Natal there have been two murders on smallholdings this year, with the most recent in Balgowan this month.
The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said that farm attacks were not a deliberate form of white genocide, as was perceived by many, but rather part of a bigger trend of escalating brutal violence across the country.
ISS expert Gareth Newham said poor management of police intelligence coupled with political interference had left a loophole for criminals to exploit.
He said there had been a 30% increase in violent attacks during home robberies but it was not exclusive to those living in rural dwellings but was occurring in the cities too.
“There are a very small number of people who are committing such robberies. If police can work with their crime intelligence counterparts to clamp down on these robberies, they would also be able to identify the networks linked to these crimes.
“We have enough police officers and resources but due to bad police management, lack of intelligence-driven operations and political interference, more attacks are occurring in all types of households,” Newham said.
He said that these violent crimes against people living and working on farms shared similarities with the trio crime categories of house robbery, business robbery and hijackings, which are treated as priority crimes.
“The syndicates that trade in stolen and illegal goods like firearms and jewellery have been left to run amok. It is not that they are intentionally targeting farmers, but due to the police being preoccupied and mismanaged, the syndicates have spread to the farming community,” he said.
According to AfriForum’s 2019 statistics on farm attacks and murders released in February this year, there were 552 farm attacks and 57 farm murders.
Most attacks were committed between 6pm and 3am.
According to the report, KZN, the Free State, Gauteng and Limpopo had the highest number of farm murders.
Free State had 11 murders followed by Gauteng and KZN which both had eight murders.
KZN had 39 farm attacks, an increase of 16 from the previous year.
Police Ministry spokesperson Lirandzu Themba said the SAPS was intent on tackling crime in rural and farming areas. This commitment was demonstrated by the revamping of the National Rural Safety Strategy plan now aimed at enhancing community-police partnerships, she said.
The police have also introduced rural safety priority committees. This, Themba said, would see an increased police capacity and resources.
“These committees will monitor incidents of violent crime and together with police plan interventions.
“It will also collaborate work at national, provincial and district levels to ensure safety in rural communities. Whether it be on foot or by air, in vehicles, motorcycles, quad-bikes or on horses, this strategy will see crime-prevention measures go where they have never gone before by focusing on hot spots in rural areas to turn the tide against crime,” Themba said.
KZN Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) chief executive Sandy la Marque said while KZN had been “fortunate” to have good working relations with police and farm attacks and murders were prioritised, there had been serious shortcomings such as lack of rural patrols, a shortage of vehicles and a shortage of manpower and poor response time at some police stations.
“Kwanalu works closely with the SAPS and we would encourage that local structures and interventions are also worked on together.
“All crime must be reported so that the SAPS can then focus on hot spot areas of crime.
“Visible patrols and policing is urgently needed but we also encourage all rural persons and farmers to continually seek ways in which to improve their personal and security at home,” La Marque said.
DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard, who has recently been tasked to head the party’s rural safety work stream, said: “These aren’t crimes of passion, or drunkenness, or anger. They are coldly and carefully planned and executed invasions characterised by sheer brutality.”
She deemed the SAPS National Rural Safety Strategy a “dismal failure”.
“Minister (Bheki) Cele says we don’t need specialised rural safety units, because the Rural Safety Strategy is working.
“Tell that to the family of a man who was dragged to his death behind a truck. No, it is not working.”