Picture: THE TIMES
Picture: THE TIMES

The KwaZulu-Natal government and local farmers say stock theft is costing the country, and its provinces billions of rand, and is also affecting the local agricultural economy.

Police and farmers say stock theft is more prevalent in areas such as Bulwer, Ixopo, Mpendle and Mzimkhulu as well as areas bordering Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland.

A recent study conducted by a team of academics from Unisa  found that there were more than 29,000 cases of stock theft reported in SA in the last financial year. Willie Clack, an academic at Unisa, told Business Day that stock theft resulted in a loss of about R1.3bn to the farming community in that year.

Clack also runs the website stocktheftprevent.co.za to alert farmers and the police about hot-spots and the modus operandi of the stock thieves. He said these figures show a sharp rise in comparison to a study they did in 2012, which found that stock theft had resulted in the loss of R486.6m in the period under review. 

Subsistence farmers are affected and some communities are engaging with authorities on the problem. Angry community members in the stock theft hot-spot of the Harry Gwala region, in the Midlands, recently met officials from the provincial department of community safety to find legal means and ways of preventing cattle, sheep, goats and pigs from being stolen.  

Worsening situation

Clack said the situation is worsening, and joint efforts by the farmers and the police are failing to reverse the scourge. “The latest figures show that stock theft is rising sharply in the country and people steal these animals to support a lifestyle — such as drugs and the high life. So we cannot stop stock theft completely but farmers can reduce it by branding their animals, counting daily and securing their premises.

“What we must also remember is that the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape are the most affected in the country and the patterns there, too, differ. In the Eastern Cape, more sheep are stolen and fewer cattle. In KwaZulu-Natal it is the exact opposite, more cattle are stolen and less sheep,” Clack said

Mluleki Mntungwa, spokesman for KwaZulu-Natal department of community safety some communities used cattle and other livestock as wealth to feed their families and a means to help fund the education of their children.

“Livestock is crucial in rural communities as it forms part of their wealth and stimulates the local economy. Thousands of animal are stolen in the province and nationally. These huge numbers of stolen animals impacts negatively on the agricultural sector,’’ he said.

Mandla Buthelezi, of the National African Farmers Union of SA told Business Day that in the past few months there has been a spike in the number of farmers who have had their livestock stolen.

“These figures are frightening — no wonder some people resort to taking the law into their own hands. Our members near the borders of Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique are the worst affected. One of our members, a retired teacher who is now a farmer, took his retirement [money] and bought herds of cattle. He reported recently that 20 of these cattle have been stolen by brazen stock thieves,” he said.

Captain Rassie Erasmus, of the SAPs stock theft unit, said many court cases are lost due to insufficient evidence, incomplete statements or disputes regarding the positive identification of stolen livestock and the ability to prove ownership.