EC farmers on armed patrols against attacks

Armed Eastern Cape farmers are patrolling their farmlands because they cannot afford private security.

The farmers are carrying licensed weapons, said Agri EC chairman Douglas Stern on Tuesday.

Farming communities are gripped with fear and fury after a spate of violent farm attacks.

Great Kei farmer Jason Winrow, 47, was slain on his Blue Water farm by robbers on October 29, while other farms have been attacked recently near East London, Aliwal North and Stutterheim.

The government has cautioned farmers not to overstep the law but says it has no money to help farmers defend themselves.

On Saturday, a gang of 15 armed men stole 100 Dorper sheep worth R180000 from gospel star Butho Vuthela’s home in Upper Ngxaxaha near Mount Fletcher.

This was just days after four men were killed in Libode, allegedly by a mob over stocktheft.

Ten of the villagers are in custody awaiting trial for the killings.

Vuthela said that earlier, on July 15, thieves also stole 15 sheep from his home.

Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha, spokesman for the department of rural development and agrarian reform, said yesterday: “We support the right of farmers to protect their land and property as long as they do it in conjunction with law enforcement and within the bounds of the constitution.

“However, as a department it is not within our mandate to provide financial support for security measures.”

Yesterday Vuthela said 22 of the stolen sheep were recovered in a village 30km away but five lambs were found dead.

“Stocktheft is bad here. Two men were shot dead but nobody was arrested,’’ said Vuthela.

In Elliotdale, farmers have formed an anti-stocktheft group called Masifunisane, which is assisting police.

Bruised and shaken, attacked East London area pineapple farmer Basil Peinke, whose family has been farming the same land near Igoda for four generations, feels like he cannot go on.

He and his wife Lynn were robbed, tied up and threatened in their farmstead recently.

Peinke, the biggest queen pineapple producer in the Eastern Cape, provides jobs for 80 people, and produces 3500 tons of queen pineapples a year supplied to Spar, Pick n Pay, Checkers and Woolworths.

He is considering giving it all up, telling the Dispatch: “I don’t know if it’s worth it anymore. If I can set my children up in any field other than farming, I’ll do that.

“I’m scared for my children should they continue in farming.

“But we can’t just pack our bags because we employ 80 people who rely on us for work. ”

East London police spokeswoman Warrant Officer Hazel Mqala said on Tuesday: “We are still busy with the investigation.

“No arrests have been made.”

Provincial police spokeswoman Brigadier Marinda Mills said of the investigation into Winrow’s murder: “The investigating officer informed me that they are following several leads but no arrests have been made yet.”

Stern said: “We now are trying to enforce within the farming community that we stay more vigilant. We as a community must spot and put an end to suspicious activity before it escalates into something more dangerous.

“These opportunistic criminals strike when they notice that a farmer is not being security conscious and is not taking the proper precautions.

“They know if they can steal livestock, then the farmer is an easy target.

“The farming communities are organising patrols where farmers will drive together to look out for anything which is suspicious so that they can avoid being surprised and becoming easy prey.”

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