East Cape farmers under siege: new crime stats

File picture.
File picture.
Image: Gareth Wilson

An attack every two weeks – that is the frightening reality for farmers in the Eastern Cape.

There have been at least 96 attacks and 26 other crime-related incidents on farms in the province from March 31 2016 to date.

Of these, 48 occurred between March 31 2018 and April 1 2019.

A further nine farm attacks were reported since then.

In total, four people have been killed, 35 injured and one person raped since March 31 2018.

Those in the Sundays River Valley and Nelson Mandela Bay area have the most to fear, with the majority of recent incidents occurring in these two areas.

In June, Sebenzile Simane, 32, a former seasonal farm worker in Hankey, was sentenced to 173 years in prison for an attack on a family in 2018.

During the harrowing four hour ordeal, Simane shot the woman and raped her twice, forcing her then 12-year-old daughter to watch the assault after first also trying to rape her.

Agri Eastern Cape rural safety chair Alfonso van Niekerk said Addo, Kirkwood and smallholdings around the Bay had been identified as the crime hotspots.

He said the incidents included hijackings, assaults and arson.

A Kirkwood farmer said he feared for his family’s safety.

“We are far from everything,” he said.

“While we understand that the police are trying their best, it is almost impossible to expect a quick response time when you look at the area they manage.

“My concern is for my family. There are times I have to go out of town or meet someone on the other side of town.

“We live in a very remote area and if something were to happen, nobody would even hear their screams.”

Van Niekerk said they had more than 300 cameras deployed in farming communities across the province.

“These cameras work and we have seen results.

“Some farmers are also using drones,” he said.

“The police are trying their best with what they have, but the areas are simply massive and remote.

“They [people on farms or smallholdings] are soft targets.

“Remote areas mean delayed response times, as it takes time to reach them.”

The latest farm crime figures were released by safety and liaison MEC Weziwe Tikana in a written reply – dated July 15 – to the DA’s Bobby Stevenson.

Weziwe Tikana
Weziwe Tikana
Image: Werner Hills

Tikana said 57 incidents had taken place across the province since March 31 2018.

In the 2017/2018 financial year, 39 farm attacks were reported, bringing the total over the past two years to 96.

According to Stevenson, in the 2016/2017 period there were 26 crime incidents on farms, bringing the total number of incidents to July 2019 to 122.

Tikana said there were plans to deal with the spike in crime through implementation of the Rural Safety Strategy.

According to Van Niekerk, many of the recent incidents occurred on smallholdings on the outskirts of the Bay.

He said there had also been an increase in the theft of farming equipment.

In March, Sundays River Citrus Company MD Hannes de Waal said they had noticed a spike in crime in the area.

De Waal said this was due to the understaffed Addo police station – which has a maximum of four officers a shift, using one vehicle – tackling the impossible task of manning the vast area from the end of the Addo National Park to near Uitenhage (Barkley Bridge) and from Dunbrody near Kirkwood to about Kinkelbos.

On Monday, he said farmers and their workers had become more aware and taken more precautions in the form of surveillance and the reporting of crime.

De Waal said several security projects were under way in the greater Addo and Kirkwood areas.

“We have started training the local Neighbourhood Watch groups, with an instructor coming down to give them guidance.

“They have also formed reaction units to assist the police in responding to serious farm attack scenarios,” he said.

“Some farmers have joined together and contracted a private security company which has helicopters and well trained employees such as former police officials and soldiers.”

De Waal said all their plans were done in conjunction with the police.

“The fact is they do not have resources and it is up to us to assist and come up with plans.

“While this plan seems to be working, there is still the concern that guesthouses could be targeted as well as the farms.”

Referring to the horrific murder in March of Kirkwood farm manager Duaene Truter, 51 – who was stabbed multiple times in the back during a scuffle on the Dunbrody Estates Farm in the Sunland area between Addo and Kirkwood – he said it was after this that they had started to discuss and implement various security plans, from Neighbourhood Watch groups to security providers which could provide fast and efficient reaction to incidents.

In February, it was reported that citrus producers were losing millions as thieves plundered orchards. One farmer said he had lost R66,000 in produce in one afternoon alone.

Farm-based neighbourhood watch Farm Comm, which operates on the outskirts of the Bay, has since formed a rural safety forum under the Kabega Park police station.

Farm Comm spokesperson Willie Bosch said the forum was made up of nine neighbourhood watch groups.

“All of these groups are linked via radios to each other.

“This is a massive asset in terms of co-ordinating crimefighting in the area and ensuring a fast response when someone is being attacked on a farm,” he said.

The Farm Comm neighbourhood watch, which operates in the Colleen Glen area, had purchased a drone and dog to assist their reaction unit.

He said they had seen a surge in burglaries in the Bay’s farming areas recently.

“The fact is that these are professional criminals and we need professional solutions to stop them.

“CCTV cameras and other assets will help mitigate risk.

“One thing we are trying to teach people is that security starts at home.

“Make sure your home is secure before you become a victim, not afterwards.”

Stevenson said the province’s rural communities were under siege. “There has been an 84% inmade crease between 2016/2017 compared to 2018/2019.

“An attack on the farming community is an attack on the province’s food security and jobs,” he said.

“Over and above this, it is an attack on the psychological wellbeing of rural communities, who are forced to live in fear through the lack of effective policing.”

Stevenson appealed to the police to start making use of hi-tech tools such as drones with thermal imaging capacity and nighttime vision.

Kirkwood resident and Sundays River Valley citrus producer forum general manager Greg Jones said they were working tirelessly to combat escalating crime.

“The areas mostly targeted currently appear to be the tourist establishments,” he said.

“It is mostly petty crime such as stealing of cameras and so on, but it’s still crime and affects tourism in the area.

“We have neighbourhood watch groups that are taking off and trying to assist police.

“Since this started we have seen a reduction in crime.”

Jones said they had spoken directly to provincial police commissioner Lieutenant-General Liziwe Ntshinga at the Agri Congress in Jeffreys Bay last week.

“The police know there is a problem, but they are severely short-staffed.

“Since we met with her and raised concerns, we have seen a change in policing in the area – however, there is only so much they can do with limited resources,” he said.

“This places a massive onus on residents, such as farmers, to implement security plans to safeguard their families, staff and properties.

“We have noticed that the crime in our area seems to be mostly seasonal.

“When citrus season is at its peak, crime drops as people have casual work.

“When citrus season is finished, we see a spike in crime which we presume is due to the increase in unemployment in the area.”

Tikana said: “Activation plans have been developed to deal with any incidents that occur to ensure a quick response and follow-up.

“Stations are tasked to intensify their visibility within the rural communities.”

She said five areas – mostly near Butterworth, Komga, King William’s Town and Mthatha – had already seen a traditional policing strategy launched to curb attacks.

- This story first appeared on HeraldLIVE