Lizel Steenkamp, News24 (South Africa), April 21, 2010
It’s farmers’ fault that many farms are unsafe, ANC MPs said on Tuesday.
André Botha, chair of Agri SA’s policy committee on rural safety, said during a presentation to the portfolio committee on police that the derogatory statements about white farmers made by government officials and senior politicians, is one of the biggest challenges.
Patrick Chauke, ANC MP, dismissed this.
“Political statements are the least of your worries. Organised agriculture knows all too well that they are the cause of the problems. The police try their best, but the solution lies with you,” he said to Botha.
Chauke carried on to argue that farm workers are abused, and that illegal immigrants are “held prisoner” by farmers.
“Most of the cattle theft is committed by the farmers themselves. And they sell alcohol to the people who live on the farm.”
According to Sindi Chikunga, ANC MP and committee chair, there are many kind-hearted farmers.
“But it’s also a fact that there are many violently aggressive farmers and you (Agri SA) should publicly condemn them.”
Allegations were also made that farmers are reluctant to become police reservists and don’t want to get involved with community policing forums and sector policing.
Botha, who is a police reservist, told Beeld afterwards that he was extremely unhappy about what happened during the meeting. He dismissed and denied the statement that farmers don’t want to help the police to secure their farms.
“We try our best to get involved (with sector policing), but the systems and the incompetent people (within the police) prevent our participation.”
Botha said the government is not doing its duty to protect farmers, and then it wants to shift all the responsibility onto the organised agriculture sector.
“I’m an ordinary citizen with certain rights. The politicians should acknowledge where the responsibility lies. It’s their duty to govern. To leave the ball in our court. . . . No, I am definitely not comfortable with that.”
Food security under threat
According to Agri SA’s statistics, over the past 18 years there have been up to 11 785 farm attacks and 1 804 farmers were murdered. Up to 121 000 livestock, worth about R365m, was stolen in the 2008-’09 financial year alone.
Botha warned that commercial agriculture can’t absorb these losses indefinitely and that food security is under threat.
Agri SA supports the government’s plan for rural safety and prefers it to the old commando system.
But Botha said the plan is falling apart due to an enormous lack of leadership, management and controls within the police. Resources are abused, there’s corruption and most station commanders don’t know how to apply sector policing in rural areas.
Cope MP Mluleki George supported the ANC’s position and said Agri SA, which represents about 80% of the country’s commercial farmers, should accept their co-responsibility for the safety of farmers and farm workers.
The latest statistics regarding attacks and murders on farms will be available in May, when police officials present their plan for rural security to Parliament.