The Eastern Cape urgently needs to host a rural safety summit, to develop measures to curb farm murders in the rural areas and address the rampant stock theft taking place, along with the high rate of crime in these communities.
It is therefore encouraging that the MEC for Safety and Liaison, MEC Weziwe Tikana-Gxothiwe, has indicated her support for a rural safety summit, as well support for farm murders to be categorized as priority crimes, in response to my questions on this matter.
The safety of our farmers, both commercial and emerging, is vital if we are intent on preserving livelihoods in our rural communities, and if we are to save one of the critical economic sectors in the province.
The recently published crime stats have shown that province has the highest number of farm murders, alongside the Free State, with 12 murders taking place between March 2019 and February 2020. Stock theft in the province has soared during the recent lockdown, with 5,636 stock with an estimated value of R17,9million stolen in just three months between May and July this year.
The MEC’s reluctance to classify farm attacks as hate crimes, however, is disheartening as there are specific aspects of farm murders, particularly when they include torture that should classified as a hate crime, as well as when people on social media glorify the torture and murder of these farmers.
I have consistently raised the issue of rural safety in the Portfolio Committee on Safety in the Provincial Legislature, and last year the Committee recommended that the Department assess the effectiveness of the implementation of the SAPS rural safety strategy and suggest amendments that could be made.
Based on the MEC’s detailed response, and submissions to the Portfolio committee, it would appear that the current rural safety plan is not well known among the residents of rural communities. It has also come to light that many rural stations are battling with insufficient human resources and some stations do not have sufficient vehicles.
SEE: IQP 19 Q499 and 500
The DA believes that some of the steps that can be taken to improve rural security are:
- The introduction of specialized units dedicated to protecting rural communities.
- Increase the research and statistical information on these crimes and make it available on an electronic dashboard.
- Increase the investigative capacity of SAPS. This means the utilization of every available technology, such as drones, when tracking perpetrators.
- The reclassification of farm attacks as priority crimes, which would result in an increase of resources made available to deal with them.
- There should also be tax relief measures for those in rural areas, such as farmers, who have to pay for private security companies, as well as subsidies for farm patrollers, farm watchers, and companies providing security in rural communities.
- We also need to increase the crime intelligence capacity for rural areas.
- Border security needs to be improved upon.
I am now challenging the MEC to follow through on her words, and to arrange a virtual Rural Safety summit in the province as a matter of urgency, where advice and assistance can be given from a wide range of experts.
All stakeholders need to work together to find innovative solutions to address the scourge of crime that is sweeping through our rural communities.