IN TOUCH| Plague of stock theft gangs has far-reaching effects on us all

According the police, more than 34 169 cases of stock theft were reported in the last five years while only 3 011 suspects were arrested in our province, the Eastern Cape.

The police also estimate that more than 25 000 animals in this period were stolen by what they suspect are organised syndicates. That is 15 000 sheep,6 000 cattle, 210 horses and 45 donkeys.

If one sheep is selling at R1800 on the legitimate market that means that sheep worth R27 million have been stolen. If one cow is worth R9 000 that means R54 million rand down the drain. That is R81 million that would have gone into the pockets of the poor people in villages who are trying to eke out an independent living. The R9 000 is a very conservative amount as we all know that animals from established commercial farmers could fetch an even higher price which clearly illustrates the gravity of the situation. The decimation of their stocks and the destruction of the rural economy is having far-reaching consequences for the whole country. If people in rural areas cannot continue to eke out a decent living from their livestock, what implications does this have on the urban migration which we see every year?

If we allow this to continue it would spell disaster to the urban areas as more and more people would be forced to migrate to them in order to make a living. So does this mean we are eating stolen meat? Does it mean we are financing, as consumers, the continued economic sabotage of rural households and the destruction of commercial farms that are the backbone of our economy? So when we try to combat this scourge where do we start? Who are the main culprits, the masterminds and the indirect enablers of this abominable practice?

Bear in mind where there is a thief there is a buyer waiting to buy and profit from the crime. Bear in mind as well that when there is an erosion of trust between the people and the law enforcement agencies, as is the case now, chaos reigns. There are already many cases of communities taking the law into their hands and punishing whoever they suspect to be involved in this cruel practice. I do not condone that one bit, but if you are faced with the kind of organised syndicates and such widespread theft, what choice do you have really?

If you suspect that the police are either indifferent or are in cahoots with the criminals, what else is there for you to do to protect your livelihood? You have these options – sell off everything and stop farming or fight with everything you have or force the law enforcement agencies to do their jobs (don’t ask me how you will manage to do that).

Citizens have a right to know the origin of the meat they consume. How will they do this when certain abattoirs are buying cattle of dodgy origin and with no way to determine whether they are from an area that is disease-free. What if these stolen cattle have diseases that can be transmitted to humans like mad cow disease and others? How will the health department be able to trace the origins of it and try to stop its further spread?

You see, it is not just about the decimation of rural economies and us, the consumers, getting cheaper meat – it is much more serious than that. It is about the health of the population who might be consuming dodgy meat. The people have legitimate expectations that the government will do its job by making sure that any meat sold and consumed meets all the required standards. The law enforcement agencies are expected to combat and not participate in or turn a blind eye to stock theft and gangs of cattle rustlers marauding through the countryside. Available evidence shows that the law enforcement agencies are not winning this war, to put it mildly. The rural communities are truly on their own

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