A security strategy that will stop farm killings

Henry

By Ian Cameron

When we talk about crime in South Africa, most people think of big cities where crime, both violent and less serious, is widespread. Each of us has imagined being hijacked late at night on a quiet, dark road, being held at gunpoint, or being chased by armed robbers on the way home.

As much as this is the daily reality for the majority of South Africans, some people often forget about the areas where even a farm guard and a neighbor are too far away to respond. Where it may take the SAPS hours to get to you, if they were to respond, and where help is not just a 10111 call away, because the phone may never be answered.

South Africa is still largely rural. From 2022, approximately half of all South African citizens live outside our largest, largely urbanized municipalities in close-knit, but often remote, rural and farming communities.

Ordinary people have been failed by their national police service’s antiquated, centralized approach to rural policing.

The brutal murders of Theo Bekker in Grootvlei, Tool Wessels in Bonnievale in 2019, Huibrey Kotze on her farm outside Schweizer-Reneke last year, and couple Christa and Christo Morrison just last week in Glen in the Free State – all horrific tragedies, are symptomatic of a critical failure of our national police service.

Without significant investments and, above all, specialized interventions, this crisis will not subside. Crime safety is a fundamental requirement for socio-economic progress, and ensuring safety for farmers and small farmers is an integral assurance of long-term food security.

One is inseparable from the other, and it is especially in our rural areas where urgent steps must be taken to secure South African citizens.

The SAPS cannot tackle this crisis alone. Effective and involved partnerships with local communities are a must for any rural security policy, but to date the national government has proven itself ineffective and incompetent in this regard. These failures are compounded by the twin challenges of the ongoing SAPS “brain drain” and poor crime intelligence capability.

Not only do we need to work in partnership with the police as strong community structures, but we urgently need police reserve capabilities in rural areas. Unfortunately, the SAPS reservist program fell apart under Minister Cele’s leadership. Between 2012 and the end of last year, the total police reserve complement fell from 52,054 to 4,393.

To make matters worse, the minister cut budget allocations for crime intelligence to the bone, increasing funding for that program by a mere 11.5% over the past five years (of which no one has seen a cent).

This, while the GDP protection grant saw an impressive 25% increase, more than double from before.

Our police service is simply too far removed from the communities they serve. Our centralized policing model fails to ensure that officers on the ground are familiar with the complex environments in which they must work on a daily basis. Massive areas of work and unspecialized capabilities beg for a new approach to rural policing.

In a few weeks, voters will start queuing at the polls. After decades of police mismanagement, they finally have the opportunity to vote for a government that cares about their safety.

The current “one size fits all” approach taken by the national government to keep rural communities safe has failed precisely because it is not fit for purpose. A DA government will establish well-funded and dedicated rural security units equipped with specialized knowledge, skills and expertise, working closely with community-based organizations to tackle crime with a focused, localized strategy.

These units must include a dedicated rural crime intelligence service that aims to collect information about criminal activities in rural areas so that the police services that go to work on the ground can carry out their task with certainty. In addition, existing special livestock theft units must also be properly funded and staffed, after a strict screening program has approved the appointed officers to prevent corruption and abuse of power. In collaboration with much-needed reservists, a program that will also be brought back to its feet, our communities can stand together against crime and violence.

Only a government that has committed itself to using modern policing techniques in the fight against crime has the capabilities and the foresight to bring about lasting change. The formation of integrated rural radio networks to keep communities in touch with each other and with law enforcement in times of danger, the implementation of CCTV in crime-prone areas (and the strengthening and expansion of those that already exist) to catch criminals in the act, and the deployment of drones to patrol the skies (indeed it was this technology that tracked down the murdered Morrison couple on their farm last week), will enable us to tackle the scourge of rural crime.

South African citizens deserve a government that keeps them safe. They deserve to live in peace and security, knowing that if lurking thugs emerge from the shadows, help will arrive – no matter where they are.

  • Ian Cameron is parliamentary candidate for the DA.