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Farmers in the Klaarwater/Spring Valley/Boesmanskop area along the Lesotho border near Zastron, are beyond despondent as this area is a transit route for suspected stolen goods, especially livestock, to Lesotho.
The impassable border road in this area makes operations and patrols by the South African National Defence Force, South African Police Service, Border Management Authority as well as the farmers themselves practically impossible. In addition, there are significant distances where the international border fence between Lesotho and South Africa is simply non-existent.
Free State Agriculture has made several requests over the past three to four years to the member of the executive council (MEC) for roads and transport as well as the SAPS to assist in restoring the 18 to 20km border road, specifically in these areas, so that law enforcement entities can provide the necessary border protection and launch preventive operations. This has not materialised.
According to Marthin de Kock, chairperson of the district farmers’ union in Zastron, commercial farmers along the border are at their wits’ end with this situation. It is simply not viable to run a farming operation by day and patrol the border by night to track stolen livestock into Lesotho.
“It is becoming commonplace for as many as 20 cattle or 60 to 70 sheep at a time to be stolen and driven over the border. The border fence is simply cut or stolen completely. There is no access control and criminals cross the border at will, without any fear of repercussions,” De Kock says.
These criminal acts, he says, are instigated by well-organised crime syndicates operating from deep within Lesotho and they are becoming increasingly militant and are armed well. It is becoming increasingly dangerous for farmers to safeguard their stock because they are met with armed resistance.
Corné Smith farms on Spring Valley right next to the Lesotho border. He has repaired and replaced a large part of the border fence on his farm at a great personal cost. One of the major routes for stolen livestock leads directly over his land.
“The farmers here on the border are more than willing to do our part in securing the border, but we cannot do it alone. We need the support of our government. If the border road is fixed properly, we will do basic maintenance, but we cannot rebuild the road. The same goes for the border fence. We will maintain it, but it is unfair to expect us to erect the fence, which is an international border fence.”
According to Dr Jane Buys, crime analyst with Free State Agriculture Organised agriculture, organised agriculture is more than willing to play its part in solving this problem, but it remains the duty of the government to ensure that the basic infrastructure for effective crime prevention is in place.
“Ignoring this problem will lead to farmers on the border being forced to cease their operations on these farms. The implication will be that the border, for all practical purposes, will just shift to the next line of farms. This is clearly untenable.” – Izak Hofmeyr, Plaas Media