NINETEEN stock-theft guards stationed on the top of the Drakensberg have been plucked to safety as heavy snow presses in on their lonely outposts. The guards are housed alone or in pairs in 10 shipping containers, at key points along the Lesotho border with the north-eastern Eastern Cape, in the Rhodes area.
They play a key role in curbing forays of stock thieves who come over the border to hit farms South African farms, SAPS cluster commander Col Trevor May told The Herald yesterday (August 1 2011)
“Stock theft was very bad in this area before these guys were put in place in 1995. Since then it has been much better – so these guys play an essential role.”
The men are equipped with radios and cellphones and as soon as they see or hear any signs of the stock thieves, they communicate with their police supervisor down below, who activates the necessary support, May explained. May’s team also gets immediately in contact with community leaders on the Lesotho side who have helped considerably to curb the stock theft problem.
Last week, police deployed their helicopter to check on the men, and take them extra rations of food and coal and the guards were fine, he said.
“But the snow is very heavy. People are saying it is the heaviest since 2004. At Tentkop, where some of the men are, it is a metre thick. There were some concerns being raised by the communities where the men come from. We received the instruction to take them down over the weekend until the snow subsides, and we’ve now done that.”
A single guard has been left in place to care for the string of police ponies which are kept on the border to allow for swift pursuit of the rustlers when necessary. Members of May’s team flew up yesterday monday aug 01 to relieve this guard and drop off a replacement.
Meanwhile, there are 16 stock-theft guard outposts managed by farmers and manned by farm workers, who perform a similar watching role as the guards in the police containers.
With the heavy snow, many of the access roads to them are blocked and the farmers have asked for the police to help.
There is no crisis, but a joint police-SANDF application in this regard has been submitted to their joint national office and a response is pending, Col May said.