EASTERN Cape farmers are rallying behind new legislation that could finally give police more power to fight rampant stock theft that has seen the province’s farming community lose millions of rands every year, threatening food security.
Authorities are preparing to enforce a new bill that will allow them to clamp down on the illegal trade and transport of livestock which, in one year, cost the industry more than R600-million.
Some farms have had to close down as a result.
The new legislation, known as the Movement of Animals and Animal Produce Draft Bill, was sent to Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa in August and is expected to be brought before the cabinet by early next year.
The deadline for comment on the bill was three weeks ago, but has been extended to Friday due to public interest.
Ernest Pringle, president of Agri Eastern Cape, which represents 3000 farmers in the province, said they welcomed the bill.
"The Eastern Cape has the most livestock in the country and obviously this makes us susceptible to being victim to the most incidents of stock theft,” he said.
"Stock theft is an enormous problem and we fully support any effort to curb such criminal activity. This bill will definitely give authorities more power to curb stock theft.”
The bill gives both nature conservation authorities and police more power to arrest and prosecute suspected thieves.
Under the new bill, police will be able to:
ıSearch people and vehicles transporting animals without a warrant;
ıSeize animals and products they suspect may have been unlawfully acquired; and
ıArrest anyone – provided they cannot give a satisfactory explanation – in possession of "any objects or means” that can be used to injure, kill or steal animals.
The bill also aims to regulate public auctions and control the movement of animals and produce, record-keeping as well as search and seizures. Drivers transporting animals will be held liable if paperwork and registers are incorrect or insufficient.
The new law will also clamp down on the illegal trade of any produce – including skins, hides, horns, intestines, heads, parts of bones, claws, wool, mohair and ostrich feathers or eggs.
Police crime statistics indicate that the Eastern Cape has the highest number of reported cases of stock theft in the country, with an estimated 7500 cases opened between April 2010 and March last year. The second highest number of reported cases is in KwaZulu-Natal with about 7000 cases, followed by the Free State with 4000 cases.
In total, more than 30000 cases involving the theft of cattle, sheep and goats were reported nationally over the same period.
The combined value of these cases is about R635-million. Authorities have recovered only R243-million worth of livestock stolen.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Pieter Mulder told parliament in 2010 that stock theft was a "critical and urgent priority”.