Stock theft prevention forums
The RPO founded stock theft prevention forums on national and provincial levels in order to control stock theft. The forums operate according to a reasonably uniform set of house rules.
The main aim of the forums is to form a representative structure in organised agriculture’s struggle against stock theft. Members include representatives of the commercial and emerging stock producers’ organisations, the SAPS (stock theft units included), Correctional Services, the South African National Defence Force, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Matters related to stock theft are preferably dealt with at provincial level. Provincial role players are encouraged to find solutions and set up preventative measures to control stock theft effectively. Matters that cannot be resolved at provincial level or matters of national importance are referred to the national forum.
The forums do everything in their power to prevent and control stock theft and related offences. They carry out investigations and act upon the findings. Because food security is so important in the country, the forums support stock owners as far as possible.
Activities of the forums include the following:
- Evaluate existing policy, legislation, strategies and procedures for the controlling and prevention of stock theft and recommend adjustments. They also make recommendations in respect of the application of the law and passing of sentences for stock theft.
- Recommend steps to protect farmers against losses from stock theft, based on the results of preventative and control measures and information on the incidence and trends of stock theft.
- Identify research needs and aspects that should be prioritised. Such research needs are conveyed to recognised institutions such as the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Animal Research Council, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, universities and other scientific groups that can do the necessary research.
- Collect reports on research projects, stock theft trends and preventative and control actions and bring them to the attention of the parties concerned.
- Cooperate with any acceptable organisation or body through which the goals of the Stock Theft Prevention Forum and the interests of farmers can be advanced.
The National Stock Theft Prevention Forum recently succeeded in instituting training courses on the control of stock theft for state prosecutors. Furthermore, several provincial forums participated in the compilation of provincial pounds laws and accompanying regulations. The national forum also makes use of legal experts in the RPO to comment on draft legislation directly relating to the policing, investigation and prosecution of stock theft cases.
There are several issues that have a negative influence on the control of stock theft. Firstly there are still producers, including those in communal areas, who fail to brand or tattoo their stock in accordance to the regulations of the Animal Identification Act (Act 6 of 2002). This negligence on the part of producers hampers the successful criminal prosecution of stock thieves. If the National Prosecuting Authority cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt who the owner of the stock is, the accused must get the benefit of the doubt. Not only will he or she be acquitted of the charge, but the stolen stock probably will have to be returned to the accused. Also, producers often do not keep accurate records of stock numbers and do not check stock numbers regularly.
Internal police instructions stipulate that members of the Community Service Centre (charge office) must deal with the initial notification of the crime. Many policemen are totally ignorant about the preservation of crime scenes and what is required when a stock theft scene is visited. Valuable information and evidence is often lost.
In some instances there are poor trust relationships between producers and stock theft investigating officers. This is largely owing to a lack of proper communication and is often based on wrong perceptions.
Stock theft prosecutions often fail in court, firstly because some state prosecutors have little or no experience of such cases. Secondly, the rights of victims as entrenched in the Victims’ Charter are dismissed by some police officers and state prosecutors.
It is, however, important to realise that although victims of crime have certain rights, they also have certain responsibilities. Just because you have suffered a loss does not give you the right to act disrespectfully. Rather make an effort to build relationships with officials.