“Attacks on farmers, farmworkers and all rural communities are an attack on our rural community,” said Andrew Whitfield, the DA’s shadow minister of police as the party announced its Western Cape rural safety plan on Tuesday, 1 October.
According to the 2018/2019 crime statistics, 47 murders were reported in 41 incidents, seven attempted murders were reported and one case of stock theft on farms and smallholdings in the Western Cape.
“Crime has an impact on your farming ability. Stock theft is a massive issue in rural areas. We’ve spoken to small-scale farmers who’ve lost all their stock in a single night,” said Annette Steyn, the DA’s shadow minister of agriculture.
The DA’s Rural Safety Plan proposes that every police station have Rural Community Policing Units (RCPUs). “Volunteers will join a local RCPU and will only be utilised in the rural sectors within its assigned police station,” says the plan.
Volunteers will be able to join one of four categories: RCPU reservists, RCPU support members, RCPU auxiliary members, rural community volunteers and existing community policing forums.
RCPU reservists “will be the quintessential ‘part-time rural policeman’ and will form the backbone of the stations’ RCPU capacity” says the plan. The RCPU reservists will perform patrols, be first responders to emergency calls, pursue and apprehend suspects and participate in special SAPS rural policing operations.
RCPU support members will be volunteers who “are unable or unwilling to carry a firearm or who may not meet the more stringent requirements of reservists”. These volunteers will perform special functions such as patrol drivers, rural radio room operators and charge-office staff.
RCPU auxiliary members will be volunteers with no special skills. These volunteers will function as “the boots on the ground”, as Whitfield put it. RCPU auxiliary members will be under “the direct leadership of a rural reservist or SAPS member”, the plan says.
Rural community volunteers will not receive any specialised training. Instead, they will function as the eyes and ears of the SAPS and RCPU.
“A lot of the time community members know who the criminals are, they need to be part of catching them,” said Whitfield.
“We must also appoint a rural safety co-ordinator who will compile profiles of rural areas and assist in identifying crime hotspots. We need community members to take responsibility for rural safety,” said Meyer.
The Rural Safety Plan acknowledges the role of community policing forums (CPFs)both in urban and rural areas in successfully curbing crime.
“These forums are often organised and equipped in a very similar manner to that which is being proposed here and have a sound relationship with their local SAPS,” reads the plan.
The Rural Safety Plan’s aim is not to replace rural community policing forums but rather that CPFs voluntarily incorporate themselves into the RCPU model.
Steyn said this plan was nothing new, rather it was about supporting current initiatives.
“Some police stations are very eager, but what we also need is to have broader consultation,” said Steyn.
“The premise (of the plan) is that every farmer and rural community deserves to be safe. We acknowledge that crime in South Africa is a crisis. Crime and farm attacks are a real crisis,” said Ivan Meyer, Western Cape MEC for Agriculture.
Karel Swart, the national organiser of the Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural and Allied Workers Union, doesn’t think this safety plan “is about protecting everybody, because nobody does anything when a farmworker is attacked”.
“They’re not acting in the best interests of agricultural workers. This safety plan is for the elite,” Swart told Daily Maverick.
Meyer said that “our economy is deeply rooted in agriculture”.
“Therefore, it is in our collective interest to protect our rural community. An attack on a farmer is an attack on the dignity of our people. I oppose bail for anyone who attacks a farmer or a farmworker,” said Meyer.
“Rural communities want to live in peace and harmony. Currently, farmers are using their own resources and money to fund farm watches. This plan supports current initiatives,” said Meyer.
The RCPUs will have access to drone technology, says the DA.
“By equipping a drone with thermal imaging, night vision or infrared imaging technology, it can be possible for suspects to be identified and pursued in any conditions and any time of day,” reads the plan.
Meyer added that the Western Cape cabinet was busy with the budgeting process.
“The elements for this to be implemented already exist. Once the new Western Cape police commissioner is appointed, we’ll make sure this is his priority,” said Meyer.
RCPU volunteers will be paid a stipend. It isn’t clear how much, but the Rural Safety Plan says “it will provide an income, however small it may be, to many who have little or no economic prospects or hope in the areas where they are”.
Swart says this is a DA plan to prey on people’s desperation.
“The economy isn’t growing; there are no jobs and people are desperate. They’re always going to use money to co-opt and control people,” said Swart.
Whitfield said the RCPU reservist model “doesn’t require a single change to legislation”.
“The only changes that SAPS should review are the qualifications and minimum requirements for reservists”.
Whitfield said he had tried to reach out to the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele in June and August 2019 to discuss this but had received no response.
“This document is an innovative proposal to deal with rural safety and I will personally be championing it in plenary and in (portfolio) committee meetings,” said Whitfield.
Swart told Daily Maverick no one had spoken to farmworkers, and if they did they would hear a different story:
“Ever since farmworkers rebelled in 2012, farmers have beefed up their security by hiring private security. The people in the rural areas don’t know about this (the Rural Safety Plan); all we know is that there is private security and they follow us around.” DM
A Danish study into the secret of happiness found that the key is to have low expectations.