Overview of Stock Theft in South Africa by Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

25 May 2010
Chairperson: Mr M Johnson (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Deputy Director-General of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries presented a briefing on stock theft in South Africa. The presentation focused on the current legal framework and the need to introduce a traceability system for livestock similar to the system adopted by Botswana. The Animal Identification Act made provision for the compulsory marking of cattle, sheep, pigs and goats and the maintenance of a register of identification marks. To date, approximately 521,000 identification marks had been registered. A specialist Stock Theft Unit had been established by SAPS. The register had been computerised and access made available to the SAPS. A Stock Theft Forum was established, with representation by the main stakeholders. Stock theft was rampant and had become a serious issue in the country. The increase in stock theft was attributed to the lack of an effective control system, the cross-border movement of animals and stock theft syndicates operating in the country.

Representatives of the South African Police did not attend the meeting. The Committee queried the absence of the representatives from SAPS as the questions from Members about stock theft cases could not be answered.

Members asked questions about the lengthy delay in implementing legislation, what was being done to address the problem of stray animals on national roads, the fee charged for registering identification marks, the data on the theft of sheep, the control of stock being moved across borders, the efficacy of the stock branding campaign, the introduction of specialised courts to deal with cases of stock theft, the concerns raised by animal welfare organisations about branding methods and the lack of measurement mechanisms to track the effectiveness of counter-measures implemented by the Department. Members pointed out that stock theft had a severe negative impact on food security and the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.

Members expressed reservations about the Department’s ability to effectively deal with the problem and requested that the Department presented a detailed action plan with time frames and tangible goals to the Committee at the following meeting.

Meeting report

Overview of Stock Theft in South Africa: briefing by Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF)
Dr Kabi Mogajane, Deputy Director-General: Production and Resource Management, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) presented an overview of stock theft in South Africa to the Committee (see attached document).

The purpose of the presentation was to clarify the roles of the DAFF and the South African Police Service (SAPS) with regard to stock theft. During the previous five years the Animal Welfare Act, the Animal Identification Act and the Pounds Bill, had been under review by the DAFF and the Department of Justice. Various issues concerning production and implementation had arisen but the Department hoped to finalise the matter with the current plan of consolidation.

The Stock Theft Act was promulgated in 1994 and was administered by the Minister of Justice. In terms of the Act, stock theft was considered to be a specialised crime and specialist Stock Theft Units (STU) were created within the SAPS. The STU established the National Stock Theft Forum, which included members of farmer organisations, the STU, the Department of Correctional Services, DAFF and the Department of Justice. In addition, the STU created the Forensic Interdepartmental Stock Theft Unit (FIST). An index of hotspot areas throughout the country was compiled.

The role of the Department in preventing stock theft was encapsulated in the Animal Identification Act of 2002 (AIDA). The Act was administered by the DAFF and made provision for the compulsory identification of cattle, sheep, pigs and goats, by means of permanent tattoos. The Act required that a national register of identification marks was kept and prescribed identification marks, outlined the duties of animal owners, made provision for the registration of marking operators and the appointment of officers and inspectors. Prior to the Act, there was a single registration authority in South Africa and the Act allowed for the creation of additional registration authorities.

The information recorded in terms of the AIDA for the registration of animal identification marks included the full names, surname and identity number of the owner, the physical and postal address, the name of the farm, the magisterial district and province where the farm was located, the telephone number and the receipt number. A single, prescribed, computerised identification mark system was developed and made available to the SAPS. To date, 512,566 animal identification marks had been registered. The Department planned to link the system to the South African Studbook and Intergis. The Department had transferred the responsibility for Intergis to the Agriculture Research Council (ARC). In turn, ARC had outsourced Intergis to an external contractor but the Minster had requested that the responsibility was returned to ARC to facilitate the integration of the various animal registration systems.

One of the challenges was that animals were marked without the mark being registered. DAFF had recently become aware that there could be a duplication of marks in neighbouring countries. Consideration was being given to add an additional mark to identify the country of origin. Certain animal welfare organisations had voiced concerns over the use of hot iron brands.

The challenges faced by small farmers included the registration cost of R120, the practical challenge of obtaining a branding iron and the cost of tattooing tongs, inks and characters. An ongoing problem was incidences of animals straying onto roads and causing damage. In such cases, the owners were often reluctant to come forward and claim the animal as they would be held liable for any damage caused.

To date, the Department had trained lecturers at seven training institutions, who would in turn train marking operators. The Department had registered 340 marking operators, issued 560 competency certificates to animal owners and animal housing technicians (AHT), authorised 27 AIDA co-ordinators in provincial veterinary services and conducted 121 contact sessions with animal owners.

South Africa did not have an official livestock traceability system for animal disease control purposes that could be used in conjunction with the AIDA system to control the movement of animals. The matter was receiving attention as part of the legislative review process undertaken by DAFF. Discussions concerning disease management and the global export of meat were ongoing.

The implementation of AIDA had played a major role in curbing stock theft but the system could be improved. Examples were the traceability system introduced by Botswana and DNA tracing. The Department faced a major challenge concerning impounded animals with no identification marks. The Department was aware that extensive discussion would be required with provincial authorities to ensure the effective introduction and maintenance of a new traceability system. The traceability system would allow for the monitoring of livestock, reduce stock theft and facilitate access to markets. The National Treasury had indicated that the proposed system would be too costly but the Department argued that Botswana was able to effectively apply such a system. The Department wanted a traceability system that would ensure that any animal could be traced to its rightful owner.

Discussion
The Chairperson noted that presentation suggested that there were serious issues with regard to capacity.

Ms M Pilusa-Mosoane (ANC) asked for clarity on the registration cost and whether the fee was payable per animal or per mark.

Mr L Bosman (DA) regretted that representatives from SAPS were not present at the briefing as stock theft was a serious issue in South Africa, particularly for small-scale farmers. He was concerned over the light sentences handed out to stock thieves and suggested that the Department reviewed the penalty provisions in the current legislation. He questioned how effective the Stock Theft Unit was as there were many vacant posts. He noted that the areas adjacent to the country’s borders were the worst affected. He understood that the South African Defence Force (SADF) would be taking over responsibility for patrolling the borders but felt that the matter needed to be investigated further. He felt that the current registration system was outdated and most other countries had already introduced a traceability system. He was shocked that a relatively undeveloped country such as Botswana had introduced such a system while South Africa had not. He noted that the Pound Bill had not progressed during the previous fie years and wanted to know why the amended legislation had not been finalised. He asked for further information on how the Department addressed the concerns raised by animal welfare organisations.

Ms M Mabuza (ANC) noted that the presentation did not provide any information on how many sheep had been stolen and what the value of the stolen animals was. She felt that the Department needed to take action and it was no longer sufficient to merely think about doing something.

Mr N Du Toit (DA) asked for details on what was being done by the DAFF to curb stock theft. He asked for further information on branding practices, particularly branding “on the cheap”. He queried the statistics provided by the Department and what was meant by ‘identified’ and ‘unidentified’ livestock. He shared the concern of other Members of the Committee that the SAPS did not attend the meeting. He wanted to know how many cases of stock theft had been reported, solved and remained unsolved. He asked who the commander of the Stock Theft Unit was and what the reasons were for his failure to attend the meeting. He noted that no time frames were indicated for addressing the challenges at the provincial and local Government level. He suggested that further discussion was postponed until the SAPS could attend the meeting and be available to respond to the Committee’s questions.

Ms R Nyalungu (ANC) stressed that poor emerging farmers were reliant on cattle for their livelihood. Stock theft had a wider social implication as poor farmers would be unable to provide for their families and send their children to school. She asked why the traceability system developed in Botswana could not be implemented in South Africa without further delay.

Mr R Cebekhulu (IFP) took the Stock Theft Unit in KwaZulu Natal (KZN) to task for the failure of the unit to curb stock theft in the province, resulting in certain communities taking matters into their own hands. He felt that the stock branding campaign had been a failure because SAPS had not convinced the communities to participate. He queried whether new methods were necessary or if the effective implementation of the current system would succeed in eliminating stock theft.

Mr L Gaehler (UDM) cited examples of stock theft in the Queenstown area and argued that the problem was unsolvable without a stronger police presence. He suggested that the branding campaign was re-launched and that Government should make funds available to emerging farmers to comply with the registration requirements. He asked for clarity on branding and wanted to know how many times animals could change hands. He informed the Committee that many Eastern Cape farmers had given up on sheep farming as a result of the high incidence of stock theft in the province.

Ms N Twala (ANC) raised the issue of deaths caused by stray animals on the roads, particularly on the N2 highway near East London. She asked what the Department was doing about stray animals on the roads. She asked if horses were included in the definition of livestock.

The Chairperson raised a number of other issues affected by stock theft. Stock theft threatened food security and food safety concerns, particularly concerning the importing and exporting of animal products. He alluded to capacity issues within SAPS, with too many police concentrated in one area and too few in others. He observed that various groups at different levels were trying to do something about stock theft but the interested parties were not working together. He asked if there were specialised courts to deal with stock theft cases. There was evidence that stock theft syndicates were active in South Africa and catching the perpetrators was the key factor in dealing with this issue.

Dr Mogajane explained that the Department had contacted the SAPS prior to the meeting to obtain the statistical information included in the presentation. She was not aware that SAPS would not be making a presentation and would have included the additional information required by the Committee.

Dr Mogajane explained that the current system allowed any person to sell an animal, which could be taken to an abattoir to be slaughtered. The Botswana traceability system required an abattoir to verify that the animal was registered to the owner before slaughtering it. The DAFF had requested funding from the National Treasury to run a pilot programme but the request had been denied. A financial investment was required in order to implement the system.

Dr Mogajane said that the Pound Bill was currently under discussion at the local Government level. The DAFF was attempting to proceed with the Bill at the National Government level. The Bill would make provision for a traceability system. The Department had worked on the Bill for the previous two years. An important aspect was the alignment of the various Acts with regard to animal health and production. She agreed that the current system was outdated and it was necessary to introduce an internationally accepted and co-ordinated system. The Department was however constrained by a lack of funds and the frequent changes demanded by Government in the priorities set by the DAFF.

Dr Mogajane said that the owners of animals had to be held responsible for the deaths resulting from stray animals on the roads. She felt that there was a need to educate the owners of animals that were kept next to roads. There were currently no specialised courts dealing with stock theft cases. Proposals to establish such courts had been made and the courts could be a further deterrent to owners who allowed their animals to stray onto roads, as was the case in Botswana. She agreed that stock theft syndicates were active in the country, particularly in the rural areas. The issue of border control were under discussion at the Southern African Development Countries (SADC) level and the fences along the borders were in the process of being mended. The fence between South Africa and Lesotho was a livestock disease fence rather than an international border fence. Lesotho had the same disease status as South Africa and the free movement of animals had been allowed in the past. Many farmers on the border had rented out grazing to Lesotho farmers during the winter months. The practice was not encouraged as many Lesotho farmers returned with animals that did not belong to them. The DAFF was currently discussing the matter of the border fence with the Government of Lesotho. Stock thieves tended to avoid areas that were being patrolled and there were not enough police to patrol all the areas in the country.

Dr Siegfried Meyer, Registrar of Animal Identification explained that the R120 registration fee was not charged per animal but was the fee for registering a unique identification mark that could be used by the owner for all his animals. He stressed that all national legislation suffered from service delivery issues, particularly in the areas of service delegation at the provincial level. He worked closely with the SAPS and the Stock Theft Unit and was a member of the Stock Theft Forum. The Forum was created by the SAPS and was made up of members of the judiciary, the Office of the Public Prosecutor, farmers, the Department of Correctional Services and the Department of Agriculture. The Stock Theft Forum included nine provincial forums. In many cases, the animals grazed in South Africa were not returned to Lesotho but were traded or bartered in South Africa. Lesotho’s animal identification system was vastly different from the South African system and he had instructed his staff not to issue South African identification marks for animals from Lesotho. He agreed with Dr Mogajane that identification marks on animals were a deterrent to stock thieves. Concerning the Pound Bill, he argued that the Bill made provision for regulation at the national level and should be adhered to.

Concerning the issues raised by Animal Welfare and Animal Wellbeing, Dr Meyer explained that the Department had a Livestock Welfare Coordinating Committee to oversee any animal welfare issues. The functioning of the Committee was constrained by a lack of finance and administration resources. The committee was intended to create a platform for discussions between producers, marketers and the welfare organisations concerning animal well being. The Committee was currently discussing the practice of cheek branding with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). Hot branding and the early de-horning of calves were not considered to be humane procedures. Approximately 521,000 marks had been registered to owners, either in their personal capacity or as corporate entities. The registration marks applied to the entire farm and were registered to the owner rather than individual animals.

Dr Meyer explained that AIDA had not been delegated to the provincial Government level and was administered by the National Department based in Pretoria. The Department planned to implement the Act at the provincial level by appointing provincial officers during the following year. The officers would be responsible for processing applications for registration marks for the various provinces. Although SAPS was dedicated to addressing the issue of stock theft, there were challenges with the communication of information reaching the correct units. In areas where there was no dedicated stock theft unit, the regular police was responsible for attending to cases of stock theft. If the police had failed to act, the relevant members should be held accountable for negligence as stock theft was a criminal offence. He suspected that many farmers did not report incidents of stock theft because of the perception that SAPS did not care.

Dr Meyer agreed that small livestock farmers were severely affected by stock theft. Many emerging farmers kept livestock as an investment to generate income to pay for their children’s schooling or university educations rather than for food. This aspect was a challenge for the DAFF as these farmers did not harvest animals in the usual manner. The common understanding was that each cow should produce a calf per year and if it had not done so, it had not earned its keep and should be killed. Certain farmers did not market the calves and the DAFF was not sure of the reasons for this practice. He pointed out that there were only 3 million head of cattle in Botswana and he disagreed that the Botswana system could be effectively applied to the 30 million head of cattle in South Africa. The traceability system was both affordable and manageable in Botswana, although there were issues with theft of the devices. He noted the request for increased branding campaigns and agreed that these campaigns were both necessary and valuable but the responsibility for ensuring that all animals were branded should fall on the owner. He suggested that many owners were too lazy to mark their cattle. He said that sheep were considered to be a ‘take way on four legs’ and agreed that the theft of sheep was the reason why sheep farming in the Eastern Cape had virtually ceased. The responsibility to count animals and secure them every night ultimately fell to the owner. The problem of stray animals was linked to the owners’ inability or unwillingness to secure their animals and the fact that the animals caused deaths on national roads was a travesty. There was a general lack of respect for fences. In the Eastern Cape, many of the fences had been stolen. He suggested that Members of Parliament talked to the people and convinced them not to steal fences. It was essential that the attitude of people were changed. It was the responsibility of the provincial authorities to fence off roads but once the fence disappeared, it was the responsibility of the landowner to repair or re-establish fences. He agreed that there was a very definite need for people at all levels to work together to curb stock theft but this could only be achieved if responsibility was clearly demarcated. He confirmed that horses were not considered to be livestock in terms of the Act.

The Chairperson noted that the Department would not be able to manage the issue of stock theft if it was unable to measure the extent of the problem. He was not convinced that the Department would have made a significant impact in one years’ time, as claimed.

Mr Thabe Themp, Acting Director-General, Department of Agriculture, Fishing and Forestry noted the concerns raised by the Committee and gave the assurance that the DAFF would make an effort to find solutions for the problems. DAFF was currently involved in a new forum with the police to deal with issues concerning border control. He gave the assurance that the Department would present a better plan, a new system and an integration plan with SAPS to the Committee by the following year.

Ms Mabuza highlighted the differences in the views of Dr Mogajane and Dr Meyer. She noted Mr Themp’s commitment to the Committee but questioned whether anything would be done if someone else was appointed as Director-General of the DAFF. She suggested that the Department returned to the Committee with a collective opinion. She expressed doubt over the ability of the DAFF to solve the problem of stock theft in the country.

Mr Gaehler took issue with certain responses from the Department, such as the remark that stock theft incidents were not reported to SAPS. The Committee was aware that the police had many reports on stock theft but conceded that the Department could not be held accountable for the SAPS.

Ms Twala remarked that the Department appeared to have divergent views. She asked for clarity on the systems the DAFF intended to implement. She suggested that DAFF worked more extensively with other stakeholders, such as Safety and Security.

The Chairperson agreed that there were other stakeholders involved, not only SAPS. He noted that no mention was made of other law enforcement agencies in the presentation. He suggested that the DAFF presented the Committee with specific targets and time frames at the next meeting. He stressed that the Department would be unable to manage any efforts unless there were measuring mechanisms in place. He had serious reservations about the ability of the Department to address the issue, as evidenced by the lack of results, monitoring mechanisms, measurements and tangible goals.

Mr Du Toit asked what the Committee could do to assist the Department in reaching its objectives. He asked the Department to present a list of the current challenges to the Committee, which could be used to measure the effectiveness of the Department. He felt that it was not sufficient for Government Departments to report to the Committee on an annual basis.

The Chairperson suggested that the reinstatement of specialised courts was revisited. Such courts could aid the measurement of the effectiveness of the action taken to reduce stock theft. The second matter that had to be addressed by the DAFF was the current centralisation of the registration function in Pretoria. He urged the DAFF to ensure that all stakeholders were represented on the Stock Theft Forum and that the support of all the stakeholders was obtained in order for the problem of stock theft to be effectively dealt with. Stock theft had wider implications than the mere loss of animals. The issue affected food security, the livestock industry and forced the closure of farms. He reiterated the need for effective measuring mechanisms.

The meeting was adjourned


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