The Daily Dispatch’s Traditional Affairs Correspondent, Lulamile Feni, and the paper’s Deputy Editor, Bongani Fuzile, both award-winning journalists, kept hearing local chief in the Eastern Cape complaining about stock theft.
In the past five years stolen livestock includes about 6 000 cattle, 15 000 sheep, 3 500 goats, 210 horses and 45 donkeys, with a total number of 34 169 reported cases.
The region is home to hundreds of thousands of stock yet only one unit – a police vehicle, two detectives and a commander – monitors it. Some places are so hard to reach, that the police simply cannot pursue a case because of the harsh terrain.
Migrant workers who have spent their lives toiling in the big cities return to their homesteads in the rural areas, buy cattle in the hopes of getting returns to sustain their families, and end up losing it all. Stock theft syndicates brazenly terrorise communities and at worst, lives are lost. “Some of the victims of this scourge told us of instances where in the stillness of the night, thieves would announce their arrival and dare anyone brave enough to come out and defend their stock,” said Fuzile.
For three months Fuzile and Feni crisscrossed the Eastern Cape to track the footprints of stolen livestock. Their discovered that some cattle were sold to reputable abattoirs in Kwazulu-Natal and at times rustled into Lesotho by an armed syndicate. “In one instance,” said Feni, “a reliable source revealed to us that a rustler in police custody was found with an amount of R4-million and another with R10 -million. This is a dangerously lucrative business for these rustlers.”
The duo faced a number of challenges while on assignment. Having never done video journalism before, they found it tough at times to get fearful victims to speak about their ordeal on camera. This, however, did not stop them from reaching those places that the police cannot delve into because of a lack of capacity.
Their full-length documentary Farmers under Siege, was published on Dispatchlive, the Daily Dispatch’s website, on 30 March 2021.
“The story had some impact in that the provincial government held summits with local chiefs and communities in an effort to find solutions to the problem. We also got calls from people who were willing to share their stories, saying that government has intervened,” said Fuzile. However, the overall problem of cattle rusting in the Eastern Cape still persists.