Below is an interview Political Analysis South Africa’s Stephanie Naidoo had with Freedom Front Plus (Vryheidsfront Plus, FF+) Leader, and Police Portfolio Committee Member, Dr Pieter Groenewald, on the issue of farm killings.
Interviewer: There has been debate on the farm killings. To my understanding there have been 15 000 farm attacks thus far. Is this in fact correct?
Dr Pieter Groenewald: In fact, if you take the figures from 1990, we talk about the 3 100 farm killings, but 15 000 farm attacks.
To what extent do you think that the murders are racially motivated?
There is no doubt that some of these farm killings are racially motivated. In fact, that was confirmed by the Farmers Statistics Report from the South African Police Service, already in 2003. That investigation by the police found that about 2% of farm attacks were racially motivated. I think it is more than that but, there is not enough research done on that matter, and that is why the Freedom Front Plus has always called for proper investigations and research on what the political motivation, and impact, is on farmers.
Under the Mbeki administration, sector policing was introduced, however, it has not been visibly implemented. In rural areas, to my knowledge, there is one police vehicle and approximately four police officers, which is a ratio of 4 to 400 people in the community. Do you feel that, perhaps these communities are being left exposed?
Of course, the community has been left exposed. Remember, there became a vacuum specifically when it comes to rural safety with the disbanding of the commando systems of the Mbeki government; he had made a promise, to Parliament, to me, that he would ensure that there is no vacuum, but we know that is not correct. There, is in fact, a vacuum, even if you look at sector policing, you are quite right with the vehicles, and if you look at the area that had to be patrolled by one vehicle, that is totally inadequate. In fact, in this week, two days ago, the Auditor General’s Report on the South African Police Service also stated that although the police say that almost 90% of police stations in rural areas are complying with rural safety, they themselves, acknowledged that 10% have not complied with that. The Auditor General found that that figure is not correct. They could not prove that (figure) – it could be more stations not complying to sector policing, and they really do disband the community, as far as that is concerned.
Do you think that something is being done to address this issue? Since the Cabinet reshuffle, Minister Mbalula had filled the position of Minister of Police; do you think that he is addressing this issue as a matter of priority?
Well, with great respect, I said it when Minister Mbalula became the Minister of Police, that it is actually, as far as I am concerned, like a clown becoming a very responsible person. Unfortunately, I hope that he would realise the seriousness of policing, but if you look and listen to what he is saying, he is actually still acting like a clown. Although, he made promises to the agricultural sector that he agrees that rural safety should be a priority – it just does not happen in reality. So, he says a lot of things; for instance he said that there is no place for criminals in the police services, but at the moment there are still 1444 officers, and senior officers, who were found guilty of some or other criminal offence and they are still in the police service – they cannot get rid of them. And, that is since 2012, so why can they not get rid of them? Everything he says, in a certain sense, does not materialise – that makes a farce of police services and the Ministry.
Government appears inactive on this issue; do you think that rapid rural response teams may improve the situation?
Well, we welcome any response unit that can improve the situation to ensure more that there is more safety for the people in the rural areas. The fact of the matter, is also that, private companies and communities themselves, have instituted safety networks. If you look at the agricultural unions – they have their own safety networks. You have the situation that you had since 1990, with more than 15 000 farm attacks, but say about 3 000 farm murders – if was not for that, the death rate would have been much higher. So, any organisation, any network, trying to protect our people in our rural areas, we welcome any such initiatives. And not only in our rural areas – our people in the cities, and the towns, are becoming vulnerable themselves, especially if you look at the murder rate. We are waiting for the latest crime statistics, which will be in, in about a week or so, and so we welcome these initiatives.
What is being done, and as FF Plus what do you feel ought to be done?
What ought to be done, firstly, is to institute specialised units for rural safety because, it is a specialised terrain. Secondly, there must be a political will to do it, because there is a perception, politically, that farm murders are only affecting white people, which is completely wrong. If you look at some statistics, 40% of farm murders were black people, and they were black farmers and black business owners. So, there must be a political will, and change of political attitude towards farm murders. If you just address those two issues, and I say it again in other words, that there must be specialised farm units to deal with farm murders, and a political will to make it a priority, then we can solve this problem.
Understanding that the rate of farm killings and attacks has created an emergency situation, if the FF Plus were to be voted into power tomorrow, what would you do?
Well, firstly what I will do is immediately prioritise farm murders, and by that I mean that we will call in the Hawks to investigate the farm murders wherever it happens so that there is thorough investigation. That is the first thing I will do. Then secondly, I will immediately start the research body to conduct proper research on the reasons for farm killings, whether it is politically motivated, whether it is normal criminality, so that we know exactly what we are talking about. And thirdly, I will also liaise with all structures that are part of rural safety to ensure that there is good coordination between those networks and the police. And by doing that, I will also ensure that the police stations, specifically in the rural areas, are really competent; well-equipped, to address farm murders and farm attacks.
When Bheki Cele was the National Commissioner, he introduced the Tactical Response Team, commonly known as amaBerete, which was an elite unit of the SAPS, akin to well-trained military police. Do you think that this would suffice in rural protection, especially as it relates to the farm killings and attacks?
Look, we must be careful when we say we that we should militarise the police, because it can create the wrong impressions. Bheki Cele did well as the Commissioner, but unfortunately, in the end, there were also allegations of corruption. In that case,you are not suitable – irrespective of what you did. At least he did try to do something, in being more robust against crime but, we must be very, very careful when we talk about – for instance, the fact that he brought military ranks into the South African Police Services. we have to ensure that we have well disciplined, well-trained, police service, because that is the answer. I know some people say we must increase the number of police members – I am not in favour of that; I say that we must ensure that the present members of the police service are well-trained, and well-disciplined. At the moment we have too many criminals within the police service, and they have to get rid of that.
Is there anything you would like to add on behalf of FF Plus, or yourself?
If we were in power tomorrow, I would look at the South African Police Service as a whole, and the first thing I would do is ensure that I appoint a National Commissioner who is a competent person, who is an expert in police services, and who came through the ranks, to ensure that we get stability at the top – in management of the South African Police Services. Part of the problem is that we have too many Acting positions of Services Heads, and that is also something I will have to look into, and I will surely take steps to get rid of the criminals; I will not just have popular rhetoric about it – I will actually do it.