Livestock farmers at the Schlip settlement in the Hardap region’s Rehoboth constituency fear that they may be forced to shoot stock thieves if police do not urgently intervene to stop the escalating cases of stock theft taking place there – and risk being accused of murder.
Schlip has about 1 500 inhabitants, and is the main settlement of the //Ogain (Groot Doden) clan of the Namas.
Josef van Wyk of Farm Gahp told The Namibian last week that farmers are being terrorised by stock thieves who have stolen hundreds of livestock over many years, causing significant economic damage. What frustrates them most is the alleged inability by the police and the courts to prosecute the suspects, most of them allegedly part of syndicates.
“They keep on stealing, and even when they are arrested, they get out and just continue coming back to steal. We are afraid that we will be forced to shoot the thieves because they are stealing and killing our animals, and then we will be up for murder,” said a dejected Van Wyk.
Just over a week ago, while he was travelling to the coast for business, suspects allegedly stole bags of cement, 10 goats and two sheep from his farm.
A case was opened, suspects were arrested, and then released on bail. While out on bail, the suspects were allegedly implicated in the theft and slaughter of a goat from another farm. But the police reportedly said there was not enough evidence to rearrest the suspects on the separate charge. Van Wyk said the police failed on various occasions to come to crime scenes because either there were not enough police officers available, or there were no vehicles available.
“I would then pick them up, take them to the scene to show them some evidence, and take them back to the station,” explained Van Wyk. “They would then tell me they have to ask the prosecutor if they can lay another charge against the suspects.”
According to him, he lost about 17 sheep in December last year, in addition to hundreds more over the past three years.
Another farmer, Bron van Wyk (not related to Josef), also told this newspaper that he lost up to 150 sheep and goats in the past few years, and that he has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the thefts. Recently, one of his rams was stolen and butchered.
“Why are the thieves not being locked up? The justice system seems to be incapable of dealing with this crime, and so it just goes on and on. What are we supposed to do?” he asked.
Police spokesperson deputy commissioner Edwin Kanguatjivi warned farmers not to take the law into their own hands.
“They are correct that they will be up for murder if they shoot the suspected thieves,” he warned. “Only when one’s life or a third party’s life is in imminent danger may one use self-defence. Otherwise not. The law is clear.” Kanguatjivi said stock theft is an ongoing struggle in Hardap, and that the police have their hands full there. Suspects are being arrested, and depending on the evidence and the magistrate’s decision, the suspects will remain behind bars, or be let out on bail – even if the police oppose bail.
“If we have proper information and enough evidence, we will arrest. We have even arrested our members in the past who have been involved in stock theft,” said Kanguatjivi. “We must, however, remember that a person is not guilty until found guilty in court.”
He added that police capacity was also limited due to a shortage of fuel because of budgetary constraints.
“Instead of taking the law into their own hands, the farmers must report their complaints to the internal investigations department. If they feel police officers are corrupt or not doing their jobs properly, the department will get on the cases straight-away,” he stated.