“There is absolutely no evidence that these attacks are politically driven, we are not fighting politicians here, we are fighting criminals – and it is a fight we definitely can win,” said Limpopo’s deputy provincial police commissioner Maj-Genl Jan Scheepers on Wednesday, the 21st of October. He was addressing a small gathering of local private security companies and farm watch groups in the hall at Tzaneen’s showgrounds. It was a rural safety information sharing meeting organized by the SAPS in conjunction with the Mopani Rural Safety Forum to allow for an open discussion between the provincial and district police and local safety organizations.
Scheepers started off the proceedings with a reference to the recent happenings in Senekal where emotions reached tipping point after the murder of a young farm manager, Brendin Horner. “The moment there is a farm murder, it immediately evokes emotion and if we look at the current situation in the country where farmers are being murdered, we cannot allow or accept it. I am not here to tell you how to react, because no matter if you react violently or peacefully, it is already too late because we have lost a farmer. If there is no farmer, there is no food in this country.”
He went on to say that despite the fingers being pointed in all directions, including the government, the minister and the police, it is not enough to blame without becoming actively involved in the safety of your family, your workers and the protection of your property. “Every farmer in this country needs to be involved as we are in a crisis. Crime is escalating and we are in a difficult situation which the police alone will not be able to turn around. One thing is for sure though, we are not fighting the government, we are fighting criminals. Definitely for sure, there are people out there who want to divide us and there are people out there who don’t want the communities and the police to work together as a united front. The more disorganized we are among each other, the more room we leave for individuals to move in and commit crimes in our areas.”
An action plan has been tabled by the SAPS which included a Rural Safety Coordinator stationed at every police station in the province, the police in conjunction with the various stakeholders within the rural safety structure have also developed a national plan for rural safety and a provincial plan was signed by the members of the Mopani Rural Safety Forum present at the meeting. Scheepers, referring to the rural safety action plan, warned the meeting that if it is left in the hands of the police, nothing will come of it.
“This is supposed to be your plan. I do not know what is happening in your community, on your farm or in your area, so you need to take ownership of this plan. Your station commander or provincial commissioner cannot own this plan because tomorrow or the day after, they may get transferred and then what happens to the plan? If rural communities take ownership of this plan, we will win. Every police station has a rural safety coordinator, and that person works for you. You are supposed to call that person to a rural safety meeting and from there, the police must be tasked to join in any operation planned for a specific date which includes roadblocks or search operations. If you follow this plan, I can tell you now that will get support from the police all the way up to provincial level.”
Following his hour-long address during which he touched on the poor service delivery within the police service, allegations of corruption and criminals within his own ranks, the floor was opened for questions. Scheepers admitted that there were police officer under his command who were leaking information on planned police operations to their criminal cohorts, and he was very aware of the fact that some high ranking officers were arrested on charges of corruption. To this he responded with “who do you think arrested those corrupt officers? I promise you, there are still some of us in this blue uniform, who care and who dedicate our lives to the protection of our fellow citizens.”
In closing he reiterated the call for farmers and all residents living in rural areas, to become involved and do everything in their power to ensure that they keep their families and their livelihoods safe from the continuous attacks. “We are living in a time where you can no longer rely on the police, you can no longer rely on support structures. You need to rise up and say that you are going to start doing your bit. You know that as a man you would die for your family if the time came. So why then, are you not prepared to live for them?”