Farmers use their wits and IT to track suspect

Farmers in KZN’s Estcourt area made headlines recently when they assisted police in tracking down a man on 4 November who allegedly stabbed his wife and sister-in-law before fleeing with his toddler grandson.

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Police had alerted Secure SA owner Mark Pitout, who co-ordinates the Midlands e-Block Watch community network. Pitout sent out an SMS to members providing details of the man and his car. Pitout then received the GPS co-ordinates of the man’s phone, which he sent to Winterton farmer Kobus Botha. Botha narrowed the man’s location to Estcourt, and this information was passed on to nearby farmers.

Colenso farmer, Wessel Basson used Google Map to pinpoint the location to the Plough Hotel in Estcourt and local farmer Tim Ralfe went to the hotel and spotted the suspect’s car. “This was excellent teamwork between the farmers and e-Block,” said Pitout, who was able to lead the police to the suspect and the child. The story highlights the fact that rural communities are being forced to take charge of their own security, said Koos Marais, head of Kwanalu’s security desk.

“From computerised dairies to poultry houses, to sowing and field planting, farmers have become quite proficient in using new technology. “Unfortunately this now must also extend to their safety. The police just do not have the ability to give coverage in all areas. Because of the focus on personal, family, staff and produce security, farmers now have to rely more on themselves, their neighbours and farmers’ associations for security.”

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Marais said there was close co-operation between police and farmers. “There are 25 police clusters in KZN and most now have a rural safety committee meeting once a month, which is over and above the rural safety and tourism committee meetings at station level.

“Where these are not in existence yet, we are encouraging them to be set up. There is a whole stepladder approach. What is not addressed sufficiently at station level is taken up at cluster meetings, and then on to provincial level. We find at senior level we have a tremendous relationship with the police. However, visible policing at station and street level is still a problem.”