Plight of SA farmers on Lesotho border worsening

The recent farm attack near Ladybrand has highlighted the deterioration of safety and security along the Lesotho-Free State border.

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The recent farm attack near Ladybrand, in which farm manager Sean Schutte, 36, was killed and his brother Louis, 33, seriously injured, has highlighted the deterioration of safety and security along the Lesotho-Free State border.

The attack occurred on Bernard Amm’s Alpha Estate and the attackers are thought to have come from Lesotho, according to Free State Agriculture (FSA) regional representative, Bernard Maree.

“How can anyone expect farmers to carry on farming on the Lesotho border? The SA Defence Force has deployed 165 soldiers to secure the border. It is absolutely impossible for such a small force to control the nearly 400km border,” he said.

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The government has in the meantime announced that another 165 soldiers would be deployed in April next year, FSA safety and security committee chairman Kobus Breytenbach told Farmer’s Weekly.

“We are nevertheless preparing to take the state to court for its contempt of the agreement with FSA regarding the Lesotho border,” he said.

“The state was supposed to put infrastructure in place to curb the ever-increasing criminality in the area in terms of the agreement that was reached in June 2010. Except for the 165 soldiers, nothing has happened so far.  “Government funds farmers to build the fence, but without proper control, the actual fence is stolen as soon as it is built.”

Breytenbach said indications were that the Schutte brothers had followed their attackers over the border into Lesotho and that they were shot there. Although he did not condone their crossing the border illegally, he said he understood the pent-up frustration caused by the unending theft and cattle raids from Lesotho.

Maree said: “It seems to me there is a serious lack of political will to address this problem. Government is ultimately responsible for the safety and security of its citizens in terms of the Constitution. It is therefore also the border farmers’ basic human right to continue earning a living on their farms. Their ability to farm has been taken away from them by the authorities’ incapability of providing them with a safe and secure environment in which to live and work.”

Nerpo Free State chairman, Frans Mahlelehlene, agreed. “Over and above the fact that we are losing farmers who contribute to the province’s economy, we are faced with a serious threat to the local cattle industry. “Lesotho citizens move their cattle across the border virtually unhindered, causing over-grazing on the SA side.

“One can check the cattle in the commonages at any given time and find that the majority of them come from Lesotho. These animals are often disease-ridden and this poses a very serious animal health risk,” he said. – Annelie Coleman