SAPS disbands Empangeni Farm Watch

The safety of the large farming community of and its surrounds in KZN has been left hanging in the balance following a sudden decision by SA Police Service (SAPS) officials to disband the area’s Farm Watch (EFW) unit.
Issue date 9 February 2007

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News of the decision came out of a farmers’ meeting in Gingindlovu last week. According to sources in the 9 000-member farming sector of the area, the decision to disband the country’s last state unit dedicated to protecting an agricultural community coincided with the recent closure of the area’s SAPS headquarters and with the re-deployment of high-ranking police officials to various police stations in the Empangeni region. “Commissioner Oupa Maseko has taken over Police Station and has made drastic changes on his arrival that are being referred to as restructuring,” a source told Farmer’s Weekly.

“All SAPS Farm Watch members have been moved to shifts at Empangeni SAPS. The problem that we face is that neither the farming community nor the Watch committee were consulted or notified of the planned changes.” E stablished in 1990, the EFW has survived years of escalating operational costs through its successes and resultant financial support from the area’s farming community and Business Against Crime (BAC). Mike Patterson, chair of the Empangeni division of the Zululand Chamber of Business, praised the effectiveness of the EFW, saying it had established strong anti-crime linkages across the province in its years of operation.

“With SAPS members, vehicles and weapons now having been withdrawn from the the local BAC office is going to be looking at ways of keeping the unit operational independently of the SAPS,” Patterson said. Meanwhile, meetings are being held with Commissioner Maseko and other stakeholders in the EFW to determine the final status of the unit. Farmer’s Weekly can confirm the is currently being run privately and that farmers can use existing contact numbers to report security matters. A private vehicle would be despatched to the scene of the complaint and the relevant units notified for assistance in opening cases if needed.

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While farm attacks in KZN have decreased substantially since 2002, the recent murders of Nkwalini Valley farm manager Ken Eva and Anglo-Zulu War expert David Rattray have stirred up frustrations among KZN farmers over the uncontrolled spread of crime. Despite numerous attempts, Farmer’s Weekly was unable to contact the now centralised SAPS KZN provincial communications officers to establish the progress of the Eva and Rattray murder investigations. – Lloyd Phillips