While common across South Africa, goats remain a largely untapped resource for poverty alleviation and rural development. But efforts to remedy the situation are being undermined by the widespread theft of goats. Lieutenant Colonel Nicolas Erasmus, provincial commander of the SA Police Service’s KwaZulu-Natal stock theft and endangered species units, examines this issue.
KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) had the dubious distinction of recording the greatest number of goat theft cases amongst South Africa’s nine provinces in 2016 and 2017, with 13 066 goats stolen.
It was followed, in descending order, by the Eastern Cape (7 340), Limpopo (4 711), Mpumalanga (4 342), Gauteng (3 341), Free State (1 899), Northern Cape (1 665), North West (607), and lastly the Western Cape (480).
To make matters worse, only 11 079 of the 37 451 goats stolen in the country were recovered.
Demand for goats in KZN and other parts of South Africa is growing rapidly, and thousands of the animals are formally imported into KZN alone every week. Stock thieves are increasingly taking advantage of this situation.
Between 2012 and 2017, a gradual increase from 34 989 to 37 451 in the average annual incidence of goat theft became evident across South Africa, and today the warning lights are flashing.
Crucial questions need to be asked. Who is buying these stolen goats, and why is a larger proportion of stolen goats recovered in some provinces, such as North West, than others?
Is it perhaps because communities in that province are working with goat owners and the police to reduce stock theft? In contrast, significant increases in goat theft cases have been recorded in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, the Free State, and KZN, while the proportion of recovered animals remains low in these provinces.
The modus operandi of stock thieves
South African Police Service (SAPS) records outline a range of methods used by stock thieves to steal goats.
In most cases, goats are stolen from enclosed kraals at night, but thieves also steal unattended goats from the veld during daylight hours.
It has even been reported that stock thieves travelling in a vehicle will stop, grab a few goats grazing alongside the road, bundle the animals into the vehicle, and speed off.
Trucks transporting goats have also been hijacked by stock thieves.
The SAPS has found that groups of stock thieves often plan and carry out goat theft in an organised manner.
Contributing factors: greed and carelessness
The high unemployment rate and associated poverty in South Africa is a significant driver of the increase in goat theft, but it is not the main reason; the majority of goat thefts are motivated by greed.
Goat owners who leave their grazing animals unattended also contribute to the problem, as this provides thieves with an ideal opportunity to steal. Some owners do not even keep their goats in a kraal close to home at night, but leave them to fend for themselves overnight.
In addition, many owners fail to register an official brand mark, or do not bother to mark their animals properly if they have a registered brand mark. This makes it far easier for stock thieves to steal goats and more difficult for the police to recover stolen animals.
Another factor that has contributed to the increase in goat theft is owners’ failure to immediately report such thefts to the police. Due to fear of intimidation, witnesses also often refuse to provide evidence to the police to help them track down the stolen goats and arrest and prosecute the thieves.
Finally, South Africa’s porous borders, especially with Lesotho, makes it easy for goat thieves to move freely between countries to carry out their criminal activities.
Socio-economic effects of goat theft
Goat theft has a severe impact on the families that fall victim to this crime. Their day-to-day livelihoods are often devastated.
In cases where goat owners use their animals to fund their children’s school fees and uniforms, or tertiary education, this crime has an especially negative impact.
These families sometimes suffer psychological trauma, as do the communities in which they live. Victims of goat theft are often forced to leave their families to try and find work elsewhere.
This can in turn disrupt or destroy family and community relationships.
Theft affects both smallholder goat farmers and large-scale goat enterprises. The former are often hit harder as they can lose their entire flock to thieves in a single incident, whereas a larger operator will lose only a portion of the total flock.
Nonetheless, this crime affects the ability of the entire industry to grow South Africa’s national goat flock and has a negative impact on the associated formal and informal value chains. This has a knock-on effect on local and national socio-economic conditions as a result of job losses.
The worst result of goat theft is that it sometimes leads to violent conflict, even between family members, or pits one family or community against another, with vigilante justice often being meted out to those suspected of being responsible for the thefts.
It is not uncommon for these conflicts to result in the death of one or more people on both sides.
The only way in which South Africans can make positive progress in the fight against rampant goat theft is for all sectors of society to work together to solve the problem. The SAPS, in particular, needs the public’s assistance in this fight.
The views expressed in our weekly opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Farmer’s Weekly.
For more information, email Lieutenant Colonel Nicolas Erasmus at firstname.lastname@example.org. This presentation was given at the 2017 Goat Agribusiness Conference, hosted in Durban by Goats Unlimited