A great deal of attention has been paid to the case against Garth Simpson, a farmer from Glencoe in KwaZulu-Natal, who is facing a charge of having murdered 17-year-old Qiniso Dlamini. Comparatively little has been paid to the case in Muden, also in KwaZulu-Natal, against Ungakhohlwa Zulu, who is alleged to have shot and killed Ajay Haripersaad, also a farmer.

There are, however, more than passing similarities between the cases. 

From what is known, both appear to have their origins in disputes involving livestock, specifically the intrusion of cattle onto commercial farming properties. In both cases, cattle were alleged to have been grazing on the farmers’ properties, and were impounded. When the owners (real or supposed, there is some dispute about this, at least in Glencoe) came to fetch the cattle, tensions escalated, and in each case a gunshot left a man dead. In the Glencoe case, it was the claimant at the hands of the farmer; in Muden, the farmer died at the hands of the cattle claimant. 

In both cases, the intrusion of stray cows onto the properties had been a perennial source of stress. As we have previously noted on the Daily Friend, this is a widespread problem for commercial farmers. It is worth restating. 

Livestock farming depends on grazing land for its viability. Grass is not an arbitrary and ever-available commodity, but a resource to be managed. Where animals from outside the farm herd consume it, it has a corresponding impact on the carrying capacity of the land. At times, stray livestock can cause a great deal of damage to crops under cultivation. 

For livestock farmers, this is further linked to biosecurity threats. There is little that endangers commercially bred animals quite like disease, and transmission is an inherent risk when animals from different herds mingle. This danger is likely to be enhanced where different standards of precaution (such as inoculations) are practised.

Finally, stray animals on a farm can also denote the latter’s vulnerability to livestock theft – if livestock can move onto a property with little hindrance, it is in principle possible to move livestock off. In the Simpson case, confrontation allegedly arose in part over the fact that some of the cattle he had impounded bore the brand of a former farmer, and were thus suspected of having been stolen.

Together, these factors place a significant burden on commercial farmers, and perhaps none more so than new and emerging farmers who lack reserves to cushion the impact. Indeed, one farming industry representative we spoke to said that a large majority of stock theft in KwaZulu-Natal targeted emerging farmers.

Not uniquely South African

This is, incidentally, by no means a uniquely South African phenomenon. Conflicts over land and livestock – whether between herders and farmers, or between competing groups of pastoralists – have been lethal and profoundly destabilising in such countries as Nigeria and Kenya. Each confrontation has its own specificities, but in broad terms, they reflect the stresses on societies that are undergoing profound change: conflicting understandings of land rights and land use; different systems of tenure; growing populations and escalating pressure on resources; as well as political, ethnic, religious or clan cleavages. 

Elements of this are clearly visible in the case of Mr Haripersaad. On the account of his family, stray cattle had been a longstanding frustration on the farm, causing considerable damage to its sugarcane crop. On the day in question, Mr Haripersaad and some of his farmworkers were impounding a number of such animals when they were confronted by Mr Zulu. The latter was armed, and in the ensuing confrontation, Mr Haripersaad was shot and killed. 

The state fails

Interestingly, during the bail hearing for Mr Simpson, the investigating officer remarked in response to a question from the prosecution that part of the blame for the incident lay with the authorities, who had failed to manage the potential for conflict over these issues. Indeed, this came up repeatedly in our investigations of this case, from people sympathetic both to the accused and to the deceased.

The overall disorder and disrespect for law in South Africa is arguably more severely felt in its rural parts, given the large areas involved and the limited capacity of law enforcement agencies to exert control. A research report by Agri SA, published in 2018, found that some 70% of farms in South Africa had experienced crime, with a staggering 91.8% of farms in KwaZulu-Natal having done so.

And while violent crime is a constant concern to the farming community, the extent of property crime – theft, vandalism and so on – is equally so. Agri SA’s research found that the theft of livestock was the most widely reported of these. And a good number of victimised farmers did not report crimes, thinking that doing so would be pointless, or that the police would not be in a position to assist, or even owing to a negative view of the police. 

Against this background, the trespassing of animals and disputes over grazing land might seem (to outsiders) like trivialities, but they are in fact part of a broader set of circumstances that contribute to overall insecurity and tragedy – as the cases in Glencoe and Muden would seem to illustrate.

Indeed, the very process of impounding an animal is a difficult one. In terms of the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (Esta) and (in KwaZulu-Natal) the KwaZulu-Natal Pound Act, livestock found on a property owner’s land must be held there for 72 hours, if the owner is known – or, as the KwaZulu-Natal law puts it, ‘such animal may not be removed to a pound before notice is given to the owner in writing no less than 72 hours prior to removal to the pound’. This creates a window of time in which the animals’ upkeep, and the fallout from taking them, become in effect the farmer’s problem.

One KwaZulu-Natal farmer who has experience of this offered his opinion to the Daily Friend on condition of anonymity. The law as it stands now, he said, ‘promotes conflict and potential for bloodshed.’

His own experiences as related to us included having erected new, strong fences around his property at considerable cost in hopes of keeping stray cattle out. These were cut to pieces with bolt cutters – and the cattle reintroduced. Meetings were held with community leaders (who warned the perpetrator against this conduct) and charges laid with the police. Ultimately though, nothing came of this. When he impounded the cattle and took them to a nearby pound, he incurred the cost for the transport. Meanwhile, his own herd had been infected by Trichomoniasis. Approaches to the courts for protection were unsuccessful. The farmer and his workers live under a cloud of insecurity because of this. 

On the provisions in the law that effectively require animals to be kept by a farmer for three days, he remarked wryly, ‘anyone tried that without conflict?’ 

Reflecting the sentiments of most farmers, he said: ‘I am an African farmer who is not interested in walking around armed or carrying a gun.’ Yet in the climate that exists, many will see little alternative.

Meanwhile, a senior official in the pound system in KwaZulu-Natal (again, preferring his name not be used) told the Daily Friend that the provincial pound legislation had been written in haste. It was compromised by a widespread lack of branding among subsistence farmers, which makes identifying stray cattle difficult. After animals are impounded, the pound is required to send a registered letter notifying the owner that they are being held – yet the assumption than an identity or address (or indeed a working postal service) is available is flawed. The police are frequently indifferent to these matters, something that has become especially significant since the enactment of the Protection of Personal Information Act. Brand data is considered personal information on which a pound official has no claim, and it is necessary to rely on the police to search out this information.

According to Sandy La Marque, CEO of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union, the province has a particular challenge in the large number of labour tenants and farm occupiers. While rights have been conferred to these groups by legislation such as ESTA, the nature of and limits to these rights is not always correctly understood, which can prime a relationship for conflict. In addition, she echoes concerns at the state of governance and respect for the law. The failure of the authorities to provide adequate policing is central to this, a matter that, she says, has bred ‘absolute frustration and desperation’.

Seeking solutions

The fate of both Mr Haripersaad and Mr Dlamini is testimony to the dreadful possibilities that exist in this reality. Indeed, Mr Haripersaad is another sad entry onto the list of farmers and farmworkers and their dependents who have been murdered: according to the Transvaal Agricultural Union, some 42 have been killed thus far this year, and 2161 since 1990.

As we have previously argued, a failure on the part of the state to ensure the rule of law and an equitable framework for managing disputes around land use and livestock – to treat them with the seriousness they require – is enabling a sometimes lethal dynamic. South Africa is not alone in this. As a report from the Pro-Poor Livestock Policy Initiative at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations put it over a decade ago: ‘Inefficient land legislation and the ensuing insecure access to resources are sources of increasingly violent disputes over land among farmers and herders and among pastoralists themselves.’

Crafting durable solutions will likely be a difficult matter. These are, after all, matters that touch on property rights, security, and the practice of different modes of agriculture and animal husbandry, not to mention the failure of policy and administrative systems. Yet this is critical for the maintenance of a functional and prosperous rural economy. And foremost among the imperatives here is for the state to fulfil at least a minimalist function of maintaining some sort of order across life and activity, and in mediating disputes.

Ms La Marque argues that to do this, it is imperative to establish an element of accountability within the operations of the state, and particularly the police. She points to initiatives in some jurisdictions where farming representatives are able to look at cases and get updates. This is a small step, and a costly one in terms of the effort required by the farming bodies, but perhaps contains the germ of a way forward.

All too often, though, both state action and accountability are missing.

For now, both cases remain before the courts. Mr Simpson, having been denied bail, remains in prison pending an appeal on this decision. Perhaps it was revealing that the prosecution and investigating officer emphasised that his release would spark anger that would be beyond control. If this is true, that would seem to concede the failure of the state to perform its responsibilities. Mr Zulu was released on bail, reportedly of some R2 000 and on condition that he relocate so that he would not interfere with the witnesses. Inevitably, some observers have noted the different outcomes of the respective applications.

Mr Haripersaad’s family were understandably disappointed with the decision. His son told the media: ‘All we want is justice to prevail. We need the law to be enforced and corruption to stop. My father was a wonderful person. We are also grateful to other farmers for all their support during this difficult time.’

It’s difficult to better these words.

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Terence Corrigan is the Project Manager at the Institute, where he specialises in work on property rights, as well as land and mining policy. A native of KwaZulu-Natal, he is a graduate of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Pietermaritzburg). He has held various positions at the IRR, South African Institute of International Affairs, SBP (formerly the Small Business Project) and the Gauteng Legislature – as well as having taught English in Taiwan. He is a regular commentator in the South African media and his interests include African governance, land and agrarian issues, political culture and political thought, corporate governance, enterprise and business policy.