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Curbing stock-theft



MAFETENG – DAILY, widowed and unemployed ’Malerato Mariti wakes up to the fear that the cattle at the core of her livelihood will one day be grabbed by the police.
The cattle belong to her two sons eking a living at construction sites in neighbouring South Africa and the animals are the 57-year-old’s main means of putting food on the table.
But there is a problem. None of the seven cattle is registered as prescribed by the newly introduced livestock marking system and police are on the pounce.
“I do not know what l will do when the police arrive here,” says Mariti in a low voice.

The Ministry of Home Affairs introduced the Livestock Registration, Marking and Information System as part of a broader strategy to curb stock-theft, which mainly happens along the porous border with South Africa. A March 1999 National Livestock Development study showed that stock-theft had “become a national crisis in Lesotho”.
The theft is prevalent between Lesotho’s Qacha’s Nek district and Matatiele in South Africa, and also between Butha-Buthe and Qwa-Qwa and Mokhotlong and Sani Pass. Livestock thieves mainly target cattle and sheep.

Police are impounding livestock not registered under the new system as part of the anti-stock-theft campaign.
While laudable, the campaign has the potential of affecting innocent villagers such as Mariti, whose livelihoods solely depend on livestock that they are unable to register.
The police have been moving from village to village in Thaba-Tšoeu and other Mafeteng villages and other district areas impounding unmarked livestock.
The police say unmarked livestock could be an indication that the keeper might have stolen them. The seized animals are kept at the police camp until the “owner” is located.
For Mariti, her sons who own the cattle rarely have time for the process.

“My sons are not always here at home. And when they come, they take just a few days,” Mariti says, adding that her sons are only able to come on weekends when the livestock registration offices are closed.
Mariti says she is unable to help her sons because they have their own livestock booklets in which their animals have been registered in the old system.
Other people have failed to register their animals because they don’t have the required documentation, say officials.

Maleshoane Mokone, an employee at the registration centre in Mafeteng, says many people who visit the offices have no national IDs.
“This creates a problem on its own because there is no way we can register their animals if they do not have IDs,” says Mokone.
She says they advise such people to go and apply for IDs “to enable them to apply for IDs for their animals too”.

Another challenge, she says, is parents trying to register animals on behalf of their children who work outside the country.
“This is practically impossible because the photo of the owner of animals has to appear on the ID,” says Mokone.
She says at times farmers become angry at the officials.

“To them it appears as if we do not want to assist them when they come here,” says Mokone.
They have now embarked on a campaign to raise awareness among farmers and villagers on the requirements needed to register animals in the new system.
“We organise public gatherings so that the farmers know what to bring when they come to register their animals,” says Mokone.
Home Affairs Deputy Minister Machesetsa Mofomobe says the registration process “is rolling out successfully”.

He says in the past people used to mark their animals according to their clans but this made it difficult to trace stolen animals because of huge numbers of animals with similar clan markings.
The new computer database being created is “exceptional and unique because it will not replicate the information”.

He says if animals from one district are seen elsewhere, they can easily be traced back to the owner.
“The police will simply call the Home Affairs office and ask to whom those animals belong so that they could be checked in the data base,” he says.
Mofomobe says the project is continuous for now but will be phased out at some stage.
He says the livestock population is increasing rapidly, with more than 8 million animals registered so far. The registration process is free of charge and the government says it means business in its quest to eradicate stock-theft.

As part of the campaign, the government has deployed a joint force of police and the army to control animal movement along the country’s borders as part of the campaign.
At times, the campaign has turned violent as livestock thieves resort to extreme measures to beat the government’s campaign.
A soldier on patrol was found dead in Qacha’s Nek and suspicions are that he was attacked and killed by thieves from Matatiele last year.
The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) says it is continuing with investigations.

Recently, heavily armed South African nationals torched homes in a village in Qacha’s Nek and stole an undisclosed number of animals in what was described as a revenge attack after some Basotho from the area had earlier crossed into South Africa to steal animals. Stolen animals are usually sold for ridiculously low prices, with a beast fetching a paltry M2 000 or less, according to information from farmers.
The normal market price ranges between M8 000 and M15 000, depending on the quality of the beast.

It is such ills that the new system aims to eradicate, officials say, urging people to go through the process.
The process can be cumbersome though and involves getting chiefs to write confirmation letters before one endures more processes at the registration office and finally the marking process.
For people such as Mariti, the villager who survives on her sons’ unregistered cattle, it is near-impossible for her to register the animals on her sons’ behalf.
“This process is also strenuous,” Mariti says.  “The government should cut the long bureaucratic procedure because it is affecting us. Our chiefs know us in the villages and they also know our children,” says Mariti.

Majara Molupe


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