Farmers sceptical of promises to curb stock theft

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MOSA MAOENG

MASERU – Prime Minister Sam Matekane has reiterated his promises to rein in stock thieves through the use of microchips and a helicopter. Local farmers, however, worry that this could just be another broken promise from the government. They say they continue to lose livestock every day and nothing is being done to control the use of microchip animal monitoring systems, even as the government attempts to formulate regulations governing their use.

Speaking in an interview with Public Eye this week, a livestock farmer from Mokhotlong, Arone Moketa, said Prime Minister Matekane is only making empty promises by reiterating that the chips will help. According to him, it is still a daily crisis that they are losing animals, particularly to residents of Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa. Moketa said they never received the promised helicopter, which was supposed to patrol daily to ensure the protection of the animals, especially cattle.

“As a farmer who has cattle, horses, donkeys, and sheep, I fear every day that I will keep losing my livestock to thieves. Although we have no idea how the microchip works, we were hoping that by now it would have been put to use and we would have been offered training, but we are still waiting,” he said. However, Prime Minister Matekane has said they are already working hard to ensure that there is a law that will enable microchip use in the country.

Matekane assured attendees at a horse racing event held on Moshoeshoe’s Day on Monday in Peka, Leribe, that the legislation will be ratified by Parliament shortly. He said after everything has been put in order, they will work with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Livestock to train farmers on how the chips will function. Matekane also launched the introduction of microchip animal tracking devices at the same event.

The initiative, he said, comes as part of the government’s effort to implement more strategies towards ending stock theft across the country. He showed the government will work together with all the responsible departments to ensure that the microchip procedure is successful. Stock theft is one pervasive vice that has escalated in Lesotho. Attempts to get the number of cases from the police before going to print proved futile, as this reporter was asked to write a letter to the Commissioner first asking for such statistics.

Stock theft has been a thorny issue in bilateral relations between Lesotho and South Africa. Lesotho soldiers were arrested by the South African Defence Force on July 19, 2020, charged with stock theft and entering the Republic without proper documents. They were arrested in Matatiele, in the Kwazulu-Natal province, sharing borders with Lesotho’s district of Qacha’s Nek.

The duo, Private Dumile Tšoeunyane and Private Rorisang Moepi, were arrested while pursuing Basotho livestock that had been stolen by rustlers in the border areas, according to the version of the Lesotho authorities.

The South African authorities’ version, however, is that they were found in the company of rustlers. The soldiers were only released from detention and allowed to return after about a year of diplomatic negotiations. A microchip is inserted into animals to aid tracking. The government introduced the microchip implantation technology after realising that stock thieves would easily erase the branding and tattoo marks with hot metal and acid. The stock thieves also cut off stolen animals’ ears if they bear the owner’s identification marks.

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