You have just finished supper and are enjoying your favourite show on TV.
Suddenly the door opens and two men come in. They are armed. They are wearing balaclavas. They are in your home, on a farm or smallholding, far from any neighbours. To scream now won’t help – who will hear?
Your thoughts flash back to earlier in the evening. Did you close the gate when you arrived home? Did you forget to close and lock the kitchen door after taking out the trash? Did you set the lasers? Were the dogs barking like crazy a few minutes ago?
Are you about to become a victim of a farm attack?
This is sadly a very scary reality for rural residents, who are often an easy target for criminals because of the fact that farms and smallholdings are so much more isolated than residential homes.
Countryside recently joined police and members of the community in Bainsvlei on a blue/white light patrol to find out more about how rural residents can take responsibility for their own safety. A police officer in Bainsvlei says it is critical for rural residents to get involved.
“Our farmers want to live like they always did but in circumstances such as we have nowadays, it is just not possible anymore. People need to ensure their safety.”
Francis Gouws, chairperson of the Bainsvlei Sector 2 Community Policing Forum, says participation in initiatives such as the blue/white light patrols is about crime prevention and visible policing.
“We have realised that where we do this kind of thing, our crime figures are coming down dramatically,” she says.
Both police and community members confirmed there is a very good working relationship in Bainsvlei. “In my area, the people in the community are amazing. They drive patrols every night,” says an officer from Bainsvlei.
One of the residents on patrol, Ben van den Berg, says he gets involved as a means of ensuring safety for individuals and communities. “It (crime) affects all of us and it is everyone’s problem. If all of us just shrug their shoulders and say it isn’t their problem, at the end of the day we will just be sitting like a bird in a cage, waiting to be targeted.”
During the patrol, the convoy encountered a smallholding where the gate was standing wide open. Standing in the road, the residents of the house were clearly visible, sitting and watching TV.
One of the officers went to speak to the owners to tell them their gate was open. On his return, he could only shake his head as he reported that the homeowner was aware of the open gate and had planned to close it before he went to bed.
“It is just inviting unnecessary trouble,” he says.
The VKB/Free State Agriculture Safety Desk also hosted a rural safety summit in collaboration with police. One of the key issues during the event was around improving trust relations between police and rural community members.
Farmers have also shared some of their fears and concerns, including a request that police should not arrive unannounced at farms in the middle of the night in unmarked vehicles and civilian clothes.
Police, in turn, have also requested that farmers and members of the community, in general, should exercise patience and understanding when communicating with police. Mangaung cluster commander, Solly Lesia, says good communication is critically important.
“Part of the communication issue has to do with language barriers. What also came out vividly is that sometimes farmers call the police and expect a speedy response. However, at the same time police could be busy elsewhere… but if there is good communication, one will understand.”
He has also highlighted that police should adhere to the rural safety protocol in terms of how police should approach farms. Commenting on issues around resources, he says it is true that police need to better optimise resources at their disposal.
“I will not necessarily say we don’t have (resources)… Sometimes our own people create the impression that the resources are not available. People who want to have a state vehicle full time. We need to look into optimal usage of resources.”
He has also urged farmers to ensure they know who it is they are employing. “It will be very helpful if farmers know who they are employing. If they have profiles of the people they are employing, know the background of people they are employing.”
Leroy van der Merwe of the Glen Farmer’s Association was also present and reiterated the importance of getting involved. “We made a choice that we are going to work with police going forward in order to ensure safety in our country.”
His message to the rural community is to first see what you can do to improve safety before finding fault with others. He also wants everyone to get involved. “You are never too old or too young to get involved and make a small difference. The more hands we have the more we can take hands.
“We can help the police – we are their eyes and ears at ground level.” – Sabrina Dean
Some of the top rural safety tips from police and farmers include the following:
*Get involved in community policing initiatives such as blue/white light patrols, and the Community Policing Forum (CPF).
*Use technology and social media. For example, become a member of community safety whatsapp groups.
*Make use of two-way radio systems.
*Get to know the police in your area and community policing forum members.
*Know who to call and have a plan in place in case of emergency.
*Secure your home or farm – make sure it is well lit, fenced off, with electric fencing where possible, that alarms are installed, cameras and so forth.
*Be proactive – do not leave gates open or doors unlocked, especially at night.
*Ensure all livestock are properly brand marked or tattooed and that all relevant transport documentation is in place.
*Be polite and courteous when dealing with police – try to build a good working relationship for the future.