Police who stood by as thieves looted farm are sued for damages

7 June 2024

Solly Letsoalo, a farmer from Sekororo near Tzaneen, had his farm looted while police looked on. Now, the network organisation Saai has sued the police, insisting that Letsoalo be compensated for the damage caused by the trespassers.

Crop theft has always been a problem on the farm where Letsoalo has farmed for the past 12 years. He even had to plead guilty to an assault charge and pay a hefty fine after he confronted three mango thieves in 2014.

Last year, theft escalated into large-scale looting with gangs of up to 100 people descending on the farm, threatening Letsoalo’s family and his workers. Not only fruit but also cables, borehole pumps and even household goods were stolen.

It started in September when the green mangoes were finally large enough to be picked for the atchar market. “I usually wait about two weeks after the buyers of atchar mangoes take the first consignments before I pick my fruit, just to see what the prices look like,” says Letsoalo.

During this time, a neighbour informed him that someone was stealing his harvest. He tracked down the culprits and filed a theft complaint at Maake police station. No one was prosecuted. Letsoalo hired temporary workers to help him harvest what was left of his crop as quickly as possible.

“The next morning, a group of about 100 people showed up. They chased us away with machetes and clubs and even stoned my four-ton truck that I use to transport the mangoes. I called the police, and they arrived at 2 pm.” The police reportedly just drove around among the looters without arresting anyone.

The next day, another group of about 50 arrived and continued looting. Letsoalo called the police again and chased after the thieves on foot himself, apprehending three. “The police only want to ride in the van, walk around and talk. They are not keen to run,” he says.

One of the three was apparently prosecuted and released after paying a fine.

The looting gangs kept coming but Letsoalo lost hope in the police and any chance of justice. This was after the officer on duty at the Maake charge office told him earlier this year to flee for his life when he called again to report thieves on his land.

“I fear for my safety, for my wife, children and workers, because I know no one will come to help me. These looting gangs from the surrounding communities have stolen everything I own. We have nothing. And the police watched them steal and did nothing.”

Intervention

Since then, Saai has assisted Letsoalo with legal help. The police’s unhelpfulness has resulted in an official lawsuit being filed.

The lawsuit demands that the police compensate him for damage of more than R7 million caused by illegal trespassers on Letsoalo’s farm. This will cover the loss of property, equipment, and his mango crop. According to Saai, the police’s failure to act after Letsoalo’s pleas can be considered negligent.

“Saai wants to help farmers with illegal trespassing on their farms and where the police, despite their constitutional duty, fail to act against it,” says Theo de Jager, chairperson of the board. 

“Trespassing is an increasing problem, while the police are increasingly failing to act against it. Saai will continue to press for trespassing laws to be strengthened and more strictly enforced.”

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