The Sunday News
THIS is one article which I should begin with a disclaimer because I am in a territory in which I am completely ignorant and even though we say ignorance is bliss they quickly retort to say it is no difference.
It is the legal realm for which I am completely clueless and yet I feel I should express an opinion bordering on legal etiquette, commission and omission. While the article hinges heavily on the legal interpretations of the implications of certain provisions of the law as it relates to stock theft, I will not be held accountable for incorrect interpretation of sections of the relevant piece of legislation.
One of the painful moments of being a livestock farmer is when one loses an animal. There are several ways through which livestock farmers lose animals and these include death due to natural causes, predation, snaring and stock theft. The latter is the most disenfranchising of all because it can involve massive numbers from a single hit. It is therefore, no surprise that farmers, through various bodies such as the farmers’ unions, were able to lobby through parliament to have the sentence for stock theft increased from two years to a mandatory nine years per count.
However, one may argue that stock theft crimes have continued to rise in numbers despite the seemingly deterrent nature of the sentence. In fact, it is one of the trending crimes, in most of cattle producing provinces such as Matabeleland North and South.
Charts posted at most police stations depicting the crimes committed in their area of policing usually show stock theft as one of the most prevalent. This should ordinarily be comforting to livestock farmers as it indicates that a lot of crimes are being followed up by the police and convictions may be secured where there is enough evidence.
However, the main problem coming through from most farmers is the fact that they never get any form of compensation or restitution as it relates to the animals they lose to the stock thief despite securing a conviction. Actually, some farmers are so bitter that they blame the State for at least benefiting from free labour of the convicted criminal while they are left to count their losses and lick their wounds.
In some cases, the effect of the loss is phenomenal as smallholder farmers with a small herd of say 10, may lose all of it and be immediately condemned into abject poverty. Farmers must therefore, lobby for a review of the legal process such that it’s not only the nine-year sentence that becomes mandatory upon a conviction but compensation or restitution as well.
Compensation refers to the monetary value that the farmer will get to make good of his/her loss. In other words, if a farmer loses five animals and there is a conviction at the criminal court, the value of his/her five animals should be ascertained and this becomes due to him/her from the convicted criminal.
On the other hand, restitution relates to the farmer being returned to the state in which he/she was before commission of the crime. In other words, it is endeavoured to give the farmer his/her stolen five animals. This will obviously not be the exact animals but animals of the same breed, condition, age and sex.
So, if a farmer loses five red Brahman heifers of roughly two years in age, he/she must get animals of the same description from the convicted person so that he or she is restituted. Needless to say that both compensation and restitution are not always possible as some of these thieves are very poor societal malcontents with no asset of value to their name. However, in some cases it involves big businesspeople who are operating a well-oiled syndicate and hence securing a compensation or restitution should not be difficult. The plea therefore, is that the law should be amended to make it compulsory for prosecution to push for conviction and compensation or restitution. It should be part of the process such that as the prosecutor is leading the case, they are driving towards a conviction as well as recourse to the farmer such that if the accused fails to pay for compensation or restitution, an additional sentence can be imposed by the same court.
I must hasten to indicate that farmers are largely not satisfied with the conviction and lengthy sentence only without them recovering their lost stock. They say after all the lengthy sentence gets some years suspended. In conclusion, I am advocating for the expansion of the prosecution process to include conviction, compensation or restitution so that farmers can be able to find their feet again. Uyabonga umntakaMaKhumalo.
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