Time for Police to Shape Up

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Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro A self-engineered Cassinga Day long-weekend retreat to the village of Ovinjuru in the Epukiro Constituency of the Omaheke Region early May, courtesy of the invite of a friend to whom the village is a hometown, turned out to be an adventure of sorts. Because for the villagers concerned, this was by no means an adventure but a matter of livelihood. Loosing cattle one raises under difficult circumstances imaginable, least of them being lack of pastures and water due to the region’s unpredictable rains, is not a matter of adventure. In this village, like in the rest of communal Epukiro, as indeed in other communal areas the length and breadth of Namibia, cattle are sacred animals. Not so much because of their traditional importance, long relegated to the backburner. In 21st century rural Namibia, cattle serve more an economic purpose, a source for cash akin to cash crops in agrarian societies on the Continent. For the impoverished rural majority, it is a means of subsistence and the centre of their economic existence. That is why any threat to their cattle, and by extension to their means of existence, is a matter of life and death. Their existence is under a constant and unabated threat from the scourge of stock theft. Amidst this, the agents of crime deterrence, prevention and punishment seem if not apt to their criminal counterparts, to lack the intellect, professional finesse, resources and eagerness and will power. At least in the eyes of the farming rural community of Epukiro. Thus is a perception that is steadily gaining ground among this community. My cosy afternoon of abundant meat and cultural milk flowing like natural fountain water was cut short by a throng of villagers on a war-like expedition. They were on a case, one of many the police has proven itself nothing more than scumbags. Their imminent mission was a sequel to their disgruntlement with the police. After two of them apprehended youths selling meat, they eventually landed a suspect whom they handed over to the police, together with the meat. The next day they also unearthed the skin, which was given to the police as well. The suspect overnighted in police cells only for the police to dump him on the community the following day. The police shied away from responsibilities to further investigate the case on the villagers. Apparently they had another case to attend to. The villagers were left to their own devices. But the suspect was uncooperative and changed tunes mid-air. Initially he said the animal was killed in the bush, and then it was at the homestead, and then at his home. Once home, he completely denied knowing or having anything do with the killing of the animal. The suspect’s brother, armed with an assegai also confronted the villagers and released him. Only the civility of the villagers avoided a village civil war. It was back to square one. But reaching the police once again seemed like looking for a needle in a haystack. The police eventually showed up at the village at 17h00. Having agreed to meet at the police station to scrutinise the skin, the police once again proved evasive. The 30-minute drive to the police station took them three hours. Up until Cassinga Day, it had been a hide-and-seek affair between the police and the villagers. Thus the unearthing mission I witnessed on Cassinga Day was a sequel to the hide-and-seek. After a fruitless wait for the police, jam-loading a one-tonne pick-up, with me in their company, driven by journalistic nosiness plus of course a full comprehension of their frustrations, we headed for the bush, picking the suspect on the way. Like many previous attempts, the expedition proved futile. Meantime, the police had turned up at the village. Apparently, they only approached an elderly female villager about the case despite being well aware who the owner of the slaughtered cattle was. The elderly lady obviously answered in the negative because none of her cattle was missing, which was convenient for the police. For them, it was now case closed and back to their idling and joy rides with friends, concubines and what else. The villagers sought the intervention of a traditional councillor the following day. It meant yet another drive to the capital village. As I am writing this piece, the villagers haven’t had any feedback about the case, three months or so later. This case is only a foretaste of the frustrations residents of the Epukiro Constituency, if not of the whole Omaheke region, and hell knows what other regions, have been enduring courtesy of police actions, inactions, omissions. A well-known clergy in Windhoek who is a farmer at the village of Otjimanangombe in the same constituency, Seth Kaimu’s stock theft cases seem to be piling on top of one another. This year, three of his cattle were stolen. Already he has been sitting with two other unsolved cases, one dating back to 2002. In all cases, he testifies that the suspects are known and have been pointed out to the police. Yet nothing has been moving. He squarely points the finger to police befriending and conniving with the suspects. Another part-time farmer in Epukiro in the village of Kalkpan, Nelson Hauanga, and family were forced to effect a citizen’s arrest in Windhoek last year in connection with the theft of his cattle. Laying charges with the police proved a tall order. First his wife was told that the station was closed. Instead of impounding the cattle brought to the station, the officer on duty told the driver of the lorry that was hired to transport the cattle to instead take them back to the owner’s village. The next day the police never turned up at the village as promised. The owner had to travel all the way from Windhoek to Epukiro to lay the charge. Worse, he was forced to wait for the officer almost the whole day. When the officer showed up eventually, Hauanga was met with sheer arrogance and told to go back to his village. The police never showed up at his village on Saturday as they promised. The charge was only laid on the Sunday. More than a year later, this case remains unsolved. Hitherto, true to their law-abiding nature, farmers have been reluctant to resort to anything unlawful. But they are on tilting to the edge. In fact, one farmer last year resorted to the dreaded cattle theft vigilante group, Epango. What prevented the situation from exploding with the suspects also garnering support among fellow stock thieves is beyond comprehension. The two groups readied some wielding knobkerries, others unclogging their guns. Some other plaintiff farmers, ironically, are at the same time hiring legal representatives while they have State lawyers at their disposal. This only speaks of absolute desperation and total lack of confidence in the State justice machinery. What they may be contemplating next, nobody knows. Cries of exasperation have been coming from all corners of the country. “We are tired of stock theft and lawlessness and need to deal with them seriously,” the Chief of the //Hawoben in the Karas Region was quoted in the media last year, praying for the speedy implementation of community courts hoping this would help. No doubt a sign of lack of confidence in the relevant crime busting entities. In yet another media report, private investigator and a retired cop from the Aminuis Constituency, Major Kazerua, was last year quoted making reference to the inability of the police to take the necessary action against suspects, even when caught red-handed. There has been much hullabaloo about the severity of the Stock Theft Amendment Act. I must say as much as I have complete sympathy for the human rights of those who may be at the sharper end of this piece of legislation, I also dread the situation of our communal farmers trying to eke out a difficult existence in the face of the constant threat of stock theft. I don’t know to what extent our human rights activists are aware that few of the stock theft cases in our communal areas may never end up in court. But for now, these farmers have for long been crying. It is time the police shape up. And those paying the piper please hear this cry in the wilderness. That includes you, Mrs/Mr Human Rights activist.

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