Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday News Reporter
VILLAGERS in Dongamuzi area under Chief Gumede in Lupane District have reportedly lost 132 cattle to alleged rustlers that have terrorised them over the past few months, reportedly resisting community interventions and sometimes openly defying law enforcement efforts to retrieve stolen livestock.
The theft of livestock, villagers allege, has occurred over a long time, with lawful efforts to bring the perpetrators to book ending in futility as the rustlers have reportedly devised ways, including violence, of evading justice.
Mr Maqeda Sibanda, a member of the Dongamuzi Community Farmers Association, a grouping of villagers that was formed to stem the loss of livestock in the area, narrated how he had lost 11 of his own beasts in 2019 and had since been trying to no avail to get them back.
The cattle have been allegedly seized by a notorious cattle rustler in the community who claims that they strayed onto his field.
“We lost 11 cattle, after a search we found them with a person who refused to release them because he said they had strayed onto his field. He said he wanted to be compensated US$100 before he could do so. At the time my father was not feeling well so all the money we had was going towards his treatment.
“When I raised the US$100, I went to the local leadership and we held a meeting. That is when we also found out that my neighbour had also lost six of his cattle to the same person. We were called in to testify as villagers and everyone recognised my neighbour’s cattle because of the brand. A docket was opened and the man was arrested.
However, we were told that a DNA test has to be done. So, as we wait for a DNA test, the cow is still in that man’s kraal. As for my cattle, I was told that they had since been lost despite the fact I know they are still there,” Mr Sibanda said.
Despite getting a court order to retrieve his livestock earlier this year, Mr Sibanda’s efforts were rebuffed after the rustlers, reportedly armed with weapons that included machetes and knobkerries, defied a Messenger of Court.
“I allocated them a police officer to clear the stock attached to the court order. However, they were not successful.
Can he be assisted as Mr Khumalo has indicated that he is not able to process up to the finality of the matter,” a letter issued on 15 October by the Lupane Magistrate Court reads. Further efforts had proved equally fruitless.
Mr Sibanda said while their records showed that 130 cattle had been lost, he said these were conservative estimates as most people were afraid to report to the police in fear of violent reprisals.
He said they had decided to become vocal again about a long-standing problem after seeing the success of operation
“Lets Fight Stock Thieves/Asilwiseni Amasela Ezifuyo” in Matabeleland South.
“As far as our figures show, we have lost 130 cattle and counting. In fact, we cannot be sure just how many we have lost because a lot of people are afraid to report in fear of victimisation.
When we say 43 people have lost cattle, I am talking about those that have reported their losses. Otherwise, some just stay quiet. We have two people that were beaten up badly after they reported two of their cattle missing. One old man called Dondolo was beaten to a pulp because he recognised that one cow in a notorious thief’s kraal belonged to him.
“We have a situation where thieves have been elevated to heroes in the community.
They are now treated like people who are great and the sad thing is, they have been doing it for so long that even their children have seen it as a way of life and have joined in. We have tried everything and we would like the Government to intervene because if it can be done for the people of Matabeleland South, why can’t it be done in Matabeleland North as well?” he said.
Mr Mbekezeli Moyo, who said he lost four beasts, said the thieves had a sophisticated modus operandi, taking advantage of village events to pillage people’s kraals in their absence.
“They usually take advantage of bereavements and other occasions that force us to leave our homes. That is when they strike. At this point I don’t know how we can be helped. We would really love to rear livestock and recently I brought two bulls and a cow but I’m doing all this while living in fear because I can lose it all at any time,” he said.
Ms Felistus Sibanda said she had lost as many as six cattle as a relative tasked with looking after her livestock connived with the rustlers.
“My problems started when my father passed away. The relative who was looking after 16 of my cattle started conniving with some people to sell off the cows. All in all, I lost six and I have reported the matter but now I wonder if I withdraw the case maybe I will get my cattle back.
The stories that I receive about the reasons for the loss of cattle are just bizarre. At one time, I was told that one had died, and when I asked how, I was told that it had hanged itself on a tree. Where have you ever heard of a cow hanging itself?” she said.
Matabeleland North police spokesperson Inspector Gloria Banda was unreachable for a comment.