RAIDING AND COMMUNITY CONFLICT IN THE LESOTHO-SOUTH AFRICA BORDER
Kynoch and Theresa Ulicki with Tsepang Cekwane, Booi Mohapi,
Mampolokeng Mohapi, Ntsoaki Phakisi and Palesa Seithleko
Southern African Migration Project
Migration Policy Series No. 21
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backwards and forwards across borders for work is often
considered to be the primary form of unauthorized movement in
Southern Africa. In southern Lesotho, a new and particularly
dangerous form of two-way cross-border movement has become
entrenched. This situation warrants the label crisis;
a crisis which is devastating parts of the countryside in both
Lesotho and the northern Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.
and official attention has focused on the extreme violence which
accompanies cross-border stock raiding. This paper seeks to
understand the social and economic roots and impacts of
cross-border stock theft. Such an analysis is a vital first-step
towards the resolution of the conflict since it shows not only
why the violence occurs but who stands to benefit from its
perpetuation. The analysis is also helpful to understanding the
extent to which the existence of an international border is
implicated in the cycle and counter-cycle of violence. This paper
concludes with an assessment of official reaction, or inaction,
on the crisis.
findings are based upon wide-ranging interviews with 147
respondents in 10 villages in southern Lesotho. A complementary
study is now recommended on the South African side of the border.
The stock theft epidemic is characterized by the following
- Although stock theft is not new to this border zone, it
became more widespread, organized and violent in the
1990s. Some 71% of the Basotho stockowners reported
having had stock stolen since 1990, many more than once.
Over 40% of nonstockowners say they are without animals
because of stock theft.
- Since 1990, 85% of stockowners in the border villages
have lost animals to thieves as compared with 49% from
non-border villages. Shepherds from border villages also
report a higher rate of victimisation (83%) than those
further removed from the border (50%).
- Most cattle and sheep are stolen from cattle posts where
they are guarded only by shepherds. Stock is also taken
from village kraals and, on occasion, whole villages have
been attacked and all the stock driven off. Villagers in
all ten villages rate stock theft as a serious problem.
- Stock thieves come from within Lesotho as well as across
the border in South Africa. Basotho stock thieves also
carry out raids in South Africa and vice-versa. Gun use
is widespread, although South African raiders seem to
have greater access to arms.
- Much of the theft appears to be coordinated by
well-organised criminal gangs but reliable information on
their composition and organization is difficult to
access. Criminal networks in Lesotho and South Africa
also cooperate to dispose of stolen animals in the
lowlands of Lesotho and as fat afield as Port Elizabeth,
Durban and Welkom.
- The upsurge in stock theft is clearly related to growing
poverty in the region. On both sides of the border, mine
retrenchments have hit hard, sending experienced miners
home and denying young men access to wage employment. Not
only has this exacerbated household and community
poverty, but it has provided willing foot-soldiers for
stock thieves. Stock raiding produces further
impoverishment, insecurity and suspicion, fuelling the
escalating cycle of theft and counter-theft.
- Though not itself in dispute or a source of conflict per
se, the Lesotho-South African border plays an essential
role in the organization and impact of stock theft. There
are significant differences in vulnerability and impact
between villages close to the border and those further
- The international border leads to a distinctive pattern
of stock theft. In the simplest scenario, raiders from
one side steal from border villages on the other and
vice-versa and drive the stock back over the border. The
situation becomes more problematic when Basotho stock
thieves use the border as a refuge, stealing from Basotho
and driving the animals across the border into South
Africa to sell or exchange with South African thieves.
- Cross-border counter-raids to retrieve lost stock and
revenge attacks are also common on both sides of the
border. South African victims then target Basotho border
villages for revenge raids, resulting in great tension
and friction between ordinary Basotho and South Africans.
- The only Lesotho village reporting harmonious
cross-border relations borders a white South African
farming area. However, white border farmers are not aloof
from the conflict. Lesotho police and villagers are
adamant that some white South African farmers are
implicated in cross-border theft.
- Stock raiding has major negative impacts on households,
communities and cross-border interaction. The impacts
also extend to the national economy. In Qachas Nek
and Quthing districts, production of wool and mohair has
fallen significantly in the last 5 years.
Livestock holdings have dropped and the numbers of
stockless households has increased.
- Farmers are reluctant to invest in breeding cattle as
households debate the merits of getting rid of their
cattle, One prominent stockowner recently lost M200,000
of stock. Stock theft has also had a deleterious effect
on agriculture, reducing the availability of oxen for
immune from small-scale and organized raiding. Stock theft,
coupled with decreasing agricultural production and increasing
unemployment, deepens poverty and desperation. At the household
and community level, the research found the following:
- Nearly 90% of respondents state their household economies
have been negatively affected by stock theft. A households
entire wealth and livelihood can be wiped out in one
- Escalating stock theft and related violence have profound
social consequences, bringing fear and insecurity to
ordinary people. People are abandoning their villages and
migrating to town and to South Africa to look for work.
- Community relations have become fraught with tension and
suspicion. Nearly half of all stockowners interviewed
suspect specific individuals within their own village are
involved in the theft of animals - acting either as
informants or actual thieves. Invariably it is the poor
who are fingered and stigmatised.
- Communal cooperation such as livestock loaning for
ploughing and mafisa (sharing of products) is in steep
decline, as are cultural activities and celebrations
which involve the slaughter of animals.
- Cross-border cooperation, activities and initiatives have
collapsed and there is considerable animosity and hatred
between the communities on either side of the border.
Even casual visiting and shopping have all but ceased.
efforts have involved some cross-border cooperation between
villages to apprehend thieves and return cattle but these efforts
are sporadic and make little dent on the problem. They often also
lead to vicious reprisals from stock-theft syndicates.
Vigilantism is on the rise in the face of widespread perceptions
that the police and the courts on both sides of the border are
either ineffectual or corrupt.
paper examines the inadequacies of the policing of the crisis,
highlighting the low rates of arrest and prosecution. The
difficulties of geography and inadequate resources which hamper
effective policing are highlighted. Only in areas where the army
is stationed or soldiers patrol the border has there been any
marked decrease in theft.
situation is bound to deteriorate further unless there is
effective national-level attention and intervention. The
low-level civil war in the nearby Tsolo district of South Africa
in 1997 was fuelled by a potent mix of poverty, mine
retrenchments and stock theft. This conflict could well pale in
comparison with the volatile situation building in the southern
Lesotho border zone. Here, the same combination of factors are
compounded by ethnic and national difference, and the strategic
manipulation of borders by stock thieves on both sides.
governments need to recognize that this local crisis could escalate
into a major conflagration and intervene to defuse the situation,
calm tensions and work towards effective policing and a political
solution. Within Lesotho, the passage of a new Stock Theft Act
promises heavy penalties for the shadowy figures involved in
organized raiding, provided they can be caught. The institution
of a national stock register also seems a step in the right
direction though its likely effectiveness is debated.
the Lesotho and South African governments should acknowledge that
a crisis situation exists and that this is a regional problem.
Only when national governments, working together with local stakeholders,
take the problem seriously and begin cooperating can workable
initiatives to halt this devastating social and economic plague