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Stock Theft

The Eastern Cape Frontier wars, which lasted nearly a century, had a lot to do with the northwards expansion of the Trekboers and the British, that much is generally accepted. In the process, cattle theft was the order of the day, it seemed, with the Boers, the Brits, the Xhosa and the Khoisan all helping themselves to each other’s livestock, whether out of need, greed or retribution. Who stole the first cow is anyone’s guess. We just know that all parties claimed innocence, and pointed fingers – and rifles and assegais as well.

What is on record is that, on one occasion, Boer farmers in one district reported a complaint of 65 327 cattle as having been stolen by Xhosa raiders. The problem was that this was an amount eight times greater than all the cattle they had declared for tax purposes.1

Anyway, stock theft is taken seriously, as the Stock Theft Act 19592 shows. Administered by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, it is replete with penal provisions. ‘Stock’, by the way, is considered to be any horse, mule, ass, bull, cow, ox, heifer, calf, sheep, goat, pig, poultry, domesticated ostrich, domesticated game or the carcass or portion of the carcass of any such stock.3 ‘Produce’ means skins, hides, horns of stock and any wool, mohair or ostrich feathers.

A. Possession

  1. Any person who is found in possession of stock or produce commits an offence if there is a reasonable suspicion that it has been stolen, and he is unable to give a satisfactory account of such possession.4

  2. If you acquire or receive into your possession stock or produce which had been stolen, and you have no reasonable cause for believing that it is the property of the person from whom you acquire or receive it,5 you commit an offence.6

  3. If you (even as an auctioneer, agent or market master, for the purpose of sale) acquire or receive into your possession any stock or produce from any person who has no known place of residence you commit an offence if you do not obtain (at the time of delivery) a certificate from him – or produce one to him – which is not older than 30 days, giving a description of the stock or produce and certifying that such person is entitled to dispose of or deal with such stock or produce.7 8

  4. If you have obtained such a certificate, you must retain it in your possession for a period of at least one year,9 and commit an offence by failing to do so.

  5. Any person may demand an inspection of such certificate. It is an offence if you do not produce it for inspection.10

B. Entering with intent to steal

  1. If you enter any fenced-off land, or any kraal or other walled place, with intent to steal any stock or produce you commit an offence.11 12

C. Stock sales

  1. Any person (including any auctioneer, agent or market master) who sells, barters, gives, or in any other manner disposes of any stock shall, at the time of delivery, furnish to the acquirer a document with specified particulars.13 If he fails to do so, he commits a criminal offence.14

  2. It is a crime to take delivery of stock without obtaining this document at the time of delivery.15

  3. It is also an offence not to retain the document for a period of at least one year.16

  4. Any person may, during that year after the acquisition, demand an inspection of the document. It is a crime if you fail to produce it for inspection to the person making the demand.17

D. Stock or produce on public roads and removal certificates

  1. If you drive, convey or transport any stock or produce, of which you are not the owner, on or along any public road, you must have in your possession a ‘removal certificate’.18 This is issued by the owner or his duly authorised agent,19 and it is an offence not to be in possession of such a certificate.20

  2. It is a crime to cause or permit any stock or produce of which you are the owner to be driven, conveyed or transported by any other person on or along any public road without furnishing him with a removal certificate.21

  3. Any justice of the peace, policeman, or owner, lessee or occupier of land may demand from any person who is required to have in his possession a removal certificate, an inspection of such certificate. It is an offence if, upon such demand, you fail to produce it for inspection.22

  4. No person who is (or was) employed by an owner or occupier of any land shall remove any stock or produce unless he is in possession of a document furnished by the owner or occupier (or their agent), or a policeman, dated not more than seven days before the removal, giving a description of such stock or produce and certifying that, to the best knowledge and belief of the person furnishing the document, he is entitled to remove such stock or produce on the said date. It is a crime to do otherwise.23

  5. If any employee (past or current) is in possession of stock or produce which he desires to remove from land, the owner or occupier of the land (or their agent) shall, when requested, furnish him with a removal document and commits an offence by failing to do so.24

  6. Any person who has obtained such a document shall retain it in his possession for a period of at least one year,25 and any justice of the peace, policeman, or owner, lessee or occupier of land may within that period demand an inspection of such document. It is an offence to fail to produce it for inspection to the person making the demand.26

  7. Any person who wilfully makes any false statement in a removal certificate or document commits an offence.27

  8. Any person who falsely declares that he is the owner of stock or produce which is being driven, conveyed or transported by him on or along any public road shall be guilty of an offence.28

  1. Any person who, without probable cause, arrests any other person or effects any search, purporting to be acting under the Act, commits an offence.29
  1. Norman Etherington, The Great Treks: The Transformation of Southern Africa 1815 – 1854 (Routledge) 2013, at page 61. The author attributes the report to Ben Maclennan A Proper Degree of Terror : John Graham and the Cape’s Eastern Frontier. (Johannesburg, 1986) at page 70. 

  2. As amended, the latest amended is effected by Act 55 of 2002. 

  3. See the definition in section 1 of the Act. 

  4. Section 2. 

  5. Or that such person has been duly authorised by the owner thereof to dispose of it. 

  6. Section 3(1). 

  7. That certificate must be from the person’s employer, chief, headman, subheadman or deputy; a justice of the peace; or a policeman of or above the rank of sergeant; or a dipping foreman; or a stock inspector; or two residents of substantial means of the neighbourhood in which the transaction takes place; or the person from whom such person purchased or acquired such stock or produce. 

  8. Section 7(1). 

  9. Section 7(2) read with section 7(4). 

  10. Section 7(3) read with section 7(4). 

  11. In other words, even if you don’t actually steal anything. The crime is entering the place with intent to steal. 

  12. Section 4(1). 

  13. These are: his full name and address; if the stock belonged to some other person, also the name and address of such other person; particulars in regard to such stock as may be required by regulation; the full name and address of the purchaser; the date of disposal; and certifying that such stock is his property or that he is duly authorised by the owner thereof to deal with or dispose of it. 

  14. Section 6(1) read with section 6(5). 

  15. Section 6(2) read with section 6(5). 

  16. Section 6(3) read with section 6(5). 

  17. Section 6(4) read with section 6(5). 

  18. This does not apply where the road traverses land which belongs to or is occupied by the owner or agent. 

  19. The removal certificate must state: the name and address of the person who issued the certificate; the name and address of the owner of such stock or produce; such particulars as may be prescribed by registration; the place from which, and the place to which the stock or produce is being driven, conveyed or transported; the name of the driver, conveyer or transporter; the date of issue of the certificate; and if applicable, the registration number, model and make of the vehicle. See Section 8(1) of the Act. 

  20. Section 8(1). 

  21. Section 8(2). 

  22. Section 8(3) read with section 8(8). 

  23. Section 8(4). 

  24. Section 8(5). 

  25. Section 8(6). 

  26. Section 8(7) read with section 8(8). 

  27. Section 8(8)(c). 

  28. Section 8(8)(d). 

  29. Section 10(1).