Four men appeared in an Eastern Cape court this week for allegedly stealing 23 head of cattle from gospel artist Butho Vuthela in Qumbu on Saturday.
The singer said villagers have raised fears of a well-organised stock thief syndicate, with links to neighbouring KwaZulu-Natal, apparently operating in their rural area.
Police spokesperson Captain Khaya Tonjeni confirmed the four men, aged between 30 and 32, were from KwaZulu-Natal.
He said they appeared in the Qumbu Magistrate’s Court on Monday and the case was postponed to 15 May for a formal bail application.
Tonjeni added visual policing unit members caught two of the men while they were loading the cattle onto a truck, while the other two were caught fleeing the scene in a spotter vehicle.
He said the police had to fire warning shots during the high-speed chase to stop the sedan and arrest the men.
The incident happened at Bajodini location which is 90km away from Vuthela’s Upper Ngxaxa home.
Tonjeni said 18 cattle belonging to the singer were recovered from the suspects, adding an Isuzu truck and Toyota Corolla sedan, believed to have been used as a spotter vehicle, were also impounded.
The accused were charged with unlawful possession of stolen stock.
“When the police approached this vehicle, the driver sped off. Backup was called from the detectives who assisted with the chase. Warning shots were fired in order to stop the vehicle and succeeded,” he added.
The cattle have been reunited with their owner after he produced positive identification and proof of ownership.
‘This is our gold. Farming is my bread and butter’
In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Vuthela called for more police visibility and asked for a construction of a police station in his village.
“The closest police stations to our village are Katkop which is 64km and Sulinkama which is 120km. We desperately need the government to hear our pleas. Upper Ngxaxa is divided into eight villages but has no police station.”
The musician told News24 he had lost 358 sheep between 2016 and 2019. He said thieves stole 104 sheep from him in 2016, 134 in 2017 and 119 in 2019.
“We are under siege. Too many families lose their livestock frequently. I can count more than 20 elderly villagers who have died from heart attacks, strokes and depression as a result of losing their only source of income – these cattle and sheep.
“This is our gold. Farming is my bread and butter ahead of my music career. Whatever I make from my music, I invest it in farming so that I can retire comfortably,” Vuthela said.