POLICE have clamped down on a gang of rustlers linked to a stock theft syndicate that has plagued several villages in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
The remote areas of Nquthu and Kingley have been the hardest hit by cattle thieves in the past few months. Stock theft has been on the increase in the northern region for the past five years.
Newcastle police said yesterday that Mbhekiseni Mazibuko, 43, Mkhipheni Ndlovu, 36, Mbhekiseni Khumalo, 50, Thobani Mazibuko, 29, Celimpilo Khumalo, 50, and Nhlalonhle Nxumalo, 43, are linked to a series of stock theft cases in the area.
The men were linked to at least four cases where cattle were stolen, three cases from Nquthu and one from Kingsley.
"They have already appeared in court where heavy sentences were handed down. Ndlovu was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for stock theft in the Mphondi village area.
"He was the kingpin and mastermind in the disappearance of eight cattle that were stolen at the grazing veld a fortnight ago," said police spokesperson Shooz Magudulela.
Ndlovu's accomplice Khumalo was sentenced to two years in jail. Nxumalo and Mazibuko were charged for being in possession of an ox without permission.
Nxumalo, who was the driver, was given a R3000 fine or six months' imprisonment. The case was postponed to November 2 for further investigation.
Magudulela said police recovered 16 cows involved in all the cases. He said police had worked together in the different cases.
"We thank those police officers who were involved in making the arrests. This should send out a clear message that we do not tolerate the theft of livestock. The investigation continues and we expect to make more arrests," he said.
He urged livestock owners in the area to brand their animals in terms of the Animal Identification Act. Livestock owners who failed to brand their large stock, or tattoo their small stock, including pigs, were committing an offence, and could expect to be visited by livestock theft police officers.
"Owners can be fined for such failure. They should take care of their animals during the day. Livestock tends to stray this time of the year after green grass, especially next to public roads, and become easy targets," he said.