Cross-border raiding and community conflict in the Lesotho-South Africa border zone

Cross-border raiding and community conflict in the Lesotho-South Africa border zone

Lesotho and South African governments must acknowledge the crisis situation to avert major conflict

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.

Findings based upon wide-ranging interviews with respondents in villages in southern Lesotho include 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
  • Since 1990, 85% of stockowners in the border villages have lost animals to thieves as compared with 49% from non-border villages
  • stock thieves come from within Lesotho as well as across the border in South Africa. 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
  • the upsurge in stock theft is clearly related to growing poverty in the region
  • 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
  • stock raiding has major negative impacts on households, com-munities and cross-border interaction
  • farmers are reluctant to invest in breeding cattle as households debate the merits of getting rid of their cattle.
  • stock theft has also had a deleterious effect on agriculture, reducing the availability of oxen for ploughing fields
  • escalating insecurity is leading people to migrate to urban areas
  • cross-border cooperation, activities and initiatives have collapsed and there is considerable animosity and hatred between the communities on either side of the border

The paper concludes that both 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. While it is clear that the only long-term solution is a reduction in poverty, the paper makes suggestions which focus on immediate measures designed to improve the situation.

An executive summary of this paper is also available.

  1. How good is this research?

    Assessing the quality of research can be a tricky business. This blog from our editor offers some tools and tips.