Yes, it’s a queer thing about wanting to get into history. Take the case of Manie Kruger, for instance. Manie Kruger was one of the best farmers in the Marico. He knew just how much peach brandy to pour out for the tax collector to make sure that he would nod dreamily at everything that Manie said. And at a time of drought, Manie Kruger could run to the Government for help much quicker than any man I know.
- From “The Music Maker” by Herman Charles Bosman, 1935
South African author Herman Charles Bosman immortalized the Marico district in what is now called the North West Province. In his day, life was simpler and Bosman’s whimsical tales of the people of that part of the world are all the more evocative when one considers what is taking place on a daily basis to farmers in this special and beloved part of South Africa. A member of organized agriculture in the district recently sent out a questionnaire to local farmers regarding their problems with crime, land claims and other matters. What came back was astonishing – there were few if any who could say they were not living under serious duress. Some situations were so bad, farmers had abandoned their properties. Others were living on their nerves, frustrated with what they were seeing around them and unable to do anything about it.
The land reform and restitution process plays out in North West as it does in the other South African provinces. We were regaled with the same tales of stock and crop theft, intimidation, vandalism and even murder. The map of North West land claims as at December 1998 is quite an eye opener. More than half this provincial map is blanketed with dots. One of the more controversial land claims in the province is that of Putfontein. With land restitution, the state has three options in the event of a successful land claim. The claim can be settled as follows:
• The return to the claimant of the specific land in respect of which a claim was lodged;
• Other land may be made available to the claimant; or
• Compensation may be granted to the claimant for the loss that was suffered.
If the State grants financial compensation, this is paid from the Treasury. The third party is the landowner. He plays no part in the action but is merely an interested party. But if the landowner is affected insofar as the claimants want his land, he becomes involved in the claim and must pay his own legal costs. It is not possible for him to obtain an order for costs against one of the other parties. If the restitution claim goes to court, the court must decide in what way the claimant will be compensated, i.e., in which of the above three ways.
Section 2.2 of the Restitution Act says that if the claimant had previously (at the time of his removal) received compensation, he or she may not apply again. (Italics ours). Many claimants in terms of the Restitution Act have in fact received compensation, yet they lodge claims all the same. Most claims are lodged in respect of specific land to which claimants want to return, irrespective of whether other land or compensation had been granted in the past.
Should the State wish to return the specific land to the claimant, and the present landowner must be evicted, the claimant must give up the existing land that was given to him before occupying the new land. This latter point is often ignored, and everything possible is done to return the original land to the claimant, whether they vacate their compensatory land or not.
Up to September 2001, for example, seventeen such claims had already been settled countrywide. Not one of the cases where land was returned resulted in successful agricultural production. Virtually all have resulted in failed settlements.
As mentioned, a perfect example of this anomaly is Putfontein, near Coligny in the North West. The claim took six years from the time the claim was approved to the time the farmer was paid out. It should be noted that as soon as a claim is approved, a farmer’s security is affected: all production aid and financing are suspended. This places the landowner under enormous financial pressure. The community which claimed Putfontein had already received ample reparation at the time of their previous dispossession, in the form of compensatory land and monetary compensation. The land they were living on at the time they made the claim against Putfontein possessed a good infrastructure. Yet the 6613 ha farm Putfontein was bought out for R13 million and given to the claiming community. Now this community owns Putfontein and the compensatory land they were originally given. They have in other words received double compensation.
Only a quarter of the original community came back to live at Putfontein, which had excellent irrigation and boreholes. Now nothing is happening at Putfontein, just subsistence farming and squatting. Some parts of the farm are being hired out to white farmers because the claimants cannot farm. They steal from their neighbours – cattle and grain - which they sell because they cannot make a living on the farm.. There is no electricity, no fencing, and the boreholes are not working. The original Putfontein farm was highly successful, cultivating mealies and peanuts. There was an excellent beef herd with a dairy, plus successful sheep farming. One of the farmers said he spent a lifetime and thousands of rands nourishing the soil on his farm, On his particular 372 ha farm (there were seven farms on the original Putfontein), only six people are now living. The rest stayed in their old homes.
Previously, Putfontein created a combined income of R7 million a year, on which taxes were paid. Now there is nothing, and R13 million of taxpayer’s money is down the drain. The claimants now own two excellent pieces of farm land in the North West Province which produce absolutely nothing. At a handing-over ceremony in the year 2000, Land Affairs Minister Thoko Didiza urged the Batloung tribe to keep to their promise on land utilization. “It is important that this land be put to production instead of being turned into a squatter camp. You should not fail us. After a year I will visit this place and I want to find it in its current state or better”. (1)
We are not sure if she did visit Putfontein after a year, but after three years nothing is happening on the 372ha portion, where only six people are now living.
These questionnaires mentioned above were divided into sections which were to be answered - the ESTA legislation, the undermining of land rights by crime and intimidation, black empowerment land transfers, injudicious or ill-considered land reform, and willing seller, willing buyer (black farmers) transactions. (The ESTA legislation – the Extension of Security of Tenure (Occupiers) Act 62 of 1997- became law on 28 November 1997 and affords all persons who are not labor tenants (and a few exceptions pertaining to persons using land for commercial purposes and having a certain level of income) security of residence from 4 February 1997 on property they occupy which belongs to another person. This right is also applicable to persons who occupy such property (whether as tenants or not) with the permission of the owner, and to persons in charge of the property (thus obviously not squatters). The Act gives these occupiers the life-long right to occupy land which is not theirs.
The object of the Act is to protect people who are faced with eviction or who want to strengthen the newly-defined “rights” of occupiers of property. In a nutshell, this Act gives persons occupying rural or peri-urban land, with the consent of the owner or person in charge, a right of residence that can only be terminated in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The Act further regulates the day to day relationship between owners, persons in charge and persons who occupy the owner’s land. The Act is enforceable through the magistrates’ courts, the Land Claims court and, in certain instances, the provincial high courts. Occupiers may therefore obtain security of tenure on someone else’s land at the expense of the owner and/or at cost to the taxpayer.
Chapter III of the Act covers the “fundamental rights” of occupiers. The language of the Act is seen to favor the occupiers. The use of the word “fundamental” implies that the occupier has basic rights to occupy land which is not his. Thus those who wrote this law have decreed that occupying someone else’s land (even though with the consent, tacit or not, of the owner) conveys on the occupier a fundamental and even an inalienable right. Surely this is a first in the world!
An occupier’s right of residence can only be terminated if such termination is “just and equitable”. Further, the courts will not grant an eviction order unless the owner makes alternative accommodation available – Chapter IV, Section 9. What represents “suitable” accommodation is also set down in the Act, and in most cases the farmer is unable to find this “suitable” accommodation and he simply buys a piece of ground somewhere else and gives the occupier building materials with which to build a house.
Another problem inherent in evictions is that the farmer must be subjected to a departmental investigation as to whether an eviction “will affect the constitutional rights of any affected person, including the rights of children, if any, to education”. (Section 9, Clause (3) (b). This Act’s raison d’etre is to facilitate long-term security of land tenure to a person who has resided on land as an occupier (even if he has not worked or does not work for the person who owns the land). The Act makes it extremely difficult to evict an occupier. The Act states unequivocally that this “situation” (where someone occupies land which is not his) is “in part the result of past discriminatory laws and practices”. This seems to refer to the fact that South African commercial farmers of European descent have “caused” the homelessness and rootlessness of many indigenous peoples and that this “past practice” gives those now without land a “right” to occupy land not theirs.
Another factor to be considered is the security risk involved in evicting occupiers. In some instances, occupiers threaten the farmer with violence, or the farmer learns through the grapevine that he would be ill-advised to evict an occupier. For the sake of his family’s security, he leaves the occupier and family where they are. The Act has come in for some criticism in the courts. In October 2000, Deputy Judge President of the Witwatersrand High Court Hermanus Flemming declared that the Act was unconstitutional. “Allowing people to choose to stay at another’s property whenever they choose and simply because they so choose, at the expense of others’ lawful rights, is clearly not land reform.” (2)
Thus the South African farmers, in not mechanizing and being consistently encouraged to adopt a labour-intensive farming operation to absorb South Africa’s huge mass of unemployables, is now penalized for his actions. Occupiers are referred to as “vulnerable” in the preamble to the Act. The wording throughout the Act gives the impression that the farmer would, if he could, exploit the occupier who is posed as something of a victim. The reality is that the South African farmer who has farmed labor-intensively instead of capital-intensively as a result of demographics, is now the victim of his benevolence, unlike his contemporaries throughout the Western world.).
As well as details of one’s farm, the questionnaire solicited comments on crime, the environment, whether the police were involved in solving crime, and a section called “details”. The devil is in the details in this instance! It was under “details” that the real story of the North West’s turmoil was revealed. Mrs. Louise Viljoen (not her real name) is the owner of a North West farm. In October 2000, her husband was murdered in his study by five young black men. They took nothing. The five men were from Alexandra Township, near Sandton in Gauteng. (Mrs. Viljoen believes the killers were especially brought in for the job). They cut the telephone lines and looked for her to attack as well, but she managed to escape. They knew the house’s layout well.
One of the five had lived on her property, without her permission, for a month before the killing. Two months before her husband died, this young man visited her husband saying he was the local secretary of the ANC and that he represented the farm workers. He sat in their living room and her husband gave him tea, drove him to the nearest town after their meeting and paid for his taxi fare back to Johannesburg. He told her husband his workers “hated” him. Mrs. Viljoen tried to remove some antagonistic former workers from her farm. She paid them off and even offered to build dwellings in town for them, but they wouldn’t budge. They informed her the houses on the farm which her husband built “belong to the state”.
Before her husband died, he received phone calls at night where nothing was said but there was clearly someone on the line. After he died, an ANC councilor from the Klerksdorp municipality informed Mrs. Viljoen that she must now allow the people working on her farm to have her farm. In answer to our question – was there a connection between the murderers and the ANC, she replied: “Definitely. The police checked the telephone number one of them gave my husband – it was the ANC’s Shell House number. The ANC then informed the police they were no longer in Shell House and that they did not know that person”. (We print both Mrs. Viljoen’s statement and the ANC’s reply.)
The Department of Land Affairs continues to ask Mrs. Viljoen if she wants to sell her farm. She continues to refuse, because the farm was built up for her children’s inheritance, she says. Then she was told she would have to give a piece of land “as a donation”. Intimidation increased. She then received a letter dated 10 September 2003 from “Scorpion Legal Protection (Pty) Ltd.” acting on behalf of “Our clients: your employees – water and electricity ” (which was the heading of the letter).
The letter said Scorpion’s clients advise “that their water and electricity have been cut without any valid reason. According to the Tenure Act of 1997, Chapters 3, 5 and 6, our clients should enjoy their privileges.” The letter was signed by Mr. T.J. Gaanakgomo. Eighty hectares of her grazing land was set on fire in 2003. Mrs. Viljoen’s son saw men in a car who set fire to the ground, and gave the police the registration number but the police appear to have done nothing with this information. Her 700 ha farm is typical of a good commercial farm in the area, producing mealies and sunflowers, and an excellent Angus stud herd. Since her husband was murdered, she left the farm and members of her family stay there. They have dropped the crop farming and now only farm with the Angus herd.
She experiences endless trouble with people who occupy her worker’s houses and won’t get out. They throw stones at the people who run her farm and squat outside her farmhouse front gate, making it difficult for the farmhouse’s occupants to come and go. There is much antagonism and continual belligerence, and she feels this is part of the program to move her and her family off the farm, to make it so unpleasant that they will give up and go. Her own farm workers must be fetched from neighbouring farms every day and taken back. There are always confrontations, she reports. At one stage she had to bring in the SA National Defence Force to remove the workers’ cattle off her farm. These workers nearly killed the SANDF personnel. Recently, expensive bull semen was stolen and the thieves broke her fence.
She confirms the Department of Land Affairs continues to pressure her to allow people to farm on her land. She told us a black man phoned her one day and said “they” are going to shoot two of her workers. As in so many other crime cases in South Africa, friends or relatives of a crime victim find it unfathomable why that particular person was chosen. “My husband was such a kind person. He was always the one at meetings who said we must negotiate with the black people. He wanted to help them: he believed in training. He went out of his way to help the black people, he always wanted to have good relationships”.
Farmer Gert Pretorius, Lichtenburg
Under the questionnaire section “Details” (Omstandighede is the word used in Afrikaans. The literal translation is “circumstances”), Mr. Gert Pretorius’ “details” were as follows: “Twelve farm workers have occupied his workers’ houses for the past three years under the protection of the ESTA legislation. (See an explanation of ESTA under the Putfontein story.) As a result, Mr. Pretorius must fetch and return his own workers on a daily basis from Lichtenburg. Theft is a serious problem on the farm, and there is a severe security problem. We spoke to Mr. Pretorius. He has two farms and these workers who were fired years ago are still on his farms. The police informed him he must supply these workers with water. These “ex-worker/occupants” steal his maize and slaughter his cattle. They steal the calves and slaughter them in his sheds and then leave the residual flesh there to rot.. They only consume around 20% to 30% of the meat. His staff must clean up after these “occupants”.
Mr. Pretorius cannot catch them at this slaughter. If he turns the lights off in the sheds, they slaughter at night. They intimidate anyone he puts in the sheds to keep watch. He cannot leave anything unlocked, even if it is used regularly. He caught someone stealing his maize and took him to the police station. The man told the police he brought the maize from his own place.
At the police station he – Mr. Pretorius – was accused of wrongful arrest of a citizen. He then had to pay the transport of the thief who stole his maize. In order to get rid of the “occupants” of his workers’ houses, he must supply them with homes. The Department of Land Affairs told him they must approve the homes. It would cost him between R100 000 and R200 000 to build them, he states, and he doesn’t have the money.
Farmer Jannie Bezuidenhout (not his real name)
His “details” section of the questionnaire says it all! “Here is a typical ESTA case”, says the report. Mr. Bezuidenhout bought the farm, and the former owner’s workers and their families (around 50 people) stayed on. Mr. Bezuidenhout had lived in town for many years and knew nothing about the ESTA legal provisions. He encountered his first problem when he brought his own workers on to the farm. They were chased out and some were assaulted. Mr. Bezuidenhout himself was taken prisoner by the “occupiers”. A fire was made around him and these squatters commenced toyi-toyi-ing around him. He luckily used his cell phone to call the police who came and rescued him.
What is interesting about this intimidation of the farm owner by these “occupants” is how the intimidation is structured. Banners were wielded (how can the people afford banners who need to steal maize to live?). It was clear to Mr. Bezuidenhout that political activists were behind the threats and terror. This particular farmer had to receive psychological counseling, and was severely traumatized. He is afraid for his life on the farm. To try and salvage the situation, he has consulted attorneys about what to do. In the meantime, these attorneys received a letter from the Department of Land Affairs making an informal offer for the farm. They have claimed it on behalf of the very workers who terrorized Mr. Bezuidenhout.
He told us that the farm, a productive operation of around 400 ha cultivating crops and rearing cattle, was in white hands since 1902. The ground was never tribal ground so the claim is not a restitution claim but a “handover” according to local observers. A neighbour asks: is this now the modus operandi of the Department of Land Affairs and/or their proxies, to terrorize someone until he can’t stand it any more and gives in? This happens all over the country, and a pattern has definitely manifested itself.
Mr. Johan Botha (not his real name)
“I really don’t know what to do. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. We are criticized whatever we do”. Thus spoke Mr. Botha after two and half years of exasperation, frustration and defeat at the hands of a worker who simply refused to move despite being fired. That one man could cause so much trouble is astounding. Only in South Africa! The Botha family has farmed near Potchefstroom for fifteen years on 1 000 ha. They farmed cattle and had a small dairy. One worker made their lives a misery: he was a regular drunkard, abusive and violent. He was fired by Mr. Botha and paid out, but he would not move. He and two other workers took the farm car one day and crashed it. The worker was hospitalized, and the farmer paid R20 000 for repairs to the car.
He felt sorry for the worker. He gave the family food and money. He tried to obtain a social pension for the worker, but the man’s wife harassed the family for a long period of time.
This is a small example of the pitfalls of ESTA. Even when a worker is a threat to one’s safety and livelihood, you cannot get rid of him. Many workers have abused this law. Was this the goal of the legislation, that farmers would be at the mercy of people who are not only of no use to the farm operation but who are a danger to the whole farming venture?
There are scores of names on the questionnaire and their stories are quite similar. Under the section “Undermining of ground rights through intimidation and crime”, numerous names appear. A serious problem in this regard is the proliferation of squatter camps in their midst.
A farm is handed over and is ruined, but the damage doesn’t stop there. Surrounding farms suffer because of environmental problems (no water, electricity, or rubbish and sewage removal), crime, broken fences and the theft of cattle, and the lowering of farm values in the market.
Some of this section’s stories
The DLA bought the farm next to mine, he said. No impact study was completed. There is very little water – the boreholes are dry. There are no roads, no sanitation, no rubbish removal.
Houses were built but they were constructed in a low-lying pan and when it rains, they are flooded out. Seventy families complained to the Department of Land Affairs that the surrounding farmers “tried to get rid of them”. “They steal from us and they affect all the farms around them. They live from what the old pensioners receive each month. They regularly throw stones at farmers passing in cars. There is drinking and crime within the community, and their cattle are diseased. More than R800 a hectare was paid for this farm.”
He refers to another farm nearby, recently transferred to fifty five families, a 300 ha property with irrigation. Nobody from the DLA came to the surrounding farmers to discuss the environmental impact of possible squatting on the farm, or whether the farmers could help in any way (which they were prepared to do). Again, no impact study was completed. Surrounding farmers give the new residents water because pumps are broken. Now the municipality has to deliver regular water to the new owners at the rate of 20 litres per house per day, by water tank. “You cannot wash with 20 litres”, says Mr. Malan.
The case of Mr. P.J. Meyer
This farmer abandoned his Hartbeesfontein farm two years ago. It produced beef and had excellent grazing, with a good strong water supply and some boreholes. Mr. Meyer’s problem was the positioning of his farm – it was near a location. (A neighbour told us that in South Africa, the closer to a location or a tribal rural area, the greater the crime. This doesn’t say much for the people in those areas, he says wryly.) Farmer Meyer’s cattle were stolen and slaughtered, and his fencing was stolen. His trees were cut down and burnt for firewood. The water pumps were stolen, the cattle pens were stripped. Despite abandoning the farm, he still had to pay tax on the land because it was shown on his balance sheet as an “asset”.
The thieves broke his cement dam and the wind pumps. They stole the pipes from the boreholes and removed every piece of equipment on the farm. He sees this as unambiguous intimidation, and this is why he eventually abandoned the farm. His family was threatened and told “not to come back”. Nearby black farmers are also robbed of their crops, said one of Meyer’s neighbours. Many really tried but the crime was too much for them. They have the same problem as the white farmers. There is no law and order, they say. There’s no prosecution of the criminals. The police are simply incapable of handling the problems. Foreign cattle are allowed to roam through private property and when property owners go to court to try and remove the cattle, the court is told the miscreants did not know it was private property. Sometimes the sentence is 30 days, and we have to spend time in court, said Mr. Meyer. Then the criminals are out the next day.
Mr. J.J. Coetzee (not his real name) farms near Delareyville. He loses four to six head of cattle a week, while his sheep losses were seven to eight a day until he gave up sheep farming altogether. His farm is unfortunately near a squatter camp, and his fate was sealed because of this condition. Neighbouring white farmers sold out to black farmers who then “farmed” with squatters. Shops on these “squatter” farms were closed, and the NoordWes grain silo wants to close down because of the conditions of the roads on which they transport the grain. Mr. Coetzee says big farmers don’t support these silos any more because the roads are in such a state of repair they damage the lorries. Some of the roads have gone from tar to dirt.
Roads in the North West are collapsing. Some main roads in Malopo have deteriorated to the point where it is feared long stretches are already beyond repair.(2) Private transport companies refuse to enter the area to transport cattle to the market, and farmers are now forced to buy their own cattle trucks. Mr. Giel Theron, chairperson of the Molopo West Agricultural Union, says various discussions with the North West provincial administration have been fruitless. The roads department has only three bulldozers to cover 2 000 km. Cattle farmers in the surrounding area say the rot set in two years ago when all planning seemed to go to pieces. Farmers have planted sticks to warn motorists of unsuspected dongas and potholes. Cattle trucks often get stuck in the loose sand, contributing to the time and cost of transportation to the market. The nearby squatter camp residents steal Mr. Coetzee’s electricity cables and illegally connect their houses. When it rains everything is shorted. The power is out sometimes three to four hours at a time. Mr. Coetzee says it is a waste of time to complain to Eskom.
The squatters cut down the farmer’s bluegum plantation – they cut the trees at night, as well as some of his indigenous trees. He loses around R 1 200 per year because of the theft of petrol and fertilizer, and loses R6 000 to R8 000 in stolen green mealies (corn) and R4 000 to R6000 in ordinary mealies each year. These mealies are then sold at markets and pension pay-out points. According to him, you can write off up to 10% of your mealie harvest per annum because of this type of theft.
Farmer Coetzee has approached the Department of Land Affairs to buy his farm. His neighbour’s farm was sold to the DLA for R2 000 per ha. The DLA unofficially offered him R1 800 per ha, but he tells us he’ll now sell for as little as R1 000 per ha just to get out. They steal his diesel in 20 litre cans. The can is worth R100 but they sell it for R20 a can in the squatter camp. His own workers and the neighbouring squatters work together. He sees his agricultural environment turning into one big squatter camp, “what happened when the whites left Bophuthatswana”. Prestigious buildings built during the homeland era have been vandalized. The boreholes are plugged with stones. The people are living in dams there. They have broken the dam walls and put corrugated iron roofing on the dam. Seven black farmers who took over an area after the homeland was abolished have been reduced to three now. They also suffer from theft.
“There is great potential if people want to work”, says Mr. Coetzee. “They prefer stealing to working, and I cannot live in such an environment. But where will I get work?” he asks.
On the same list are the Viljoens, the Pretorius’s and the Oosthuizens (not their real names). All their complaints are similar. They farm near Sannieshof and Fochville. Crop and stock theft, stock gates opened at night, high unemployment surrounding their farms. All of these farms were family farms. The Oosthuizens farmed in the area from 1908. Their 4 500 ha family farm was productive in beef and grain.
Black families were given R15 000 each under the old “Derek Hanekom scheme” as it is called by local farmers, and nearby farms were purchased. Now they are squatter camps feeding off productive farms nearby. (Where is Mr. Hanekom now? Has he visited these areas?)
The squatters steal anything they can lay their hands on – copper valves, steel gates, even the feeding troughs. The police caught some of them red-handed and they were charged but given bail. They stole again, were caught, charged and given bail again. Out for the second time, they stole again, were caught, charged, and given bail for a third time. The police tell the farmers confidentially that some courts ruin their policing by letting the criminals off. The police are discouraged. Who wouldn’t be?
The Pretorius family abandoned their farm in August 2003. Everything was stolen. Members of the family were threatened with death. Eight percent of their harvest of 60/80 tons of grain was stolen. The local municipality bought the neighbouring farm for a black empowerment group. It is now a basic, subsistence operation. The farm is full of weeds, and there is no labour evident. The new empowerment farmer says he can’t afford to pay labour. Mr. Pretorius made an interesting comment to us – “despite the failures”, he says, “they (the Department of Land Affairs) do not stop with their hopeless policy. They simply make things worse. They don’t learn from their mistakes. Maybe they think next time they’ll be lucky!”
Farmer T. Viljoen placed costly electric fencing around his 1250 ha Lichtenburg farm. He has already asked the Department of Land Affairs to buy his land. He tells us of a neighbouring farm which was bought for a black empowerment group for R1 million. Six hundred hectares in size, it had a flourishing dairy and beef herd and excellent water. Today nothing is happening at that farm. There are no implements, no tractors. Sixty or seventy families occupy the farm and they have no income. Mr. Viljoen promised the DLA in Lichtenburg he would help these new black neighbours - the DLA just had to tell him what to do. The department never came back to him.
As for the old Bophuthatswana tribal land into which so much money was pumped in the old National Party days, blacks do not farm there anymore and whites are renting some of the farmland.
His brother Hennie Viljoen farms at Sannieshof, on 800 ha. His fencing has been cut and he is robbed on average of R30 000 worth of grain per annum. The thieves rode his prize horse around the property looking for what they could steal, and then stole the horse! He says some neighbouring black farmers who are trying to make a go of it are also stolen blind. And so the list goes on. There are scores more names, with the same complaints. One particular story caught our attention. A 700 ha insolvent chicken farm outside Lichtenburg was bought by the Department of Land Affairs (DLA) in May 2003. Five ANC youth members formed a Community Property Association (CPA) and the farm was given to them.
The road to the property was rebuilt, the farm buildings were spruced up and the house was painted and refurbished. There was a spirited handover ceremony attended by at least 500 people. Two air force helicopters were used to bring in dignitaries, and many policemen attended the ceremony. One hundred and twenty cows were given to the youth as a kick-off present from the government. We believe the young men are looking for funding to salvage this operation which is not running well.
Mr. Danie Oosthuizen sold his property at Schuinsdrift to the DLA two years ago. It was given to 31 families. There were six farms altogether, 3 000 ha in all. The Oosthuizens cultivated mixed crops – tobacco and maize – and ran a dairy herd. The water supply was good, with boreholes and irrigation canals from the Marico Dam 10 km away, previously constructed under a state water scheme. The total amount paid by the government for these farms was R7 million.
The new owners divided the irrigated sections of the farm into 10 ha plots. Today nothing is happening on that farm. There was no business plan. Various organizations tried to help. The surrounding farmers and Mr. Oosthuizen himself wanted the new owners to succeed.
There was an excellent chicken farm on the premises, and Eskom offered electricity so the owners could obtain a contract with Rainbow Chicken. But there was no management or planning from the government’s side. “The extension officers were not up to standard”, said the farmer. “In the old days, extension officers were qualified specialists. This is not the case today”.
The farm was eventually over-grazed and has turned in parts to bushveld. It was reported that the tribal leader who headed the community ran off with the operating capital.
The following stories are of special interest for the specific detail which emerged in the telling.
Mr. Van Vreden of Leeukuil
Ben van Vreden, formerly of the farm Leeukuil in the Devondale district, is Secretary of the Broedersput Boerevereniging (the Broedersput Farmers Union). He sent us copious correspondence criticising the government’s land reform policy. He has written to organized agriculture repeatedly complaining about the desecration of the neighbouring agricultural environment by new farm “restitution/redistribution” owners, and their atrocious treatment of the animals bequeathed to them.
He and other farmers in the area question the logic of a farm restitution policy which destroys rather than builds. He refers particularly to the farm Enkeldoring, a 300 ha property on which 70 new families were supposed to farm. An impact study was apparently completed, but was found unsuitable for this particular project. (One farmer told us the extension officers have a total lack of knowledge of commercial agriculture). There is no provision for sewage, van Vreden wrote, and this has resulted in serious health implications for the new owners as well as the surrounding areas. The water supply is weak, and who is going to remove the rubbish created by these 70 families, he asks. There is no electricity, so how can the families cook and warm up water?
He wants to know if it is Mr. Thabo Mbeki’s grand land reform plan to turn productive farmland into squatters’ camps? Farmers’ properties bordering this new handover project have put their farms on the market because of – as usual – crop and stock theft. One of the unoccupied farms bordering this new squatter camp has had its house simply taken away, and farmland in the area has drastically decreased in value as the result of these new land owners. Mr. van Vreden’s complaints are no different to the thousands of others throughout South Africa. But what made his file so shocking were the newspaper clippings he sent us about the treatment of animals by the new owners.
The mind simply boggles and is even numbed at how human beings can treat animals – God’s creatures – in such a horrific manner, especially animals which are supposed to be their livelihood. Headlines of the NoordWes Streeknuus of 15 February 2003 declared “Farm has twenty owners but the animals remain uncared for”. The next paragraph is shocking:
“Broken fences, an empty dam. Leaking water from pipes. A wind pump from which water exits drip by drip if the wind blows hard enough. And animals which like dogs storm the wind pump to try and lick a few drops of water from the pipe to drink. No, this is not Zimbabwe. Here on our doorstep, on a farm between Vryburg and Devondale on which twenty people live, there exists such a situation.”
The article informs us that the poor animals have basically been left to their own devices by the new “owners”. Farmers in the area say it is heartbreaking and traumatic to see how the poor creatures walk round and round the wind pump to try and drink a little water. Some have even broken through the wire to get to neighbours’ water supplies. StreekNuus spoke to some of the new owners about the situation. They said that someone from their group was always on the farm but in any case, it was nobody else’s business if their animals died of thirst.
A nearby farmer told StreekNuus he hadn’t seen anyone on the farm for the past four weeks, and the animals were not being looked after. They were not being injected and had developed diseases, and no lick had been set out for them. Another farmer told the newspaper that he had crops growing up against the fence between the two farms. The poor animals had stormed the fence to try and obtain moisture from the crops.
This farmer told the newspaper he had told the new owners on a number of occasions that he would be prepared to give water to the cattle if they would place a drinking trough on their side of the fence. The new owners said this wouldn’t work because the animals would have to walk through a vlei to get there, and if it rained, they would get wet! They actually found an excuse not to take up this offer! Many people in the area phoned the SPCA: they were sick to the stomach at the way the new owners treated the animals. The SPCA warned the owners that water must be supplied and gave them a date on which they must react to the warning. The owners did nothing and now the SPCA must obtain a court order against these people. At the time of going to press, the newspaper wasn’t sure whether the court order had been granted.
In the meantime, the new owners of Leeukuil accused those concerned at the animals’ plight of stealing the cattle which had died of thirst!.
A later report in the same newspaper said the new owners were “angry” at the previous press report and had laid a charge with the Department of Land Affairs against the newspaper and the local farmers for complaining about their treatment of the animals! DLA told the owners they must start “working” on the farm. While the representative was there, they saw a neighbouring farmer apparently taking some of the cattle to his farm to try and give them water. The owners immediately laid a charge of theft against the farmer with the DLA, but it was later discovered the farmer was simply taking back his own cattle.
The cattle theft unit of the SA Police Service was called in and repaired the water pipes so the cattle could drink. After that the new owners simply disappeared and the animals were again left to their own devices. People in the area told us they cannot live near people like the new owners. “How can we share the same planet with them? What do we have in common with human beings who treat their very own animals in such a way? There is absolutely no compassion whatsoever in their hearts for anything. They are selfish, lazy and uncaring. How can the government use taxpayers’ money to give a beautiful farm to people like that?”
This animal incident caused great soul searching in the community. The horror which this engendered in the hearts of people who love animals and the environment can never be erased. And this incident will probably always be remembered by our readers.
The Bray Story
The Department of Land Affairs published a glossy booklet entitled “LandInfo”. Edition No. 2 of the year 2000 shows a picture of President Thabo Mbeki congratulating Mr. Bob Namusi, new chairperson of the Bray farm project, after receiving title deeds to this scheme. A Mr. Jaap de Bruin is seen in the DLA book “addressing the crowd” with President Mbeki. De Bruin owned a 1 300 ha cattle farm Sonning in the area and allegedly experienced financial problems with the farm.
According to people in the area, Mr. de Bruin devised a scheme to firstly sell his farm to 74 recipient families, some of whom were his workers, and secondly, to set up a new housing project of 150 dwellings at Bray for the 74 families and others. Bray is a small town right on the South Africa/Botswana border. The DLA publication says Mr. De Bruin entered into a joint venture with the government and the community of 74 families. But he would not allow any of the 74 families on to his farm.
He went ahead with millions of rands granted by the government to commence the building of the houses at Bray, and had completed around 30 of them when his money for the farm came through. He then upped and left, saying there was no more government money to continue with the Bray housing project. (Farms in the area usually obtain around R750 per ha in the market. He would have thus received nearly a million rand for his farm.)
Locals told us that absolutely nothing is going on at the farm Sonning. Meanwhile, the uncompleted housing project at Bray has resulted in hundreds of people moving onto the land allocated for the 150 houses, where they have put up shacks. The place is now a squatter camp. The people at the Bray housing project have water and electricity, supplied by the municipality.
From where does the municipality obtain the money to give free services when there are only a few people paying rates and taxes in the area, we asked. We were told the government subsidizes this council.
The DLA publication’s article reflects fulsome praise for the various schemes with grandiose names – there is the Bray Housing Development, the Bray Farmworkers Equity Scheme and the Bray Cooperative Enterprise. North West premier Popo Molefe promised financial support to the projects and “in that gesture, he was supported by the President”, said the publication.
Mr. de Bruin has taken his money, the people have no houses, the farm is inoperative and the R250 000 cheque donated by President Mbeki at the handover ceremony for the people to buy cattle has simply disappeared! Nobody today knows what happened to that money. It also seems that nobody is accountable.
At present, the raw sewage from the Bray squatters camp runs into the Molopo River which is the drinking water source for the area’s residents. Local farmers have complained verbally and in writing to the ANC-led municipality which says it can do nothing “because we do not have the money”.
This is the story of Mr. Kerneels van Rensburg who, with four other farmers, owned a 3 900 ha property called Kafferskraal. On his 700 ha portion he produced 800 tons of mealies per annum and as much meat needed to feed 20 000 people. A land claim on these farms was completed in July 2001. In September 2001 the farmers left and there has been no movement on the farms since then, except that one of the previous owners is renting his particular property back. No business plans were produced, although Mr. Van Rensburg said he’d help the new owners.
Since he left, his beautiful house has been vandalized: toilets, taps and pipes were removed, and doors and cupboards throughout the house were broken off from their hinges and taken away. Some of the roofing has disappeared. The farm’s dams and camps are now inoperative. Nobody wants to pay the electricity to work the pumps.
This was one of the best and most productive farm groups in the area. It cultivated mealies and ran an excellent dairy herd. Altogether the taxpayers paid R5 070 000 for these four farms.
What makes this story exceptional is how the farmer ran around taking photos of his farm, his house and his furnishings, as if expecting the whole thing to sink into chaos. Which it did! Which is to say nobody expects any more than chaos these days with these handovers. It is almost a given that the project will fail, as most of them do.
Last but not Least
We cannot possibly mention this farmer’s name, nor where he farms. Suffice it to say it is in the North West Province. We telephoned him with regard to reports we had heard about the continual and relentless theft he experiences on his farm. He answered the telephone in a soft voice. We thought he was ill, and asked him if we could call back. No, he said, I’ll talk to you now. He confirmed the nearly R350 000 worth of theft he had experienced in one year. We asked him about an attack on his person some years ago, and how was he managing today. Yes, he said, I was stabbed several times in the throat with a long spike. Hence his difficulty in speaking - his vocal chords had been damaged. Stunned, we said goodbye and put down the phone.
So this is farming in South Africa today. A good decent man who, if his forefathers had gone to any other new world country, would be living the life he deserves, after all the years of hard and dedicated work on the land. No, fellow South Africans, this is not how it should be. Something must be done!