If a man does away with his traditional way of living and throws away his good customs, he had better first make certain he has something of value to replace them.
- Basuto proverb
Gauteng province includes the huge industrial and residential complex of Johannesburg , Pretoria and the southern areas of Johannesburg, what used to be known as the PWV area – the Pretoria/Witwatersrand/Vereeniging complex.
One of the most serious social problems of this, South Africa’s most populous province, is human squatting and land invasions. On the outskirts of the cities, in the peri-urban and small-farming areas, farms have been invaded, while formerly-productive farmland lies fallow and untended.
In an October 2003 address on land reform to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Professor Lawrence Schlemmer of the Helen Suzman Foundation discussed property rights and the government’s stand against land reform that would undermine property rights.
The real danger, says Schlemmer, does not lie in formal policy but in the government’s capacity to enforce property rights.
He referred to the Duvenhage case which captured the attention of, particularly, city and peri-urban dwellers in South Africa. This type of farming land on the outskirts of South African increasingly attracts invasions and take-overs which, if large enough in size, take on a momentum of their own. The extraordinary phenomenon of squatting has become a hallmark of the new South Africa, with urban “land grabs” a permanent blot on the geographic landscape. The principle of the right to defend one’s property, and win, took second place in the case of farmer Braam Duvenhage.
The farm Modderklip, Benoni, East Rand
In September 2000, Braam Duvenhage reported the illegal squatting of 50 people on his farm to the local police. Some arrests were made but eventually he was told that “the jails were full” and no more arrests could be made.(1) This opened the floodgates for more squatters to move on to the farm. Duvenhage farms commercially – the farm is his livelihood. He bought the farm in 1965 and grows soya beans, sorghum and maize. He spent his life developing the farm - 2 300 ha in size – and now squatters have occupied 40 ha of it. He bought the property from a mining company and there was no land claim on the farm.
Eventually the squatter figure rose to 40 000 and included Mozambicans and Zimbabweans. Duvenhage blames the squatters’ boldness on the contemporary Bredell incident where members of the Pan African Congress (PAC) sold plots for R25 on a piece of private land. Two farmers, the government, Transnet and Eskom jointly owned the occupied Bredell land, also on the East Rand. In Duvenhage’s affidavit to court, he declared that in May 2000, 400 squatters had erected 50 shacks and had unlawfully occupied his land. Local police tried unsuccessfully to remove the squatters (italics ours) until a final court order was granted against the squatters in April 2001. (2) They were to go within two months, but they never moved. Duvenhage then called on the government to act in terms of the sheriff’s order to have the squatters removed.
He was informed it would cost him R1,8 million to have the 40 000 people on his farm removed, money that Duvenhage certainly did not have.
In September, the farmer asked the High Court to enforce the order handed down in the Witwatersrand High Court to evict the people from his land. But the case was defended by the State President, the ministers of agriculture and land affairs, housing and safety and security, the commissioner of police and the local municipal council. The squatters have illegal electricity connections and for water, they tapped into a pipe line from a nearby settlement. “For food they pinch crops from my farm”, said the 73-year-old farmer.(3) “Recently we traced a ton of maize worth R70 000 stolen from my farm.” One of his tractors simply disappeared and he receives threatening phone calls. In May 2001, Duvenhage was already out of pocket by R200 000 for legal fees. He was forced to go to the higher court to get the local court order enforced. Because of these legal delays, more squatters arrived by the busload. For practical purposes, says Duvenhage, a private property owner in South Africa who cannot afford to pay to remove illegal squatters has in effect lost his land.
Duvenhage’s farm borders on the Daveyton township where “crime is rife and an ever-expanding morass of shacks and filth has swallowed once-fertile fields”.(4) He now finds the farm a trap, as do so many other South African farmers. What was planned as a nest egg for his sons has now become a burden, and he would sell it tomorrow if – and it’s a big if – someone would buy it. “At least Mugabe tells the farmers straight ‘I’m going to take your land’. But in South Africa, a High Court judge orders that the squatters be removed and the government ignores it”, complained Duvenhage. (5) “President Mbeki keeps on saying that what’s happening in Zimbabwe won’t happen here. But it’s happening. If this is not a farm invasion, then I don’t know what is!”
In November 2002, Judge William de Villiers found that government had failed to carry out its constitutional duty to protect Mr. Duvenhage’s property rights and to carry out an eviction order which the farmer had won. The judge ordered the SA government to present a comprehensive plan to court by February 28 2003 to either evict the squatters and rehouse them, or to buy the affected land.(6) Government’s comment on the ruling was interesting. Land Affairs minister Thoko Didiza said that if the government upheld the court order, it would encourage “queue jumping”, allowing illegal squatters access to housing ahead of people on waiting lists for houses. The government decided to appeal against the High Court judgement to the Appeal Court in Bloemfontein. There could be a long delay before the case is heard. Meanwhile, the squatters are still on Mr. Duvenhage’s farm.
Squatting All Over The Country
In the Bredell case mentioned above, the government was granted an order to evict the squatters from what was, in part, government land. But other cases have not been so easily solved. Squatter camps have completely encircled Johannesburg and its suburbs. Further north, in March 2003, squatters made themselves at home right in the heart of the up-market suburb of Kosmos, on the Hartebeespoort Dam. The Johannesburg Central Business District’s buildings are full of squatters. Some simply seized control of buildings from landlords. In the Hillbrow area, now virtually under the control of Nigerians and known informally as “little Lagos”, drugs are sold openly and home-made abattoirs have mushroomed in hotel and apartment rooms.
Pretoria’s parks are a haven for squatters who camp out near streams and rob nearby houses. Many come from other countries, including Lesotho and Swaziland. The Alberton railway station was reported as home to squatters. Nearby factories are regularly vandalized and/or burgled.
The Ekurhuleni municipality on the East Rand used taxpayers money to give free water to squatters.(7) There are 205 squatter camps in this municipality alone, of which 68 are illegally on private ground. A businessman north of Johannesburg told the press his business had gone from being worth R15 million to nothing, adding that he had lost R64 000 income a month. (8) Squatters occupy an adjacent property to his place of work. In December 2002, the businessman found a corpse on his property with a gunshot wound, and two days later police picked up another corpse in the next-door squatter camp with stab wounds. This citizen has already spent more than R750 000 to try and remove the squatters. He is said to be suing the local council for R2,5 million.
Some years ago, residents of Kempton Park on the East Rand built a deep trench 2m wide, 2m long and 9 km long to prevent crime from neighbouring areas. (Vryheid, KZN farmers have built the same size trenches to stop cattle theft. South Africa’s urban residents build the same trenches to stop car hijacking!) These Kempton Park residents were the victims of a relentless crime wave. One car was stolen every day. Women were raped when they drove past in their cars, while people no longer stopped at stop streets for fear of being attacked.
The place looked like a war zone, according to a journalist who visited the area.(9) Watchtowers had been built and were manned 24 hours a day. Houses looked like forts and many had been sold for a song. One couple told the journalist they had had thirteen break-ins over the past four years. In one two week period, they were broken into eight times. Insurance companies have for years now refused to insure properties and contents in the area. An “idyllic retirement farm” became a “putrid nightmare” for Mr. Blackie Swart when squatters invaded his property. “They have used my home, my farm as a toilet”, he lamented(10). Mr. Swart sold his working farm and bought his retirement property at Hartebeespoort where he believed he would be able to live in peace and quiet.
A nearby squatters camp has made his life a misery. “They walk through my farm as if it were a public thoroughfare. They slaughtered my cattle and broke the wire fence. They use our farm and its buildings as a huge toilet and shower ground. When the wind changes, the smell is unbearable”, declares Mr. Swart. More than twelve telephone calls to the Madibeng municipality were completely ignored. Because he complained about the squatters, his animal forage was burned, so much so that the whole farm nearly burnt down. Despite his visits to the police, nothing has happened to the case he opened.
Other squatters in the area received free water from another farmer “so they won’t steal”. But on other neighbouring farms, water is stolen using buckets in a queue to the borehole. “They even stole the sleepers off the nearby railway line”, complained Mr. Swart. Mrs. Poeka Eckard, a lady farmer in the area, says the squatters do what they want. (11) “We have stopped farming with sheep. They are stolen day after day and we find the legs in the veld. The pipes from our borehole was stolen three times this year”.
Sometimes the court’s judgments encourage squatters. In July 2001, a judgment in the Witwatersrand High Court left the door wide open for other land invaders to legally challenge eviction orders. After a four-year wrangle, the Northern Metropolitan Local Council lost its move to rid Kya Sands and Houtkoppen, north of Johannesburg, of squatters. Judge J. Mlambo found that officials had no authority to apply for the eviction and that eviction notices should have been served in the home language of the squatters!
Since this particular judicial outcome, hundreds more squatters have moved in with alacrity. A local resident claimed “it is an open secret that many of the so-called squatters own one or more houses in Soweto and other townships, bought with government first-time buyer’s subsidies. They rent out these houses, and then come and squat in our area.” “If the eviction notices must be served in the squatter’s own language, then they should be written in Shona (from Zimbabwe) and Portuguese ( from Mozambique). It is also known the local warlord is a Nigerian, so maybe the court should have issued an eviction order in that language too!”
Brick By Brick
It is not unusual in South Africa to see whole residences plundered and carried off brick by brick. Residents of the small-holdings at Mapleton, near Boksburg on the East Rand were tormented day and night by more than 200 squatters who stole everything that moves, and fixed property as well.
Anyone who goes on vacation can find their house gone when they come back. Mrs. Lorraine White who lived in the area for 50 years said it used to be a veritable paradise.(12) It doesn’t help to put up fences, she said. They are broken within hours. Dogs are poisoned, and everything is stolen. People who couldn’t sell their houses simply left, and the empty houses were dismantled brick by brick. The police were informed, but nothing was done.
Two years ago, squatters armed with hacksaws, spades, forks and hoes invaded privately-owned plots near the Rietvlei Dam outside Pretoria, but were forced off by public order police and private security guards hired to keep them away.(13)
Leaving behind them the poles they had brought to demarcate stands (plots), the group marched back to where they came from. They informed the police they were the “advance party” sent to clear the land and threatened the residents that they’d be back “with 10 000 people”. This was the third time the squatters had tried to occupy the private small-holdings.
On a previous occasion, a High Court interdict was obtained to prevent an invasion and 4 000 structures which had been set up, were removed. It was discovered that many squatters came from as far away as KwaZulu/Natal. During the latest invasion, the squatters told security guards they were “testing the water to see what happens”.
Land is not the only refuge for squatters. In October 2003, it was reported an empty house in Johannesburg’s trendy suburb of Melville has been occupied by squatters for two years. The house has no electricity, water or sewage service. All the furniture, kitchen cabinets and wooden doors have been used for firewood. (14) It is believed more than 100 people stay in the house.
A local resident says she has complained numerous times to the authorities about the squatters, but the authorities say they are “looking into the matter”. Various officials have visited the house, but could not find the owner.
Early in 2003, the Johannesburg City council had to evict squatters from an empty clinic in the city. More than 400 people were found there, and firearms were discovered in the building. (15) Only two floors of the nine floor building were occupied until evictions occurred. Medical refuse such as swabs, used syringes, bandages and bloodied gloves were among the debris carried out of the building by officials. Rentals were charged by self-appointed “landlords” to live in the building.
In a final insult to injury, a January 2003 report revealed a Mogale City councilor had called upon police to protect illegal squatters on a farm in the Magaliesburg district, north west of Johannesburg. Neels Oosthuizen, attorney for property owner Richard Theron* (1) said it was clear the Mogale city councilor had encouraged squatters to seize his client’s farm.
“Councilor Mabe** (2) has actively incited the illegal land seizure to the point of calling in armed and uniformed municipal police to intimidate my client, after he has succeeded at great personal financial cost to resolve the illegal settlement issue. This is an extremely ominous development as the farm seizures in Zimbabwe started the same way, with groups of squatters seizing land with official ruling-party support”, Mr. Oosthuizen said..
On that note we end the squatter stories. Can any civilized country imagine that its citizens would have their property rights treated with such contempt? What would George W. Bush do if his farm were invaded? Unthinkable! But in South Africa, anything goes without law and order and good policing.
* (1) Update: Richard Theron and his wife were murdered on 5 June 2004.
**(2) Councillor Peace Mabe (Mogale City / Krugersdorp) is on record as saying to the now murdered Richard Theron “Your attitude will be the reason for another farm murder”. Numerous death threats were received by Theron, and despite pleading for protection via calls & letters to local Police, Police headquarters and several other parties, both were brutally murdered.
The Farm Debacles
An agricultural holding at Orange Farm, south of Johannesburg - meant for use by veteran former soldiers – is lying idle because the beneficiaries do not have the capacity to take it over.(16) The Doornkuil Agri-Business Industrial Park has a newly-completed building for manual workshops and equipment for poultry rearing, welding, fence making and farming. It has two horse and trailers, three tractors and two trucks. There is a dairy and two milking cows which were, until recently, part of a herd of 12. One night 10 of these cows were stolen. This “park” was the brainchild of the Airborne Trust, which received R5 million from BAE Systems, the firm awarded the government contract to supply aircraft to the South African Air Force. This was one of the offset/reinvestment projects promised by those who won contracts under the arms deals.
The farm was handed over in 2002 but it was found the recipients were unable to “capacitate” it, said the Airborne Trust’s spokesman Michael Chemaly. (This new euphemism in the South African lexicon – to capacitate – is interesting. It means people are unable to do something because they don’t have the ability to do it.)
Rust de Winter
The Rust de Winter land, 75 km from Pretoria, was originally an irrigation scheme created by the old National Party government. Around 100 plots of approximately 25 ha each were sold to commercial farmers who cultivated cotton, tobacco and vegetables. It was a highly successful and productive scheme. In 1978, the government bought out the farmers and in the eighties, this land was incorporated into the newly-formed Bophuthatswana homeland, under the SA Development Trust.
Today this land has turned to dust. There is nothing but a barren landscape, and the former post office, co-op , local store and filling station have disappeared. Empty houses dot the landscape. At present the water from Rust de Winter dams is supplying nearby townships. This was very well-developed, irrigated land which now lies in ruins. The government should resuscitate this land for its land restitution beneficiaries instead of taking productive farm land for the purpose.
Farming with Squatters
An interesting phenomenon has manifested itself east of Pretoria. The farm Kleinsonderhout between Bapsfontein and Bronkhorstspruit was sold by a white farmer to a black gentleman who now “farms” squatters. There are now more than 2 000 people on this once-productive farm, each paying rent to the new owner. There is no sewage, no potable water, no electricity. Naturally, the residents are stealing from the neighbouring farms. Now the squatters are demanding “services”, although they are 28 km from Bronkhorstspruit.
In Kekana Gardens, near Hammanskraal, a 1 000 ha cattle and game farm belonging to a Mr. Roos is under siege. Mr. Roos wished to sell but couldn’t get his price. A local warlord is believed to have supported the invasion of squatters onto Mr. Roos’ farm. There are now 4 000 people there, living in shacks with no sewage or electricity. The Standard Bank is believed to have spent R45 000 to connect a water pipeline for the residents.
The above reveals under what pressure South Africa’s cities and peri-urban areas are. We have quoted Gauteng examples but the pattern is the same, to a greater or lesser degree, in all South Africa’s cities and towns. Squatting is here to stay, as are land invasions and intimidation of those who resist.