Sunday, 17 June 2007

Chapter 14: Natal


Blydevooruitzicht: Dutch for “Joyous Prospects” - the name given to the land of Natal by the Boer trekkers in the 1830s on account of the rich potential of that region.

We have dealt with Vryheid and Kranskop and the Dunns of Northern Natal as separate chapters, which says much for the province of KwaZulu/Natal as a contentious region where four of South Africa’s peoples – the Zulus, the whites, the coloureds and the Indians live side by side in the cities, but share an uneasy truce in the rural countryside.

It is also fitting that we end our provincial stories on land reform in KwaZulu/Natal. So much of South Africa’s world image is formulated around this part of the country – the Zulu wars, the British imperial expeditions, the Afrikaners and their treks, the oft-forgotten struggle of John Dunn’s descendants to gain title to land given to them by Zulu kings, and of course the Indians, most of whom call KZN their home.

Land reform in the province is a sorry story. As with the other provinces, we have collected scores of stories and anecdotes and have made so many personal connections with people involved in a thwarted and skewed land restitution and handover process that this book could go on forever. We will tell three stories to end our provincial tales. The first is about two examples of animal cruelty – mindless, pitiless sadism against defenceless creatures. The people who committed these acts of savagery have votes in our legislature and, by extension, have a say in the future of our country. It’s something to think about.

Mr. Serfie Serfontein farms cattle at Newcastle. Six of his young cows and a stud bull worth R24 000 were cruelly stabbed with spears on his farm. We noticed this in a Johannesburg newspaper (1) and telephoned him. He sent us some gripping photos which we have printed.
Mr. Serfontein said it took 50 years of breeding to get close to the perfect Bonsmara bull, ‘which mine nearly was. Now I’ve not only lost him but all the calves he would have sired. I can’t afford to buy another bull”, he said. The bull had been shot, as were three heifers.

His cows were herded into the cattle pens and then stabbed with spears near their hearts. Only one carcass had part of its hind quarters missing, a sign of vindictive killings not for the pot. He believes he is being chased off his 940 ha farm where he has to contend with young Zulu men hunting his animals with dogs. And the police, we asked? The newspaper report said Police Captain Polla Paulsen declared the police were investigating the slaughter. “We are doing everything in our power to bring the culprits to book”, he told the press. So what happened? Nothing, said Mr. Serfontein. They took photos and opened a docket and that’s the last I heard of them. One policemen told him “if you know or suspect who they are, you must catch them for us”.

Mr. Serfontein believes the mutilation of cattle echoes the Zimbabwean farmer’s troubles at the beginning of the land grab era. We would also mention that the cruel mutilation of cattle and pets was a hallmark of the Mau Mau era in Kenya’s terror tactics against the mainly white farming community before independence. In another instance, farmer Roy Ferguson of Vryheid noticed that the tails of seven of his stud cattle had been severed. The tails were “savagely hacked off” according to Mr. Ferguson. He said it appeared the culprits “swung a machete in the general direction of the cows’ tails in the dark”. In the process they inflicted severe wounds on the back of the cows’ legs.(2) One cow had to be destroyed, five had to be sewn up and treated by a vet for infection. Another cow disappeared, and probably died.

Mr. Ferguson offered a R10 000 reward for information leading to the capture of the miscreants. We telephoned him to ask what had transpired. “Nothing” he said. Nobody came forward to claim the reward. So he consulted a witchdoctor, taking his herdboy along to see the sangoma. He received muti (medicine) from the witchdoctor, which transaction was witnessed by the herder, and no further mutilations took place.

Some of Mr. Fergusons’ pigs’ tails were also cut. Through the grapevine he discovered the thieves use these animal tails as whisks – they push a stick up through the tail skin – and that this purportedly provides immunity from being caught while stealing cattle. They sell these tails as fly whisks for this purpose. The farmer now puts bells and reflector tape-covered cable around his cows’ necks. As with Mr. Serfontein, farmer Ferguson reported the matter to the police who took some photographs, took the names of the perpetrators (yes, the farmer knew who committed the deeds), and weren’t heard of again.

In scenes reminiscent of the 1960s Mau Mau in Kenya, cattle on farms in Kwa Zulu Natal are mutilated and killed for no other purpose than attempting to drive the farmers off their land. A selection of pictures from the farm of Mr. Serfie Serfontein, Newcastle, KwaZulu/Natal.

The Makhatini Flats

We had heard rumblings about the Flats for some time, but it was difficult to find anyone who would talk to us. Eventually we found someone in Swaziland who had become disillusioned with the ANC-led local council. He told us the 10 000 ha flats had been Crown land, and that the old National Party government had allocated it to commercial farmers. The land was then incorporated into Kwa Zulu as part of a proposed homeland consolidation. There was much activity – extension officers were appointed, small-scale farming was started with sugar cane and maize. An experimental station was built.

With the advent of the ANC government, most of the people from the “old order” were thrown out and replaced with political appointments. They were not trained, declared our contact. “The place had great potential, but it was underutilized” he said. “The new management was supposed to have business plans but we didn’t see them.” Then the real rot set in. There were severe water supply problems and eventually all the machinery was auctioned. A mentor/manager/joint venture partner has now been brought in to get things right. We are told that no new sugar cane had been planted for 8 to 10 years. Because of these problems brought about by the new political correctness, only 65 tons of cane was being harvested per hectare as opposed to the previous 120 tons per hectare. Over the past few years under the new government , hundreds of emerging farmers tried to make a living but failed due to a collapse of infrastructure, the lack of technical support and proper financial underpinning.

We were also informed that Tongaat Hulett is to invest R600 million in new sugar cane growing “only if the new extension officers will be part and parcel of the deal, and the whole project is controlled by the new venture capital group”. Much has been written about the Flats and it remains to be seen whether the current projects can restore this area to its former glory. It has great potential, with a sub-tropical climate and deep and fertile ground. In the meantime, it is reported that Tongaat-Hulett’s 120-job Entumeni sugar mill is closing due to drought. The company’s total sugar production from plantations throughout South Africa in 2002 increased to 1,3 million tons, 16% up on 2001.

Piet Greyling, Mkuze farmer

Piet is a South African small farmer. He owns a 1 100 ha farm in Mkuze. Originally he farmed sisal and employed 142 people. The government’s new labour laws affected the relationship between him and his staff. He took up the sisal crop and replaced it with vegetables and fruit and downsized to 55 employees. Then a new law was announced - if you have more than 50 employees, some of them must serve on your board. Then came the minimum wage legislation. He laid off more than half his work force, ending up with 22 employees, farming tomatoes and running a game farm.

He downsized from 142 to 22 employees because of labour and wage laws. His game is now the victim of theft and poaching. His fence wires are regularly cut – he is next to a location and he wants to sell out. His son was attacked on the farm and emigrated. That in a nutshell is the latter-day “story of an African farm”. It is just an example, in Piet’s own words. Some will say Piet is pessimistic. Maybe he is. But he used to employ 142 people and now he doesn’t, and he believes it was through no fault of his own. He is the victim of theft, poaching and trespassing. His children are not interested in carrying on farming. In fact, they have left the country. Is Piet a typical example of a South African farmer in 2003? There may be thousands of farmers who are better off than he is, who are richer and more confident. But there are thousands who live similar lives to Piet. And this doesn’t augur well for the future of farming in South Africa.

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