Sunday, 17 June 2007

Chapter 4: The Eastern Cape



“We sailed out of Simon’s Bay on 10th May with a brisk gale from the NW which carried us round Cape l’Aguillas. On the 12th at day break, we found ourselves almost becalmed, opposite the entrance to the Knysna, a fine lagoon which forms a beautiful and spacious haven. During the two following days, having scarcely any wind, we kept tacking off and on within a few miles of the shore. This gave us an excellent opportunity of surveying the coast scenery of Auteniqualand and Zitzikama, which is of very striking character.

As we passed headland after headland, the sylvan recesses of the bays and mountains opened successively to our gaze, like a magnificent panorama, continually unfolding new features or exhibiting new combinations of scenery, in which the soft and the stupendous, the monotonous and the picturesque, were strangely blended. The aspect of the whole was impressive, but somber; beautiful, but somewhat savage. There was the grandeur and the grace of nature, majestic and untamed; and there was likewise that air of lonesomeness and dreary wildness which a country unmarked by the traces of human industry or of human residence seldom fails to exhibit to the view of civilized man.

Seated on the poop of the vessel, I gazed alternately on that solitary shore, and on the bands of emigrants who now crowded the deck or leaned along the gangway……Late in the afternoon of the 15th, we came to anchor in Algoa Bay…..The whole scene was such as could not fail to impress deeply the most unconcerned spectator. To us, who had embarked all our worldly property and earthly prospects, our own future fortunes and the fate of our posterity, in this enterprise, it was interesting and exciting to an intense degree. It being too late to go ashore that evening, we continued gazing on this scene till long after sunset – till twilight had darkened into night, and the constellation of the southern hemisphere, revolving in cloudless brilliance above, reminded us that nearly half the globe’s expanse intervened between us and our native land – the homes of our youth and the friends we had parted from for ever. And that here, in this farthest nook of Southern Africa, we were now about to receive the portion of our inheritance, and to draw an irrevocable lot for ourselves and for our children’s children.’

- From the publication Narrative of a Residence in South Africa by Thomas Pringle, in which he tells of the trip to South Africa of the settler ship Brilliant which arrived in Algoa Bay, in the Eastern Cape, on 15 May, 1820, as quoted in The Story of the British Settlers of 1820 in South Africa by Harold Edward Hockly, Juta and Co., Cape Town, 1948.

This South African province is the most potentially productive and fertile of all the provinces. The climate is one of the most attractive and productive in South Africa, with mean summer temperatures varying around 220C. In the mountainous areas, rainfall averages 1000 mm and along the coast it is as high as 1 300 mm, diminishing to 625 mm in the area in between.(1) The irrigation prospects of the area’s perennial rivers, as well as the fact that the soil compares with the best in South Africa, point to the considerable potential for agriculture in the area.(2) Surface water is abundant.

What used to be known as Transkei and Ciskei became independent homelands under the old National Party government, and considerable money and effort was put into developing the region which, in the years before this initiative, was essentially a subsistence agricultural area.

The irrigation, crop and stock schemes implemented were numerous, and we have tried to follow up on at least a few of them to find out what happened to these developments. Political ideology aside, large amounts of taxpayers’ money went into the development of a serious agricultural sector in what is now the Eastern Province.

An examination of publications of the “homeland” era reveals the diversity and breadth of projects introduced to the Eastern Province – irrigation schemes, dairy, beef and sheep farming projects, the construction of dams, crop farms including maize, wheat, lucerne and vegetable plantings, as well as sorghum and legumes grown under dry-land farming conditions. Up to 1975, 61% of the old Transkei was agriculturally planned. There were 14 agricultural cooperatives, with 16 600 members. By June 1975, more than 1 300 dams had been built and 1 100 successful boreholes drilled. More than 600 soil conservation schemes covering an area of 2 300 000 ha had been approved by March 1975, and 922 dipping tanks had been provided for livestock.

At that time, the region was one of the biggest cattle-producing areas in South Africa.(3) Maize had to be imported – only around 200 000 tons were produced while there was a potential of approximately five million tons.(4)

Agricultural Crops

The Magwa Tea Estate had been established at Lusikisiki, where 1 500 people were employed by 1975. Coffee projects were established at Lambasi and a smaller scheme was created at Intsimbini. The potential of the land was exceptional. Said the Africa Institute in 1976: “It has been estimated that the Transkei can produce enough tea to supply half of South Africa’s demand. In all, 137 000 ha of land is available on which fibre and industrial crops can be cultivated, and another 15 400 ha is suitable for coffee production. There are 43 000 ha suited to the production of cotton and an equivalent amount available for sugar growing. The potential monetary value of the fibre crops, coffee, cotton and sugar cane is estimated to be more than R40 million.” (5) (These were 1976 figures – Ed.)

In the old Ciskei, only 837 ha owned by black farmers were under irrigation by 1975. Of the total surface of about 520 000 ha, 81% consisted of pasturage and agriculturally non-productive land, and only 15% of arable land.(6) The story of the old Ciskei is even worse than the old Transkei in terms of agricultural development at the time of the 1976 Africa Institute report. For example, the total number of fruit trees planted by black farmers up to 1975 amounted to 48 100. (On one Letsitele commercial farm alone, there are more than 100 000 trees.)

Details of various agricultural schemes in progress and planned are given in the report. Other publications at the time more or less confirm the establishment of these developments, with detailed tables of the number of cattle and other beasts, the size of the crops, and the potential for the area.

What happened to these projects? We chose a few to follow up and the results were alarming.

The Magwa Tea Project

In May 2003, a South African agricultural magazine alerted readers to the fact that the Eastern Province MEC for Agriculture Max Mamase was budgeting R20 million for a “turnaround strategy” to salvage what once was a successful tea project.(7) Democratic Alliance agriculture spokesman Athol Trollip declared that the corporation was ailing and “doomed to financial failure”.

In July 2003, another press report declared that workers on the estate hadn’t been paid for six months and “years of gross mismanagement” had led to the torching of the Magwa Estate’s offices by thousands of workers.(8) Fifteen offices, a boardroom, computers and financial records succumbed to the flames. “The fate of an entire rural economy is balanced on a knife edge”, said the article. “Workers children have been pulled out of school to plant vegetables as their parents can no longer make ends meet.”

The 2 500 ha estate has the potential to produce more than 3,5 million kilograms of good quality tea per year. Last season, output was budgeted at 2,3 million kilograms, but only 955 000 kilograms were produced. To remain viable, the operation needed to produce at least 2,4 million kilograms of tea. It is the only tea estate in South Africa that is not irrigated.

In October 2003, the DA’s Athol Trollip issued a press statement declaring that certain creditors had foreclosed on Magwa. One of the creditors had already begun attaching tractors computers and office furniture. The debt dated back to 1998! Trollip said he and DA MP Stuart Farrow had brought the plight of “this magnificent tea estate” to the attention of MEC Max Mamase and the Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs in September 2002. R20 million was appropriated in April 2003 to effect a turnaround to save the estate. Seven months had passed and no management company had been appointed.

“Magwa lies idle as workers are not paid and the estate is now faced with liquidation, a classic case of ‘too little, too late”.(9) If nothing is done, “Magwa will follow the path of other failed parastatals” said Trollip. It later transpired that R15 million was owed to the Land Bank and others, and these debts would have almost swallowed up the R20 million “turnaround” money. Further, Magwa workers had taken management to the Labour Court over disputes arising out of non-payment of salaries.

The history of the tea estate follows a pattern now becoming apparent: when the new government came to power in 1994, they moved to rid many old “homeland” structures of personnel from the old regime. Affirmative action candidates and political comrades replaced what was an efficient band of people, whatever their political affiliations. Thus the rot set in. The plantation was already in trouble in 1997 and was liquidated. The state pumped in R10,6 million to get it back on its feet, and in 1998, the workers became co-owners of the estate in a land reform initiative, funded by South Africa’s taxpayers.

The Magwa estate would cost in excess of R1 billion to re-establish. In his letter to the Minister of Land Affairs dated 19 September 2002, MP Stuart Farrow said the estate’s production levels had fallen dramatically; husbandry practices were not being implemented, professional tea management was deficient and there was low worker/owner participation, with reliance more on casual workers.

A “top secret” memorandum dated 21 April 2003 to the Eastern Cape Cabinet Committee from the Head of Department, Department of Agriculture – EC, entitled “Magwa Tea Estate Restructuring”, refers to persistent labor disturbances, low productivity, and frequent requests for working capital since the “takeover of the company by the workers”.

Says the top secret report: “A fundamental agreement was reached at the time the workers purchased the company (in 1998) that the organization should be turned around and transformed into a shining example of a worker-owned and managed company.” (Italics ours).

“Productivity has dropped to unprecedented levels and all the parties involved (workers, management, board of directors) are accusing one another of mismanagement, non-communication, weak leadership and, in some instances, sheer laziness”. The report goes on to catalogue lists of problems, and there is copious finger pointing. Suffice it to say the whole project collapsed into a management and financial shambles, and this occurred over a period of at least three years.

The report makes mention of the further amount of R20 million set aside by the province to implement a turnaround strategy. But the socio-political factors inherent in the failure of management are frankly admitted to: that “the failure of a project of this magnitude will have great negative implications politically”, and that “other struggling enterprises such as North Pondoland Sugar, the TRTC Bus Company, etc” could also have “a political fallout”. The report also includes letters from top estate employees resigning in protest at the mismanagement of the company. These professional and dedicated people had to implore the company’s board to pay their six-month salary arrears.

The Department of Agriculture, Bisho

An oral reply in the Parliament of the Province of the Eastern Cape in May 2003 sheds some light on government mentality in that province vis a vis land redistribution and transformation.

In reply to the DA’s Athol Trollip about the R20 million budgeted for the “turnaround” of the estate in April 2003, the MEC for Agriculture declared that “Magwa Tea Estate is a private enterprise that was transferred to the management and workers during the process of transformation of the parastatal for a reasonable consideration.”

“Government assisted the workers in this purchase through their grants of R16 000 each. It was therefore expected that the management and the board should operate the estate like any other business without any interference or intervention from government”. But it is taxpayers’ money which financed this transformation, so it was government’s duty to see that the estate prospered. Like so many other examples of the government’s land reform policy, the recipients are left to fend for themselves. Clearly, as it was not the Department of Agriculture personnel’s private money, they simply didn’t check up on the progress of this scheme. It was only after creditors began attaching computers and furniture that the Department woke up to the shambles, or so it appears. If they did know beforehand that things were awry, they did nothing to salvage a national asset.

Derek Hanekom

In December 2002 already, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Land Affairs in the province (SCALA) reported that the previous DLA minister Derek Hanekom had promised the estate’s workers “R11 million” but since then nothing had been received. In January 2003, matters became chaotic. Workers/shareholders invaded the Chief Financial Officer’s office and assaulted him. In a confidential internal memo, the situation was referred to as “total anarchy”.

Sri Lankan Henry Galahitiyawa is one of the world’s top tea experts and has been employed at the estate since 1989. In June 2003, he told the press “hardly any work is being done – and it is being done at a very slow pace.”(10) For some time he had not felt safe and feared for his family. Ransacking of houses had occurred and he concurred that there were clear signs of anarchy within the estate. He chronicled the woes of the estate since the workers/shareholders took over. He said strikes, mismanagement, incompetence, fraud, corruption, nepotism, and even liquidations could not kill Magwa until now, “but even immunity has to have an end.”

This dedicated non-South African world expert declared that the “inevitable demise of Magwa” can be attributed to the “too rapid transformation from a government-owned plantation to a people’s cooperative in 1997, which change precipitated all the other woes. None of those placed at the top possessed the required qualifications or knowledge to transform effectively and to motivate all those who are involved in production.” Yet again, a multi-million rand project which the present government inherited from the previous administration has bitten the dust, due mostly to the arrogance of the ignorant and the misguided belief that they need answer to no one, especially to the taxpayers whose money they use with impunity.

Nowhere in the world has this type of worker “management” succeeded – in socialist countries it failed spectacularly, yet the South African government either did not learn from history, or refused to learn. Threats to destroy the “legacies of apartheid”, and wild promises to bring “the people” into management to “share the wealth” have almost destroyed this showcase project.

Some observers say the workers/shareholders “were set up for failure”. The estate is a national asset and has the potential to show massive profits and provide thousands of jobs.

The Ncora Irrigation Scheme

The Ncora or Tsomo River Irrigation Scheme was reported upon in 1975 by the Africa Institute as “the biggest in the Transkei which will irrigate 5 700 ha of the Ncora Flats.(11) The scheme cost R19,5 million at the time. A reduced 3 600 ha of irrigated land was handed over to the Ncora Trust in 1994, and at most only 500 ha is under irrigation today. Basic cash crops are now being produced. The scheme’s dam is only 30% full because 60% to 70% of the water within is leaking into the ground. The 900mm irrigation pipes leak 24 hours a day, and have been leaking non-stop for years now. One observer saw 15 leaking pipes in a row. Although the authorities have known about the leaks for a long time, nothing is done to repair the holes in the pipes.

(The mind boggles at the number of cattle already dead in the 2003/4 drought in other areas of South Africa, many belonging to black farmers who could not find water for their animals. Then there are the Bronkhorstspruit irrigation farmers who were banned in August 2003 from using local river water. The ban came into effect without any warning whatsoever. The farming group McCain had just spent R1,4 million on a new pumping system and center pivots.(12) The system has been standing unused ever since the ban was declared, with interest on the capital investment running at over R200 000 a year.)

Originally there were three dairies at Ncora, with three 42-cow turntables. Now none of them work. The back-up generators have been plundered, hit with hammers according to an observer. All the copper wire from the milk cooler tanks has been damaged or stolen. There were originally 20 to 30 milk and dairy product storage tanks, but they do not function now.

The original scheme ran more than 1 200 head of cattle, “the best Holstein genetics in the Southern Hemisphere”, according to a local. After the handover, these cattle were sold off. The dairies were top producers of yoghurt, maas and so forth. “When you go to the dairies now”, a local told us, “it looks like a bomb hit them. Fires have been built in the yoghurt processing section. The lorries belonging to the dairies have been burnt out, and two disparate groups within the Trust are squabbling almost every day.” We are told that the government is planning to spend another R10 million on this project. But if management is poor, the same situation will prevail again after a few years.

The total absence of any farming activity in the Tabankulu region of the Eastern Cape – which has great agricultural potential and was previously prime farming territory – is evidenced by the growth in the shack and squatter community.

The Qamata Irrigation Scheme

The old homeland books say that this scheme “will cover 3 600 ha by 1977 and 1 200 farmers will be settled on it when it is fully developed”. It cost R8,2 million to set up in 1975.

Today, no more than 500 ha are irrigated, and are planted with cash crops. Contractors recently planted 500ha of maize for government at a production cost of R10 000 ha. The selling price of the maize was R800/R900 a ton which works out at around R8 000 per ha. Thus this particular operation made a loss of R2 000 per ha. The Eastern Cape government spent altogether R5 million on this maize project, and managed to produce R400 000 worth of maize. “One might just as well have imported R5 million worth of maize and have been done with it”, said a farmer nearby.

“After 1994, the people on the land were mobilized to destroy everything that belonged to the boer or the homelands government”, we were told by a source. “Tractors, irrigation systems, furrows, dams and so forth were trashed”, he said. “The promised new revolutionary tractors and irrigation systems never materialized. The people who live on this and other such schemes which used to produce crops for export, now live in abject poverty.” He continues: “The government is now ploughing millions into resuscitating these schemes. However, most of these millions go to consultants or failed former commercial farmers. Such people now masquerade as agricultural development professionals and/or fundis.”

The Shiolo Project

This was in the old Ciskei, a 600 ha intensive farming project of mainly fruit. It costs today around R40 000 per ha to establish a fruit orchard. Many of the trees in this project were cut up for firewood and for use in building houses. The government is now ready to pump another R10 million into this scheme.There was also a small dairy operation within the project, plus a small-plot development. After 1994, the whites were removed and the budgets “were frittered away” according to a person we spoke to. There is no production at all at Shiolo. All the machinery, the tractors and so forth, is lying around, broken and rusted.


A beautiful peach tree project with gravity irrigation was established at Cala in 1999. However, the trees were not looked after and one third of the orchard has burnt down. The irrigation nozzles and pipes were burnt and have not been replaced. A weir was built and the government brought experts in to help with the planting, and the orchard was fenced off. The beneficiaries were given R500 000 to maintain the trees until maturity. It was all on a plate. All they had to do was open and close the valves. However, within seven months, the land around the trees was burnt.

The weir is now clogged up. It was positioned to take advantage of gravity irrigation, but now steel pipes and rubbish have been dumped in the weir. We were advised that the beneficiaries of this peach tree project attended management and technical courses. Despite this, they call the Department of Land Affairs at the drop of a hat when even the smallest thing goes wrong. Technicians have to drive 200 km to undertake a 10-minute repair job.

Farm Handovers

As in the rest of South Africa, there is no end of examples of farm handovers in this province which have failed. We need only mention a few. Farms Deeside, Drummond, Spes Bona, Ensam, Kanuna, Mt. Hopley and Poplar Grove were all sheep and cattle farms in the Queenstown area. They have now become squatter camps. Some pit toilets have been built. The residents overgraze the land, and their cattle are dying because of this and the drought.

A nearby farmer tells us the new owners of these farms are unable to make a living and steal his irrigation equipment and his sheep. (Sheep farming in the Eastern Cape has been drastically reduced over the past five years). This farmer loses around R27 000 to R30 000 a year from theft.

An example of injudicious and unplanned farm transfers is the farm group Thornhill, Koffiefontein, Middelplaas and Waterval in the Dordrecht area. They were transferred to beneficiaries a year ago, under the R15 000 per recipient scheme, but the farms have already lost 50% of their potential, and the farm dwellers have applied to the Land Bank for more funding.

The farm Koffiefontein is 400 ha in size, and accommodates 30 families. The carrying capacity of one cow in the area is 6.1/2 ha which means the farm can only carry 61 head of cattle, that is two head of cattle per family. One needs a farm of at least 1 500 ha to make it a viable commercial unit, according to farmers in the area. The families on Koffiefontein can hardly live on two cows each. What about money for their children’s education, food, transport, medical bills and other expenses? Where was the forward planning in these handovers?

A Sunday Times lead article on 20 October, 2002 (two thirds of a page) is headed “Sowing the Seeds of Hope”. We often see the word “hope” used in these eulogies to the latest land reform transfer. While hope springs eternal, it is usually discovered to be ephemeral. So it is with the handover of the 780 ha farm Merino Rust to Mr. Felix Mtwa and his 17 village compatriots who “became commercial farmers last month, having bought the property from a white rancher on a Land Affairs grant”, according to the Times. (Someone should tell the Times that one just doesn’t “become” a commercial farmer overnight. It’s a highly skilled business, and it’s not for those who are easily discouraged!)

The article proceeds to describe the success of the Department of Land Affairs’ Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) scheme which is funded, inter alia, by USAID (the US Agency for International Development) in cooperation with the AgriLink project. Have these two organizations been back to see how Mr. Mtwa fared on this expensive piece of land, paid for by taxpayers?

A local farmer who knows this land well tells us “nothing is going on there, nothing”. The property was a mixed-farming operation, with a sizeable beef herd, a small dairy and good crop production. There was flood irrigation from two dams, but now the canals or furrows are not cleaned, so the water doesn’t come so easily. There are “a few families” on the property but there’s no real production, says the neighbour. “I was there four months ago and nothing much was happening”. The new arrivals moved into the house and they appear to be living off grants.


The editor of the Farmer’s Weekly is from Indwe in the Eastern Cape. In 2002 the town was given the dubious honour of being voted the poorest town in the country.

His neighbour’s farm was bought by the government and handed over to a group of families to administer. “The new neighbours are trying their best, with no guidance whatsoever”, he says. “This is despite my personal attempts at convincing senior officials in the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs, the Land Bank and a smattering of development agencies that our neighbours need a hand with farming operations. I even supplied them with names of farmers who were prepared to mentor – all they needed was for someone in authority to tell them and the new farmers what the deal would be. Everyone is still waiting”.

He continues: “So it was with some reservation that I got the news that Guba, arguably the best farming ground in the district, was to be handed over to a group of black communities. My father was among the farmers whose ground was expropriated back in the 1980s. For the next 20 years, the ground lay fallow, and when I recently visited the farm I grew up on, I couldn’t remember the land looking better. What’s more, the huge town dam is situated on the border of this area, making it possible to irrigate quite extensively.

“But when I met one of the new land beneficiaries in the post office, and asked him enthusiastically what they would be farming, he replied vaguely – we will farm big. Further queries about whether there was any plan or not didn’t yield much, so I assumed there wasn’t much of a plan. Which in my book is nothing short of criminal, especially when farmers who farmed that ground are still living in the district and could quite easily be pulled in by the government to come up with ideas on how the land could be used optimally. The water available to these new farmers could mean hundreds of new jobs. But instead, when the Minister of Agriculture and the Deputy President leave on Sunday morning after the handover party, nothing much will have changed. And it will never occur to anyone how much it could have changed”.(13)

Grahamstown dairy farmer Peter Wylie is besieged. In September 2003 he had to sell part of his land after losses from continual theft and trespassing on his grazing land “that were too much to bear. We are under total threat all the time”, he said. “Stock owners from the township don’t brand their stock. There’s over-grazing. Fences are being trampled. There’s no law.”(14)

DA spokesperson Professor Michael Wisson told us Wylie is “almost totally surrounded by what is, in effect, uncontrolled commonage. He tries to run a dairy herd whose produce he transforms into excellent yoghurt, but with 6 000 or more uncontrolled cattle from the Grahamstown East herd roaming the area, he is having very serious problems of fence stealing, cattle theft and, probably the most dangerous, cattle diseases. His father was murdered on the farm.” Wylie’s sick father was shot in his bed, while Wylie escaped another bullet in the room by a whisker. “They took R220. My father was killed for R220! This killing changed our lives forever.”

Wylie told the DA’s Athol Trollip and Stuart Farrow that he was being “invaded” and stolen blind. The adjacent “commonage” (communal land) is appallingly run/managed and those who graze their cattle there are a law unto themselves, says Trollip. It seems there is complete grazing anarchy on these Grahamstown commonages. Professor Whissom says the area is becoming known as the place where animals can roam free. Rural stockowners have persuaded the Makana Council to acquire farms adjacent to the old commonage, through the DLA’s land acquisition policy, and they have “nudged the process along” by removing all the fences along the National road, and on the farms on which they desire to graze their animals.

Farmer Willie Fourie, who used to own Glen Craig, a substantial farm adjacent to the commonage, had his fourteen camps vandalized and his water system wrecked – naturally, he sold to the Department of Land Affairs. Only Peter Wylie and one or two others have resisted the pressure. He says people shouldn’t excuse the behaviour of certain people because of their race. “There is no excuse for lawlessness. We live on our nerves here. The public doesn’t understand the effect this siege has had on our attitude to life”.

His neighbour across the road is reeling under the pressure. “It’s terrible to see a man’s life, everything he believes in and dreamed about, shattered by unmitigated crime”, says Wylie. “Our dreams for the future are in ruins. Everything is stolen – peaches, cabbages, other vegetables. The young thugs come with bags and simply take, not to eat but to sell. They steal our cattle. We have put up electric fencing at great cost. We now plant chicory because that can’t be stolen. This theft and crime is affecting the economy enormously. The authorities will regret their lack of action in the future, when there’s nothing left.”

Wylie continued: “We try to farm with nature. We appreciate this beautiful country. I don’t like burglar bars but I had to spend R22 000 electrifying our house and also the workers’ farm houses. After doing this, they did not come to work! At Christmas, absolutely nothing gets done. And Christmas is not even part of their culture. What’s wrong here? It’s unfathomable.”

“The main road to Johannesburg is swarming with cattle. Nobody pays for grazing in this area,” says Wylie. “Urban dwellers have herds of cattle. They invade my farm and other areas. I often wonder what would have happened in the homelands if the Israelis or the Thais or the Malaysians had got hold of those regions and farmed them. Today, those regions would be a paradise. It’s all about attitude, the work ethic, an approach to life.”


There are scores of projects we could not investigate because of time and funding limitations. But somehow the results seem predictable. Checking up on old press reports of handovers inevitably results in the conclusion that things didn’t work out. Even mentorship and joint ventures, which look like admirable solutions, have severe drawbacks. Who will recapitalize the project? Will some partners be the workers and others the drones? Who has the authority to make decisions, and what if they are not agreed to?

A Rapport newspaper article in July 2001 says “Wit en swart boere vat hande”. (“White and black farmers take hands”).(15) It is a glowing story of a kind farmer who wants to help, and grateful black farmers who need it. This Elliot commercial farmer was lauded by none other than President Thabo Mbeki for his attitude towards his black neighbours. The president even mentioned this farmer’s name in Parliament. The 51 black farmers soon experienced trouble after they had bought the neighbouring farm, and asked the commercial farmer for assistance. Both sides were pictured chatting and smiling over the fence.

We recently telephoned the commercial farmer, more than two years after the press article appeared. How were the neighbours faring, we enquired. Not so good, he said. They have already split into two groups and are fighting and arguing. Things have regressed. They were told by the Department of Land Affairs to plant orange trees. I told them this was sheep farming area and that orange trees would not survive. They received R435 000 as an overseas grant. I told them to buy sheep and goats.

“A smart DLA consultant arrived on the scene and tried to sell the black farmers a computer. I advised them to spend their money on stock, but they purchased the computer instead. Their current stock is dying because they don’t have money for fodder and lick.” “I don’t want to be involved any more” said the farmer. “If anything goes wrong, then they blame me”. He said many farmers in the district are wary of mentoring. They don’t mind giving advice on an ad hoc basis, but don’t want to become involved on a regular basis.

“A promising dairy project is improving the fate of a community” declared a Farmer’s Weekly headline in January 2003. (16) What has happened to the 859 ha Melkspruit Farm in Aliwal North since then? Sixty hectares are under irrigation, and the 40 new farmers get their water from the Orange River. But their pump station has been vandalized, and the cables have been stolen, only six months into transformation. The dairy farm cost taxpayers around R800 000 but there seems to be a dearth of operating capital, according to a local official we spoke to. “Their land claim was not based on their being a tribal community. They were just a group, and none of them are farmers” declared the official “The group was too big for this farm (They have 21 ha each). They’ve split into two factions, and they are fighting. They cannot manage the farm, and a mentoring program has been embarked upon. Local farmers have offered their help on a voluntary basis.”

The official blames the Department of Land Affairs (DLA) for pumping up people’s expectations. The new farmers have been badly shaken by the problems of farming. Their dairy cows do not have enough nutrition, and there’s little milk. The drought didn’t help. We have to leave the Eastern Cape there. Many questions remain unanswered. What has happened to the state land granted to seven black farmers in May 2001 in the Port St. Johns district? We are busy investigating the fate of the Ulimocor projects of the mid eighties. More than two years ago, officials at the Kat River Cooperative said many black farmers “were being a bit laid-back and were not putting in the same effort as their white counterparts.(17) What has happened since then?

What happened to the black farmers on Isidingo in Stormberg. Jim Tukani and 14 others were given R16 000 each and bought the farm in December 2000. They received loans from the Land Bank. They were being helped by a white farmer. And the Lambasi Project near Lusiksiki where more than R1,5 billion was spent on infrastructure, and the first harvest netted R127,000? There’s also the 1 400 ha farm Pilgrimsrest near Steynsburg where the farm operation turned from “a dream to a nightmare”, according to Rapport newspaper(18). Eighteen black families bought the farm with government grants, and two months later abandoned it, returning to town with their cattle. The working capital provided by the state disappeared. We wonder if this farm has been salvaged.

The farm Farmerfield in the Salem area near Grahamstown was a restitution claim in 2001. Fifty seven families were given 760 ha, or 13 ha each. What eventually happened to this handover? The province falls down in the social interaction department. There are serious shortfalls in the attitudes and cultural expectations of most of the people, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations. In its report on irrigation technologies in the Eastern Province in December 2000(19), FAO’s IPTRID says “irrigation scheme management and operations were centralized and done by the government. In many places this has resulted in unsustainable poorly performing small-scale irrigation schemes with a high level of dependency among the farmers and cultivators.”

“At some sites following the withdrawal of government support services, communities have not had the wherewithal to repair and manage the infrastructure they have been given. What was given in the past has now become a burden. Farmers were waiting for “government” in some form or other to fix a problem, repair a pump, build a canal, plough a field or provide more money”.

In their summary of the Eastern Cape’s social environment, the FAO’s IPTRID concludes that expectations that “government will still do everything” in the minds of many lead to strong dependency, and farmers are unwilling to take action on their own.

There is a long list of further reasons why things don’t work in the Eastern Cape, including lack of resources in provincial agricultural extension services, immature NGO’s, complicated political processes and poor communication between different government agencies. In other words, there is scant praise. The Eastern Province is racked by deep poverty (in the country’s most fertile agricultural area), unemployment, incompetence, corruption and profligacy. (The province gave more than R1 million to help fund the royal wedding of a Thembu chief to Zulu King Goodwill Zwelethini’s daughter).(20) Money is pumped into “projects” but there’s not much to show for it.

The Eastern Cape is beset with cholera (275 water tanks were brought in during mid 2003 to Qumbu to prevent its spread)(21), and an old lady tells the Sunday Times the “new generation” doesn’t want to farm. “They do not want to work. They just go up and down, drinking all the time”.(22)

The human capacity is not up to scratch, according to an interim management team appointed by President Mbeki to look into the woeful service delivery in the EC. R240 million is being put into a “turnaround plan”. “Our assessment is that a change of behaviourial patterns is lacking. The assessment established that managers are not taking responsibility and they are not displaying a strong sense of accountability.(23)

In February 2003, it was reported that the Eastern Cape failed to spend more than an eighth of its budget in its last audited financial year – because it didn’t have the managers to spend it, or the planning to know how to do it.(24) However, in some sectors the province spends with alacrity. The EC Department of Agriculture has “excess staff”. In 2000 already, MEC Max Mamase said there were 4000 “superfluous” staff and they swallowed up nearly 25% of his department’s budget (25).

Yet people are “starving to death on arable land. There are vast stretches of arable farming land in the EC, but people do not have seeds or implements to plant and plough.”(26) Once again, the human capacity aspect is mentioned. “There is a government skills shortage and a lack of development”. The government’s land reform program in the Eastern Cape can never be successful under present circumstances. Mentoring, joint ventures and lease-backs are plan “B” contrivances which are not solutions, only short-term palliatives to restless political pressure groups. Rural poverty in the Eastern Province is growing.

People want jobs and a roof over their head, not land. People should not be dumped willy nilly on to land from which they cannot make even a basic living. It should be borne in mind that 90% of whites don’t know how to farm either. Landlessness isn’t the problem, unemployment is. Why not allow those who can successfully produce food for the whole country to get on with their job?


In October 2002, two researchers set out to conduct a study on the challenges surrounding land and agrarian reform on former white-owned farmland in the old Ciskei, now the Eastern Cape. Ms. Michelle Cocks from the Institute of Social and Economic Research at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Eastern Province and Dr. Ilsa Grundy from the University of Stellenbosch, Western Cape were found the following day severely injured and left to die on an isolated piece of land about two km from a primary school near Bell. One woman had been tied to a tree.

Ms. Cocks, married to Mr. Tony Dold, was pregnant at the time. She and her husband had tried for two years to conceive. Despite her pleas to her attackers, they savagely kicked her in the stomach and her baby died. Both women were cruelly beaten and kicked. At one stage doctors feared that they would not survive their ordeal.

Mr. Dold was naturally bitter. “Unfortunately we live in South Africa. We must protect ourselves against these savage animals. These attackers must have seen my wife was pregnant but that didn’t deter them. It is nonsense that poverty is always used as an excuse. I have been in twelve African countries much poorer than here, but crime is under control there. Our country has changed. It is no longer what it was ten years ago.” In the meantime, Dr. Grundy went to stay with her brother in Australia where she is recuperating. Dold has decided never to allow his wife to conduct research “in these dangerous areas” by herself again. “We must employ someone to accompany my wife in future. This is clearly what one must do in South Africa if one is to survive.”

Eight young men from Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape were arrested and appeared in court on 24 February 2003 where they were charged with assault and attempted murder.

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