Sunday, 17 June 2007

Chapter 5: Kranskop


Kranskop farmer Günther Gathmann has lost a total of four members of his family to farm murders. His brother Walter was killed three years ago, a second attempt on his life. His aunt, his cousin and his uncle were all victims of a pandemic which places South African farmers as the world’s most murdered group, outside of a war.

At the age of 88, his mother was beaten, pistol whipped and shot at during the first attack which narrowly missed Walter. The Gathmanns farm in the middle of a battleground where their community, mostly descendants of German missionaries who settled in the area in 1854, has decreased from 56 farming households to 14 over the past 28 years. Eleven farmers have been killed in the area, and no robberies occurred.

Kranskop in the KwaZulu/Natal midlands, is of particular interest to those who are watching South Africa’s commercial farmers reel under the myriad assaults on their livelihoods which have become daily occurrences. In some instances, Kranskop farmers have simply abandoned their farms. Others committed suicide under the stress.

If those who perpetrate the theft, the intimidation and the murder have as their agenda the intention to drive farmers off their land, then they can be judged successful. Sixty two farms in the Kranskop area have been claimed under South Africa’s land claims legislation. In September 2002, a highly-charged meeting was held to try and calm the tension which had built up after a protest march the month before: a memorandum was handed to authorities which gave “all white people” one month to leave the area. Four days earlier, security guard Sibongiseni Duncan Ndimande had shot and killed 19-year-old Njabulo Bhengu in self-defence. Bhengu had been part of a group caught poaching on Manfred Surendorff’s Druten Ranch.

This killing simply brought to a head the simmering edginess and anger which had been brewing for years in the area. Günther Gathmann told us a story of cattle and crop theft, intimidation, arson, murder and land invasions – his story was no different than those recounted in other parts of rural South Africa. Gathmann says land claims go “hand in hand” with intimidation.
Gathmann grew cash crops next to the road on his farm. He cannot any more. Along the six kilometers where the road runs past his farm, his crops were stolen and stripped with regularity. In one night, more than 36 thieves took away one acre of his potatoes, a crop worth R8 000. (He and the police counted the footprints of 36 people!).

Like all farmers, Gathmann cannot obtain insurance for theft. Now he grows only soya beans near the road. The thieves have not decided what they can do with these beans – yet! Whatever else he plants is stolen overnight. One of his farms has been claimed. He and the 13 other farm claim recipients in the area are fighting the claims. They have been advised by experts that there were no blacks in their area when their forefathers arrived in the mid 1850s. And no blacks were forcibly removed from the area by the previous government. The first whites came to the area in 1824 and were given land grants by the British government, says Gathmann. It has cost the farmers more than R100 000 in legal fees so far to contest these claims.


Gathmann says he and his fellow farmers are being taxed “into extinction”. They pay taxes for the Joint Services Board (JSB) which, says Gathmann, provides services for blacks in town, such as sporting and other upliftment projects. The farmers see nothing for their JSB payments which are .3% of salaries and .2% of turnover. There is also a pending municipal tax due to come into operation next year. Greytown, with around 5 000 whites, supports a mayor on a R600 000 a year salary. Farmers will soon have to contribute to this.

Gathmann says the farmers had to give details of their properties to the authorities and must pay tax on the value of their farms, whether or not the farms make any profit.
Thus farmers will be taxed as urban residents are taxed – on the value of the land and the improvements. But the land is their business, their livelihood, and if there is a drought, they must still pay, and receive nothing in return! This they see as a ruse by the government to bail out bankrupt municipalities.

There is also the water tax which, on the face of it, seems punitive. Gathmann says he has a 212 ha forest and he must pay for the rain on his forest. He is taxed on his catchment dams, whether they are full or not. This “rain” tax comes to R36 000 per annum. South African foresters were billed for the first time by the Department of Water Affairs (DWAF) in February 2003 for the water they “used”. From April 2002, a water resource management charge was introduced to recover some water management costs, as South Africa does not have enough water.(1)
According to DWAF, foresters need to pay because afforestation is concentrated on 10% of the land that produces 60% of the country’s water resources. (South Africa’s major metropolitan areas lose billions of litres of piped drinking water annually.

This is a direct result of “poor management and control by local authorities” according to DWAF’s director general Mike Muller.(2) The City of Johannesburg was unable to account for 42% of the water it paid for in 2001. The difference between the amount it bought and sold at the time amounted to 165 billion litres which was “lost”.)

“And what do we get for all these taxes?” asks Gathmann. “We must pay for our own security - R3 400 per month.” After R15 000 of sugar beans were stolen last year, he advised the police but they could do nothing. A farm worker and his friends stole a complete verandah worth R25 000, on Gathmann’s property. The employee sold the verandah, but only received a suspended sentence. He is still on the farm because Gattmann cannot get rid of him. It cost Gathmann R6 000 for the court order against the thief. His cattle are regularly stolen, and his fencing is cut or removed. He and his fellow farmers are forced to impound the cattle from the Zulu areas which wander onto their properties. These trespassing beasts cause tremendous problems, says Edsel Hohls, vice president of the KwaZulu/Natal Agricultural Union. They carry tick-borne diseases. They are in poor condition and are not inoculated and if a dairy farmer’s herds catch a disease, contagious abortion can occur in large numbers within the herd. After that, a farmer can “pack up and leave” according to Hohls.

Hohls himself had to leave one of his farms. He has farmed for 22 years in the region but had to leave because of safety reasons. His 150 head of cattle were continuously stolen. What of Gathmann’s neighbours? Recounting the conditions under which the Kranskop farmers now live is to reveal how intimidation is used to drive down the value of farms which have been claimed.
The farmer on whose farm the shooting debacle of August 2002 occurred – Manfred Surendorff – has left his farm. According to Hohls, the Surendorff farm was a very productive entity. 3 000 ha in extent, it produced high-quality beef. It has now been abandoned. Even the manager has fled. It borders the KwaZulu traditional area, and the cattle theft and intimidation drove the young man and his family out. It was a family farm – Surendorff inherited it from his father.
At one stage, foreign investors were prepared to pump millions into a tourism project on this farm. “Africa Venture” was an enterprise built around the concept of how to survive in Africa. Big companies from Durban were also interested, but the operation never got off the ground when hundreds of squatters invaded the land. Naturally the investors fled, never to return.
Another young farmer conducted a trading store on his smallholding, as well as a flourishing flower operation, using tunnels. He was relentlessly intimidated for two years – his house was ransacked and he was shot at with AK47s.

The police never managed to apprehend the perpetrators, and the young man and his family abandoned the farm. Olifantshoek farm, 1 200 ha in extent, was a flourishing cattle farm bordering on KwaZulu. Farmer Edwin Meyer was married with small children, but he eventually committed suicide after his cattle were stolen almost every week. His fences were regularly cut and 200 families moved on to his property. These squatters threatened to kill him, and murdered his induna. He went to the police but nobody was apprehended. His wife tried to run the farm on her own after her husband’s death but eventually gave up and left. This farm now stands abandoned, a home to squatters.

Farming in South Africa

This is what farming in South Africa has been reduced to under the present government. In a lengthy article on Kranskop in February 2003, Farmer’s Weekly quotes one Gertrude Mkize saying “All the land will be ours soon, I believe”. Indeed, this will happen if things continue as they are now. When four members of your family have been murdered, for how long is it worth while continuing? Says Farmer’s Weekly: “Make no mistake: what is happening in this part of the aptly-named Battlefields Route is happening all over the KwaZulu/Natal midlands – from Dundee to Utrecht, the amakhosi are raising their voices to demand land, while the white farmers grow increasingly nervous.

“Even before Bhengu’s death (on Surendorff’s farm), the temperature had been rising at Kranskop. Farmers were impounding cattle that constantly wandered on to their lands and destroyed their crops. Farmers were demanding that local people ask their permission to walk across their properties, and they were insisting that police remove hundreds of squatters from their farmlands. Security guards were rigidly enforcing the farmers’ wishes – sometimes at gunpoint.” (3)

This security blitz precipitated an angry reaction from within the tribal areas and resulted in the August 2002 march and the “whites must go” demands. To his credit, Nyanga Ngubane, KwaZulu MEC for safety and security was unequivocal: “Land invasions are illegal and what is happening in Zimbabwe will not be tolerated”. He set up a task force consisting of various government departmental representatives and farmers, but it fizzled out. As in the case of the Dunns of northern KZN, words have no meaning unless they are followed up with concrete and sustained action, and this has not happened. The squatting, the intimidation and the violence is now worse than ever.

According to South Africa’s Institute of Security Studies (ISS), 37 chieftancies surround about 200 farmers in the Greytown district, of which Kranskop forms part.(4) More than half a million people live in the area in extreme poverty. Their land is completely overgrazed so they push their animals into commercial farmland. As soon as the ANC took over in 1994, land encroachment began. Claims were lodged on farms, and once it became known that a farmer was leaving, cattle and goats from traditional areas invaded his land.(5)

Years later, the Department of Land Affairs still had not purchased the property (this happens with regularity throughout South Africa), so the farmer decided to use the land again but found it populated by squatters.


Local people slowly and quietly take possession of a small part of a farm. (This pattern was repeated for example in the Dunns’ properties in northern KZN.) Once the farmer retreats from this part, then the invaders advance deeper into the farm. As Mary de Haas says in her ISS paper on land invasions(6), if the police do nothing, then invasions become virtually unstoppable.
As well, this midlands district has been wracked by political violence between the ANC and the IFP, and is awash with weapons.

Farmers have been impounding cattle since the early 1900s, while the Zulus retaliated by slaughtering the farmers’ animals. Thus began the antagonism which has waxed and waned ever since. In February 2003, Hohls estimated that his fellow farmers in the province abandoned at least 250 000 ha of prime commercial farmland since 1995. Today, it could be more, but nobody’s calculating these days.
“Encroachment is the right word”, he says. “They put their cattle in, then they cut the fences, then they start stealing your crops, forcing you to leave your land. And then they say: ‘Oh well, there’s vacant land, let’s move on to it’. It’s a very subtle way of stealing land”.(7) In Kranskop alone over the past few years, 14 commercial farms of more than 10 000 ha have been abandoned to masses of squatters.

Hohls says that in the Underberg, Swartberg and Himeville districts, the amount of sheep being farmed has been reduced from around 200 000 to less than 5 000 today. Farmers in KZN pay security companies R60 million a year to watch over their farms, Two years ago, stock theft amounted to R120 million a year.(8) Millions of rands per annum are lost to wildlife, crop and farming equipment theft. Hohls says the government loses around R100 million a year in lost taxation as a result of besieged and abandoned farms.(9)


More than 7 000 people are murdered in KZN per year. The 1998 murder of farmer Friedel Redinger is linked directly to a land dispute, according to the ISS. In 1997 a chief lodged a claim on his land, and Redinger agreed to donate some land and began negotiating. In the spring of 1998, three young men stopped Redinger’s bakkie on his way home. He recognized them as members of the local Community Policing Forum and got out of the vehicle. He was shot in the back of the neck, on his knees, point blank, says his brother Walter. “It was a clear execution”.(10)

The young men who killed Mr. Redinger were neither aspirant farmers nor community representatives, said ISS. “They appeared to be animated by a wild and disturbing political identity”.(11) Young black men are responsible for the crime, blacks and whites agree. They are the real rulers of the tribal areas. They live outside the parameters of the law. Walter Redinger says their biggest threat is from the youth. “They have no respect for age”.

Death threats are endemic. Hohls has been threatened many times. Friedel Redinger was threatened before his death. Hohls has laid several charges of intimidation with the police, but nothing has materialized. Farmer Andre Swanepoel also received threats because he tried to stop people from illegally settling on his farm.

A security company was brought in, much to the chagrin of those who used to move across farms with impunity. A security employee’s killing of a poacher was the cause of the threatening march against the farmers. Farmers’ attitudes have hardened, while the youth are more and more belligerent. And once again, as in many parts of KwaZulu/Natal, a chief appears to be behind the campaign to drive the whites out, according to farmers.

Some describe Joseph Khathi as The Great Instigator and The Terror. He was heard saying at a meeting that “it is an accepted fact that the white man hates the black man”, and this has incited racial tension. (The Dunns of northern Natal complain of exactly the same thing). Although Khathi denies saying those words, he admits helping to write the memorandum calling for the removal of the whites. He has been caught poaching. These men of the midlands live in two different worlds. Versions of history differ markedly and, it seems, never the twain will meet. It is an insoluble problem when commercial farmers (who supply the food for South Africa’s 45 million people) are harassed off their farms by people who cannot even feed themselves.

There seems no logic behind the campaign of hatred against white farmers, but then what is logic if it is not culturally defined? Is Robert Mugabe logical? Is it logical to place hundreds of squatters on a productive farm, when nobody wins? Is subsistence farming logical in this day and age? And is it logical that the SA Police Service, so desperately needed to stem crime not only in the rural areas but right throughout South Africa, should be so emasculated and overwhelmed, while money is spent on private jets and arms deals in a country not at war with an outside force?

When power is in the hands of those who encourage this destruction of the commercial farming sector by its inability or unwillingness to act, or even its passivity which condones the lawlessness, then what will happen to the beloved country?

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