Emerging Ceres farmers fear eviction from prized land

2016-07-20 12:30
Farmers Koos Hanse and Frederik Matthys are determined to stay on their small scale farm. (Jenni Evans, News24)

Farmers Koos Hanse and Frederik Matthys are determined to stay on their small scale farm. (Jenni Evans, News24)

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Ceres - Three emerging farmers, who benefited from the government's lauded black shareholder programme, are spitting mad as they battle to hold on to their share of land.

Frederick Matthys, Koos Hanse and Deon Maart are the only remaining farmers on the land outside Ceres, in the Western Cape, and they fear they will lose everything if somebody does not help them soon.

In desperation, they travelled to the offices of the NGO, the Witzenberg Rural Development Council (WRDC), for help this week.

While they waited for paralegal co-ordinator Naomi Betana to get replies from a few urgent phone calls she had put in for them, they explained that they were among a group of just under 200 people selected to become shareholders on a farm outside the fruit growing hub.

They were excited about their new venture, and believed they would be supported by the Department of Rural Development's programme to build new generations of black farmers.

Almost 200 people were given shares in the farm, the aim being that they would all become small-scale farmers. The programme is part of the department's efforts to restore land to black South Africans.

Access to land has become a rallying cry ahead of the local government elections on August 3. The Economic Freedom Fighters has urged landless people to move on to unoccupied land and claim it for themselves.

The government, however, formulated ambitious plans that aim to balance land reform with a massive push to make agriculture a driver of economic security.

'Where am I going to go with my animals?'

Its plans include voluntary 50/50 share splits with current owners and farm workers, the creation of "agri-hubs" in rural areas, and the Land Expropriation Bill which gives it wider powers.

The men said, while they were struggling to cope and make ends meet, a prospective buyer had swooped in and made an offer many could not refuse. At R27 000 a share buyout, almost all took the money.

The three refused, determined to carry on farming with their sheep, pigs, and cattle. Now they feel they are being harassed into leaving as well.

The last straw, said the WRDC’s Betana, was when police were called in last Saturday and they were threatened with eviction.

First thing on Monday, they were waiting at the door to the WRCD's offices on Voortrekker Street.

"I have been living on rain water because the farmer closed my taps," said Matthys, who had fought off one eviction order already.

According to the men, the farmer wanted them all off the land so he could get on with his own plans for it. But they did not want to leave.

"Where am I going to go with my animals?" asked Hanse, a razor-sharp 69-year-old.

"I just want a patch of ground where me and my family and my animals can be happy."

'Not going to do that to me'

Maart said their lives had become difficult, just because they had refused the offer.

The farmer drove over his aunt's fire brazier. Dirty water containing cow dung was running past their front door, and abattoir remains were dumped behind his house, creating a health hazard and attracting flies.

The men found a lawyer to help them, but the lawyer let them down, not filing any court papers as promised.

The lawyer then approached them and said the farmer had offered them each a different plot. It, however, had no house, drainage, or electricity points.

"He is not going to do that to me," said Hanse.

Community activist Abraham Skirmand, who accompanied them to the WRCD offices, said: "This is going to cause an ugly thing and coloureds and blacks are going to be blamed."

Read more on:    cape town  |  evictions  |  farming

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