Farmer ‘forced to sell up’

2007-11-23 00:00

A Mooi River farmer says he has been forced to offer his farm, and “life’s dream”, up for sale to the Land Affairs Department following allegations of widespread intimidation from six families living on his farm.

Willem Verhoef of Shandon V-Ranch recently unleashed a barrage of criticism after he charged tenant children with trespassing across a field stocked with cows, calves and bulls. He said that he was advised to make a statement by the police, who then arrested the children, aged between four and 17, on October 29.

But, the farmer has defended his action by saying that cows are fiercely protective of their young.

“The children’s safety is my main concern. A little child weighing 40 kg is no match for a testosterone-pumped bull in the midst of a breeding season, or a cow’s protective instinct,” he said.

The farm tenants have been repeatedly warned in formal and informal meetings to stay out of the field, said Verhoef.

Verhoef said he bought the farm in 2005, with the understanding that previous problems between the then owner and tenants was solved by the offer and acceptance of a 60-ha piece of land.

He arranged a meeting between Land Affairs, the previous land owner, and the tenants to explain to them that he was now the legal owner and wanted to lend a hand by offering them corrugated iron to assist them to relocate.

“This offer was emphatically rejected by four of the families, who said they did not want anything from me but wanted the whole farm. Land Affairs, however, explained to them that government cannot afford to buy the entire farm. Their systematic bullying just continued.”

Verhoef said he has faced a “daily onslaught of sabotage” of water pipes, irrigation valves, setting of fires, false cases/allegations, cutting of fences, poisoning cattle, blocking his access with stones and threats on his and his family’s safety.

He said that his offer to sell his farm to Land Affairs is couched in terms including that a specific and acceptable time frame be guaranteed by the department to himself.

“The selling price will be favourably considered if market related.”

He said that if his offer is rejected or if the tenants continue to misbehave, he will revert to the original agreement by all parties to relocate the tenants to the 60 ha.

Sipho Dlamini, assistant director for client liaison at Land Affairs, told The Witness that he hopes that buying the property may help to resolve the tense situation on the farm.

“The main thing now is to sort out the farm. The tenants need land to graze, plant and live on, and Verhoef needs to be able to replace his farm. We hope that this will be a workable solution and be implemented as soon as possible.”

Koos Marais, of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union’s security desk, said that landowners needed protection against acts that make farming impossible.

“We believe that any act by landowners or others should be thoroughly investigated by the police, brought to court and the judgment of the court be accepted by everyone involved.”

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