‘Always raining bullets’

2019-07-29 16:02
Thokozani Mncwabe at Weenen’s Sun Valley citrus farm, which exports its oranges and lemons to the European countries. The future of the operation is at stake: see page 2PHOTO: Moeketsi Mamane

Thokozani Mncwabe at Weenen’s Sun Valley citrus farm, which exports its oranges and lemons to the European countries. The future of the operation is at stake: see page 2PHOTO: Moeketsi Mamane

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It's been “raining bullets” in a feud between villages in Weenen, jeopardising local investment and the fate of the multi-million-rand Sun Valley citrus farm.

The residents of Nhlawe and KwaMadondo are alleged to be fighting over boundaries of their villages, which determines how much each should get from Sun Valley.

The citrus farm owners have been leasing the land from the Silindokuhle Community Trust for more than 12 years. The trust is made up of beneficiaries from seven communities, including the two that are feuding.

Some say that Weenen is living up to its name as “a place of weeping” as it was dubbed following a 1838 massacre of 101 Voortrekkers after land negotiations between Piet Retief and Dingane collapsed.

The office of the MEC for Community Safety and Liaison, Mxolisi Kaunda, said at least 39 people have died in this land feud, but the locals believed it was more, as some had been killed in Johannesburg and Durban, where they worked.

They said people from a neighbouring village, Ekucasheni, have also fallen victim to the violence.

Some families had apparently fled to other parts of the province as the violence had taken a nastier turn with even women and children being gunned down.

“Be careful, but you might get stopped by people who will ask you for money for ammunition. Give them what you have otherwise they will help themselves to your possessions and you might get hurt,” warned one of the residents when The Witness team drove through the area recently.

Gunshots could be heard echoing in the valley as The Witness conducted interviews with some of the locals.

“It’s always raining bullets. Sometimes I wonder how I’m still alive but I guess God and my ancestors are still watching over me and my family,” said one of the residents.

Some people said they have been sleeping in the bush since last year for fear of being attacked at night.

The concern over the safety of their children has led to some parents taking their children out of school.

“I want my children to get an education so that they can get good jobs but they have to be alive to get that far in life and it’s my job as their mother to protect them from harm,” said one of the women, in her early 50s.

There were allegations that hired hitmen had found the dispute lucrative as they had been paid to carry out some revenge killings.

Some of those working at Sun Valley feared that the farm could come under attack or the investors would decide to pull out if the dispute is not resolved urgently. This could result in the loss of about 700 jobs.

“There are families who are now struggling to even put food on the table because the breadwinners were killed. If I had money I would also move somewhere else.”

David Ngcobo of the Weenen CPF said repeated appeals had been made to the feuding groups to put down their arms with no success.

“Spilling blood only breeds anger and despair because of revenge killings and businesses closing down. We need to do more to protect the few farms that are still operating, otherwise we will become a ghost town.”

He said it saddened him that innocent people who were not even part of the warring factions were also getting caught in the crossfire.

“We are all living in fear and there are also suspicions that criminals have taken advantage of this war and they are using it to target their enemies and those they want to rob or kill.”

Many said they were hopeful that the recent intervention by MEC Kaunda would yield positive results. His spokesperson Mluleki Mntungwa was optimistic that the parties would come to a peaceful pact.

He said in the meantime, the police were on the ground trying to prevent violence from erupting. He said a recent raid recovered four firearms — an AK47, two rifles and a 38 revolver — as well as 120 rounds of ammunition. A peace committee has also been set up and is working with Inkosi Siphamandla Mthembu, Kaunda aimed to bring together the ring leaders of the conflict and facilitate the signing of the peace agreement between the Nhlawe and KwaMadondo parties.

“While this process is continuing, the MEC asked the police to maintain a strong presence in the area and conduct law enforcement operations day and night,” he said.

Apparently the factions are currently consulting internally and a meeting with all the parties is said to be imminent.

The Silindokuhle Community Trust is made up of eight farms that it received in 2007 through the land restitution programme and it holds the land on behalf of several communities. Three of the farms had an estimated va-lue of more than R40 million at the time. The farms previously produced food, including oranges and vegetables, however, five of the farms — that were not leased to commercial farmers — have apparently collapsed.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  farm jobs
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