Concern over housing

2019-06-20 15:29
Twane Clarke, of the Karkloof Conservation Centre, stands in front of a plot of land identified for a massive housing project for farm workers in the area. PHOTO: Ian Carbutt

Twane Clarke, of the Karkloof Conservation Centre, stands in front of a plot of land identified for a massive housing project for farm workers in the area. PHOTO: Ian Carbutt

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The uMngeni Municipality wants to buy more than 300 hectares of farm land in Karkloof to build housing for farm workers, prompting fears that this project will encroach on environmentally sensitive land.

The municipality is proposing to pay more than R7 million for two sites: 312,60 hectares of Vlak Hoek farm and 17,539 hectares of Welgevonden.

The matter came before uMngeni’s executive council (Exco) on Wednesday, but was deferred to a later date to get more information about the purchase of the farms as well as what consequences that may have.

The Karkloof farming community comprises about 10 big commercial farms farming dairy and pigs, as well as many smallholdings.

According to an item in the agenda before the Exco, farm dwellers in the area are suffering “unabated evictions” and are “voluntarily” leaving farms because of “increased mechanisation of farming and casualisation of labour”.

The municipality wants to buy the two farms to provide housing for farm dwellers to “alleviate” this “dire situation”. The proposed development will include basic amenities such as business hubs.

DA Exco member Pam Passmore raised several outstanding questions about the proposed project, including whether environmental assessments were conducted, and whether a beneficiary list has been drawn up.

She questioned whether the Department of Human Settlements has been consulted, and how farm workers will be transported to their places of work once they move to the new housing.

Passmore also asked uMngeni to confirm whether all the land was indeed within its boundaries, claiming that some of the land fell under the uMshwathi Municipality.

uMngeni Mayor Sizwe Sokhela explained that there was a need for this housing, saying that farm workers were suffering “horrendous conditions”.

“On a daily basis, farm workers come to our offices complaining of having been evicted. These people need a place to stay. These people are vulnerable and we need to move [the proposal] with speed.”

The farming community has criticised the move.

One farmer said he had instructed a lawyer to investigate the feasibility of the project and it was discovered that only nine hectares of Welgevonden is usable because of an environmentally-sensitive wetland.

The Karkloof Conservation Centre said it was not “ecologically advisable” to build the low-cost housing, saying the area contained one of the biggest areas of continuous bush in the country.

Charlie MacGillivray, the conservancy’s chairperson, told The Witness that they would try to fight the proposed development. He said there were fears that opportunists would take over the housing development, saying that the farming community has spent about R5 million getting illegal dwellers off their farms. “The municipality needs to tell us exactly how many employees were spoken to and why they deem this necessary,” he said. “We try to minimise the negative effect on the ecosystem and actively look to support it.

“We are conscious of our air emissions and use of fertilisers and so on.”

He said there were few job opportunities in the area, and that public transport was unreliable.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg
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