Farm protesters shot and injured

2017-04-06 14:02
Agriculture and Rural Development MEC Themba Mthembu (centre) talks to the farm dwellers from Normandien, Newcastle.

Agriculture and Rural Development MEC Themba Mthembu (centre) talks to the farm dwellers from Normandien, Newcastle. (Mbuyiselo Ndlovu)

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All hell has broken loose in a dispute between farm dwellers and a farmer at Normandien farm, near Newcastle.

Operations at the farm came to a standstill as tensions between farmer Lawrence Hoatson and the local community continue unabated.

Since March 6, employees have been protesting about matters relating to “poor” working conditions and their minimum wage.

However, Hoatson refutes the claims, saying his workers are paid more than what is stipulated in the sectoral determination for farm workers.

He blamed a union he said was trying to bulldoze its way onto the farm without following proper channels.

Four workers are said to be in a critical condition in hospital after being allegedly shot at by security personnel hired by the farmer.

The matter raised the ire of Agriculture and Rural Development MEC Themba Mthembu, who has described the conditions of the farm workers as a human rights violation.

Community leader Lucky Shabalala told The Witness on Wednesday that farm dwellers were now squatting in nearby bush after the farmer evicted them following the protest.

He said problems started when the farmer told the dwellers that their cattle were over-grazing, saying it was leading to soil erosion. “He asked them to get rid of some of the cattle, but the community members told him that they can’t get rid of them overnight.

“He then illegally impounded 300 cattle. We challenged it in court and won, however, the farmer appealed the ruling and we are still waiting for the appeal to be heard,” he said.

Shabalala said matters then intensified when workers protested about working conditions and a living wage.

“They are not allowed any leave days and they are earning way below the minimum wage. When they brought that up with the employer, he hired a security company.”

Shabalala said it was time for government to expropriate the farm.

Mthembu said he will write to Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti.

“Clearly this is a serious violation of human rights and workers’ rights. We can not ignore the element of racism in this matter,” he said.

The MEC said a task team would be formed to investigate the matter.

“We are taking this matter seriously. This is so painful in such a way that when farm dwellers talk about this, they cry,” he said.

Mthembu said he will write to Police Minister Fikile Mbalula and Community Safety and Liaison MEC Mxolisi Kaunda to inform them about threats of violence in the area.

Hoatson said the issue of the cattle has been dragging on for 12 years.

He said a court order was granted to remove the cattle from the farm.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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