Fed-up Cato Ridge farmers part ways with refugees

2016-03-09 10:36
Vital Nshinirimana, the original elected leader of the group of foreign nationals staying at Hope Farm in Killarney Valley in Cato Ridge now fears for his life and those of the refugees’ hosts. (Kailene Pillay, The Witness)

Vital Nshinirimana, the original elected leader of the group of foreign nationals staying at Hope Farm in Killarney Valley in Cato Ridge now fears for his life and those of the refugees’ hosts. (Kailene Pillay, The Witness)

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Durban – The owners of Hope Farm in Killarney Valley, KwaZulu-Natal, have asked 101 people displaced by xenophobic violence to leave their property, after the relationship turned sour.

Andrew and Rae Wartnaby were pushed to breaking point after some of the 138 foreign nationals they took in during xenophobic attacks in the province last year, turned on them.

The couple asked 101 members of the group to leave the farm on March 1. The remainder were still living there.

"It has been the most difficult eight months of our lives," said Andrew Wartnaby.

The family opened its 20-hectare farm to foreigners displaced by the xenophobic violence in and around Durban in July last year. They were given shelter and food and volunteers educated their children.

Accusations of govt plot

In December, a breakaway group of about 84 set fire to a tent, cut a fence and refused the couple's help.

At the time, Wartnaby said they had accused him of being a government agent. They said the farm was part of a government plot to get them back into their communities.

Wartnaby said two weeks ago he had asked for help from provincial Safety and Liaison MEC Willies Mchunu.

"Things have been really tough since they burnt the tent. I think they were sick and tired of being on the farm."

A volunteer holds a class with the children on Hope Farm. (File, Amanda Khoza, News24)

He believed the refugees refused his help in a bid to get the attention of the government, but their cries fell on deaf ears.  

"The situation got volatile. I made a tough decision that I wanted them out of the farm by March 1.

‘I didn’t evict them. They left’

The United Nations came to address them and on that day taxis came and loaded them and took them to shelters around Durban.

"I was fed-up with everything and what they did after we tried to help," Wartnaby said.

The foreigners had threatened them and made their lives miserable, he said.

"The last three months have been awful for me and Rae and to be threatened on our own property was horrible."

He did not evict them. They left, he said.

"I once heard a saying that there are 10% kind people, 10% mean and the other 80% are swayed either way. And I think that is what we had on the farm. There were really nice people and there were bad people who did very bad things."

Despite everything that has happened, the couple had no regrets.

"It's been the most difficult eight months of our lives. We regret the fights and being in the newspapers, but we met some really great people [and] made strong friendships.

"We are exhausted and traumatised by the entire experience, but we have also learnt a lot about the human spirit."

He was grateful for the support he received from the local Sankontshe community and those who helped the refugees.

"God sustained us every day, we held onto the prayers and the scriptures we received."

Food, health services arranged

Premier Senzo Mchunu's spokesperson Ndabezinhle Sibiya said his office was informed that the foreigners had moved into a private shelter in Durban last Thursday.

Social Development MEC Weziwe Thusi and social workers were sent to assess the situation. They found that 58 of the 101 people living there were children.

Thusi arranged food for the children, health services for a pregnant woman, and medicine for an HIV-positive woman.

Sibiya said special adviser to the premier, Linda Zama, had been in talks with the UN to find a lasting solution. They wanted to be repatriated to countries like Canada, which was why the UN was handling the matter.

"Pointing fingers at one another will not provide solutions. We need to focus on resolving the matter," said Sibiya.

Read more on:    durban  |  xenophobia

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