KZN farmer approaches court to evict refugees

2016-05-12 12:01
The refugee children at the Hope Farm attend a class in September 2015. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

The refugee children at the Hope Farm attend a class in September 2015. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

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Durban – KwaZulu-Natal farmer Andrew Wartnaby has approached the courts to help him evict 14 refugees who refuse to leave his farm.

Wartnaby has had to send his wife, Rae, and their 11 children on holiday after the group of refugees began claiming he was using them as slave labour and starving them.

“All we tried to do was help them and they turned on us. This has gone on for too long. I have nothing left to give,” he said.

In July last year, Wartnaby opened his 20-hectare Hope Farm in Killarney Valley, Cato Ridge, to about 143 foreign nationals, including children, who were displaced during xenophobic attacks in the province.

The family ensured that the strangers, most of them from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi, had shelter, were fed, clothed, and that their children were educated, the farmer said.

Things took a turn for the worst when government officials told the family they were housing the refugees illegally and that they had contravened a land-usage by-law as their farm was strictly zoned as agricultural land.

They were given until September 2015 to evict the refugees.

In December, some of the foreigners demanded to be relocated to Canada, or sent back to their home countries. They allegedly threatened to attack the farmer and harm his family.

In March, the family asked 101 of the refugees to leave after relations soured.

“The remaining foreigners sat us down and told us that they want to go to another country and we told them that there was nothing more that we could do for them and that they had until May 6 to leave our property.”

Traumatic time for family

Wartnaby said the refugees called the media and claimed they were being used as slaves and that the farmer was refusing to feed them.

“Things began to become very unpleasant after we asked them to leave. They would prevent me and my family from leaving the farm and told malicious stories about us.”

The Premier’s office, the municipality, and United Nations intervened. They offered the remaining refugees alternative accommodation, but they refused to budge.

“It came to a point where I had to get an eviction notice. The papers were served yesterday and so on Monday we will be going to court.

“It has been a terrible and traumatic time for me and my family and we don’t understand why they did what they did, because after the bulk of the people left, the remainder came to us and apologised for everything and thanked us for everything that we had done for them.”

Wartnaby said he was worried about what the refugees would do next and felt his family would be safer away from the farm.

“We want them gone so that we can start to rebuild our lives. It has been emotionally draining and we are desperate to get our lives going again,” said Wartnaby.

“When we took the refugees in, we were providing a temporary solution. We never thought in our wildest dreams that things would turn out like this,” he said.

Read more on:    durban  |  refugees  |  xenophobia

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