More than four months ago the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa asking him to uphold a promise made in 2014 for a moratorium on farm evictions. Ramaphosa has not yet responded, GroundUp reports.
In November 2014, Ramaphosa, who was deputy president at the time, was quoted by City Press as promising a moratorium on evictions, after he and a delegation of senior ministers met agricultural and farm labour representatives in Paarl. The visit came after a spate of protests by farmworkers, demanding higher wages and better working conditions, turned violent.
Since his election to office in February, activists and lobby groups have called on Ramaphosa to implement the moratorium, but without success.
Activists argue that a moratorium is necessary to secure the tenure rights of all farm dwellers. They want an end to forced removals; the opportunity for long-term tenants to build structures; and for farm dwellers to be able to use the land they occupy for their own purposes.
At an indaba on farm evictions, hosted by the SAHRC in April, Drakenstein municipal manager Lauren Waring acknowledged that the municipality had become “a hotspot for evictions” with an estimated 20 000 people affected by 1 127 pending eviction matters at the time.
On Monday, the SAHRC’s Western Cape head Chris Nissen told GroundUp that the commission had still not heard back from the Presidency. He said the commission and lobby group Women on Farms were working with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to curb unlawful farm evictions.
This, Nissen said, followed a visit to farms in Simondium by Deputy Minister Mcebisi Skwatsha in June. At the time, Skwatsha said he “was alarmed” by the living conditions of some farm dwellers in the area. He added that Parliament was “busy strengthening the legislation around the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA)”.
Skwatsha’s visit prompted civil society group Tshintsha Amakhaya to start its own online campaignto get Ramaphosa to ban all farm evictions. To date, the group has collected nearly 360 online signatures.
Sobantu Mzwakali, advocacy and campaigns officer at Tshintsha Amakhaya, said: “After we sent the letter in June, we did not hear directly from the president’s office.”
Mzwakali said the group had handed Skwatsha a draft petition to pass on to the Presidency.
“The department responded saying they wanted to engage with farmworkers and educate them about ESTA. We weren’t happy with this response. We know the laws exist but on the ground evictions are still happening and the law is not being implemented the way it should be,” he said.
Carmen Louw, of Women on Farms Project, said that it appeared to be “business as usual” for officials at the department.
Women’s Day protest unsuccessful
“We participated in a number of engagements and helped to shape a strategy but this process came to a halt. No strategic interventions were implemented to deal with the crisis.”
This, Louw said, had resulted in a breakdown of trust between civil society and government.
Louw said Women on Farms had assisted more than 200 families in eviction-related matters this year alone. Most of the cases were in the Drakenstein municipality.
She said there had been no feedback from Skwatsha’s office.
“Evictions continue as usual and farm dwellers are left with very little support and resources. We are therefore reluctant to participate in any further big engagements with him,” she added.
Attempts to get a response from the Presidency, including staging a protest during Women’s Day celebrations in August in Mbekweni, where Ramaphosa was speaking, had not been successful either.
“We had a silent demonstration, calling for a moratorium on evictions and requesting a meeting with him. We are still awaiting a response from him. Since becoming President, he has not directly referred to the moratorium on farm evictions,” she said.
Nissen said the current land debate had no immediate impact for families on farms who faced human rights violations.
“We are still seeing evictions done illegally,” he said.
GroundUp contacted the Presidency for comment on June 12, 14, 25, September 10 and again on October 15, without success.
We also contacted the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform via telephone and email.
On September 26, a spokesperson for the department, Phuti Mabelebele, promised in an email to respond to questions within two days. Despite several further calls and emails to officials, no response had been received by the time of publication.