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Agricultural union Kwanalu calls on government to resolve tensions at farms in KZN

The Witness

13 April 2021

Siyamtanda Capa

Government is dragging its feet in acting to resolve tensions between farmers and the tenant labourers and farm dwellers.

This was the view of KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) chief executive officer Sandy La Marque on Monday, commenting on their attempts to proactively negotiate with government in this regard.

La Marque was responding to allegations made by uMngeni Mayor Sizwe Sokhela that some “white farmers” were standing in the way of the municipality delivering services such as water and electricity to farm dwellers.

La Marque’s sentiments also come in the wake of Premier Sihle Zikalala and some members of the provincial cabinet’s visit to Normandien and Vryheid at the weekend. “We regard these as serious allegations, and we believe unjustifiable,” said La Marque.

She said Kwanalu was committed to finding solutions.

“Kwanalu has recently created not one but two initiatives or desks with resources to address land issues and rural development and economic reform.

“Kwanalu has also been proactive in discussions with government in particular regarding labour tenants and farm dwellers,” said La Marque.

She said that the double farm murder in Normandien in October last year had caused tensions and sparked interest from government. A special task team was also established.

“Kwanalu and its members have tried to participate, however there has been little progress and it appears that the matter is no longer that important to those that are meant to lead the process,” said La Marque.

“There is a disregard for law and order. More must be done by government, politicians, leaders to address the crime that is taking place in our rural areas, we need less politics and theatrics and more genuine action,” said La Marque.

She was referring to the murder of Glen and Vida Rafferty, and their dog.

More recently, a 46-year old farmer was killed on Friday at his Winterton farm.

Concerns raised at Zikalala’s intervention meetings ranged from farm owners allegedly refusing to have services installed, abusive farmers, police bias, issues around land ownership and confiscated cattle, among others.

Zikalala responded to the grievances, saying all the issues that had been raised were interlinked.

He cautioned those in attendance from racialising the crimes. “We cannot be dealing with cases based on race; criminality is criminality irrespective of race. We will look into this.” said Zikalala.

The premier said he regretted that farm areas were automatically considered commercial by virtue of being on a commercial farm.

“With regards to services such as water and electricity this would be prioritised under the district development model,” he said.

Zikalala said a team dedicated to issues surrounding water and services would be formed.

He added that the department of community safety and liaison would collect all open cases and urge the police commissioner prioritise them.

A team of 15 people would look into all cases raised at the event, the premier said.

“We need to work together to solve these matters, as government we don’t want to see people living on farms abused, we want to ensure that they are living in safe places and that those who farm cattle can do so in peace,” said Zikalala.

At the event a woman who identified herself as “Mam’Dladla” said a farm owner refused to allow the government to install electricity despite the fact that all application processes had been followed and approved.

The matter was also raised by the Shishiliza Workers Association, which claimed it represents farm labourers from across KwaZulu-Natal.

Meanwhile, in uMngeni Municipality Mayor Sizwe Sokhela said he would consider taking legal action against farmers who are allegedly standing in the way of the municipality delivering services to farm dwellers.

Sokhela said the municipality would make provisions in its legal fees’ budget to ensure the municipality could approach the courts seeking intervention.

He was speaking during a media briefing where he unpacked uMngeni’s draft budget at the weekend.

“We want to take water, sanitation and electricity to people living on farms but the white farmers refuse,” Sokhela said.

He said while they had successfully negotiated with farmers, there had been instances where farmers had flat-out refused.

“When people in farms encounter these problems I have personally gone to negotiate with farmers and we have negotiated with a number of farmers out of those negotiations, sometimes we reach common ground and we do render those services but there are those hardliners who really refuse that black people get services, and that’s something we want to highlight,” said Sokhela

Sokhela said he had seen the challenges faced by people in farm areas first-hand.

“I was born and bred in the farms and I still live there, I know these things and I know the pain of spending most of your life living in a mud house; and when you can afford to build a house built from blocks the farmer will tell you, you can’t and there have been instances when the court has ordered the newly-built house to be demolished,” said Sokhela.

“This is a serious challenge, people are desperate, we have to negotiate and if that fails we have to take legal action,” Sokhela said.

The uMngeni mayor said the municipality was also looking into purchasing parcels of land owned by white farmers. “Currently there is no ownership and we can’t just sit back and fold our arms because people are suffering whilst they vote, they expect something in return,” said Sokhela.