SA’s successful emerging farmers gear up to tackle land department over ‘illegal evictions’.

Dozens of successful emerging Mpumalanga farmers, many of whom have 30-year land leases with the state, are challenging the land department over allegedly illegal evictions, which have seen some being given just 24 hours to vacate their land.

“They want to destroy what we have spent years building. The department’s officials are trying to steal the bread from our children’s mouths,” says Amersfort farmer, Swazi Motha.

Motha is the coordinator of the MkhululiAgri union, which is fighting the eviction of 39 successful emerging Mpumalanga farmers. The union is now gearing up to challenge the eviction of emerging farmers in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, who either have valid lease agreements or who have not been provided the original lease agreements, despite having successfully applied for and been given land.

Motha, who has farmed maize, soya and dry beans on his farm since 2012, has battled since September 2020 to stop his eviction. He said he was served his eviction notice without warning and ordered not to remove any of the infrastructure which he had installed on his 450ha farm.

“I was given 24 hours to get off the land. The land official from the Ermelo office called me to the office and said I must leave. When I asked why, he said there were other farmers who were given my land. This is despite my lease being valid. I harvest 240 tonnes of maize, soya and dry beans annually. Together with another two emerging farmers, we formed a business to sell the produce which we farm on the property,” said Motha.

Motha said they earn R1.5m a year from what they grow. He added that they have done everything the department said they should do. They have business plans, finance, and reputable companies to whom they sell their produce to. He said when he refused to vacate the land, department officials withheld crucial documents needed to secure additional funding from the commodity organisation, TWKAgri, for his farming activities for this year.

“I sell my crops through AfriGri and secure funding from TWKAgri. I need the documents so I can secure funding to carry on farming. The department is starving us off the land. We have managed to buy a smaller piece of land in case the government sends the sheriff to kick us off, but if we go there, we will definitely not be as successful as we are here,” said Motha.

Motha said within weeks of forming the union, farmers from the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal had asked them for help. He said they were assisting five farmers in KwaZulu-Natal and four in the Eastern Cape. He added that they want to stop the department from carrying out illegal evictions, saying that what is being done is hurting the country and threatening food supplies.

Ermelo maize and cattle farmer John Mabasa, who has joined MkhululiAgri, said his farm was initially 1,300ha but department officials have been squeezing him off the land since 2017.

“I was told the farm was too big for me to manage and that I needed to share the land with other emerging farmers and the community. I did that. Then in February 2020, the department said I must leave and that the lease was up. But it is still valid. It’s a long-term lease,” he said.

According to Mabasa, he was given a week to leave his farm. Mabasa said he did not understand why the government did not want to help emerging farmers become successful. He said his grandfather and father farmed there. He said he was delighted when he got the lease in November 2013 because he thought he could finally provide for his family and help feed the country.

“When I refused to leave the farm I was told I would be given another farm. I don’t want another farm. Why must someone else take my success. I went for interviews. I showed them my business plan and was successful in my application. I was given a 1,080ha farm. I was told I would get all the documents,” said Mabasa.

Since September 2016, Machadodorp cattle and vegetable farmer Pinkie Hlongwane has battled to get her 30-year land lease agreement from the Mpumalanga Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs. She too, says she went for interviews, showed them her business plan and was successful in her application. She said she was given a 1,080ha farm and was told she would get all the documents she needed to apply for funding. But after four years she is still waiting for her lease agreement.

“I am worried because with no lease agreement no financial institute will give me a loan. With dozens of farmers in the area being evicted I am worried I might lose my land,” said Hlongwane.

Brenda Banda, the Black Farmers’ Association national chairperson, said such evictions were common. She said the association has held discussions with government, but there has been no resolution. Banda said the government is wilfully breaching leases which are valid for 30 years.

She said the Western Cape was the worst-affected province followed by Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Banda described the evictions as illegal. She confirmed that there are cases where farmers are given 24 hours to leave and added that the government is disrupting crucial farming processes.

Attorney, Wilmien Wicomb of the Legal Resources Centre, which is fighting several emerging farmer eviction cases, said the breaches of the leases by government are widespread. She said while there were laws governing land restitution, there was no legislation to guide the redistribution of land.

“Redistribution is done through opaque policies which have created an open season for the potential corrupt allocation of land. In 2019, the department wrote the State Land Lease Disposal policy, but no-one saw it until recently,” she said.

Wicomb said through several eviction cases which they were pursuing they were hoping to challenge the policy. According to her, there must be lawful requirements on making decisions on land allocation and who should benefit, which should be the poor, the landless and those who have the skills to farm but not the means to buy land.

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