This article appeared in the Inyanda Community News newspaper, which is published every two months by the Inyanda National Land Movement and distributed nationwide through its affiliate organisations.
Land activists are up in arms after the Caledon Magistrate Court failed to resolve the issue of a small-scale farmer's livestock that the Theewaterskloof Municipality wants to sell, effectively ruining the farmer.
On January 26, the Caledon magistrate's Court dismissed an application by Mr Anthony Sampson “Oom Pops” to stop the local municipality from selling his six horses that have been in the pound since March 2016. However, the Court declined to give a final order on the matter, and instead called on Oom Pops to testify for the first time in this case.
The Court must still set a date when it will reconvene to hear further arguments from Counsel before granting a final order on the sale of the horses.
“It is disappointing as I thought everything would be final and sorted out today, but I now I must return to court again.” Oom Pops said after a long day waiting outside the court.
The municipality rightfully claims that Oom Pops cannot afford to pay the tens-of-thousands of rands that is needed to release his horses from the Municipal Pound, and that the livestock must be sold to cover the costs of impoundment.
The horses were impounded in March last year, after they apparently strayed onto Drievlei commercial farm on the outskirts of Caledon.
“It's clear that small scale farmers need more protection because the authorities here clearly want to destroy them,” said Denia Jansen, spokesperson for the Mawubuye Lands Rights Movement, who came out to support Oom Pops at the court. “We came here today to pledge our solidarity and support with all farmers who are landless and are falling victim to the municipal by-laws and unfair sale of livestock.”
“Everywhere in this province we see more and more commonage land disappearing, being sold off or leased out, yet commonage land is crucial for the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. This municipality is not protecting or advancing small-scale farmers, it's destroying them,” Jansen added.
Oom Pops is one of at least ten small-scale farmers in the Caledon-Greyton-Riviersonderend region who have been suffering systematic harassment by TWK law enforcement officials for their audacity to want to own and breed livestock. The farmers all rely on municipal commonage land for their animals to graze.
“There are 28 small-scale farmers in the Caledon area, and none of us have land for grazing,” says Oom Pops in his affidavit submitted to the court.
“There is a big piece of commonage land close to the [Caledon] residential area which the municipality has leased to a commercial farmer who already owns many farms. The land is being used for production of animal feed,” he explains.
In the court, Oom Pops testified that there is commonage land adjoining the commercial farm Drievlei but that the fence separating the two had fallen into disrepair. The municipality has not repaired the fence despite numerous requests.
Oom Pops explained further that the commercial farmer at Drievlei, which itself is on land being leased from the Municipality, had given him an ultimatum that if the municipality did not fix the fence, then Oom Pops must sell his horses.
“Livelihoods are at stake here,” says Jansen. “Oom Pops, like many other people, supplement their pension or social grant with income they get from their livestock. It means that it's almost a year now that Oom Pops has been without his horses and without an additional income.”
Elvin Jacobs, from Bereaville in the Genadendal district has five horses in the pound, which were taken around the same time last year. Similarly, Samuel Ndlumane from Riviersonderend had 11 of his goats impounded. Both of them spent the whole day at the Caledon Magistrate's court, only to find out that their cases were not being dealt with and that no date had been set to hear their matter.
In Riviersonderend, 80 year old Nosinothi Ntsombo has already lost her case and 16 goats to the municipality. The TWK auctioned her goats after slapping her with a bill of over R500 000 for the release of her livestock. Her goats were impounded after grazing along the side of a road in the town.
“This is not the first time that we have gone to court with this municipality over impounding of livestock of poor small scale farmers. Yet they have made no effort to support the extension of municipal commonage. Making resources and land available is the only way to overcome the problems of impounding and livestock,” says Boyce Tom, Senior Researcher for the Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE).
The TCOE is supporting the farmers with access to legal representation.
“We need much greater vigilance not only around the allocation and access to commonage land, but also around the security and maintenance that is required. How can struggling subsistence farmers be expected to erect fences between the public grazing land and a commercial farm?” asks Tom.
“What's more is that it's completely unacceptable for the municipality to want to extract such high costs from poor small scale farmers. Why don’t they just repair the fences and use the existing legislation to secure more communal land for small scale farmers?” adds Tom.
Commonage is a special category of land that should remain in the ownership of a municipality for the use and benefit of town residents forever. In the past, municipal commonage land was granted free of charge to white municipalities by the state for the use and benefit of mostly white town residents. From the 1950's onwards, white municipalities started leasing commonages to white commercial farmers to generate income – instead of permitting poorer black residents access. After 1994, when all town residents became entitled to access municipal commonages, many of these tracts of land were already being leased to white commercial farmers, some with long term leases of up to 50 years in place.