Farmer struggles with squattersComment on this story
KwaZulu- Natal -
South coast farmer Len Pienaar is used to people trespassing daily on his land. But when a shack went up, he knew he had to act swiftly.
“That’s a land grab and I knew if I did not do something about it, I’d run the risk of other people doing the same,” said Pienaar, whose Lion Valley Farm is 5km from Margate.
He is one of several farmers across the country fighting squatters and has called in AfriForum, the civil rights organisation, to help him. AfriForum is dealing with 10 cases countryside, four of them in KwaZulu-Natal.
It has warned KZN farmers to join security networks to protect themselves and each other.
Pienaar said for eight years, he had had to put up with “hundreds” of people from the Gamalakhe township cutting his R480 000 fence and taking shortcuts across his 90ha of land to get to and from Margate or Uvongo. Boundary pegs had also been removed.
He farms instant lawn, but soccer players regularly carve out a pitch on his land. Once a pitch is ruined, they move on to the next.
“I have just lost a R200 000 order because I could not supply enough lawn because the soccer players have ruined my land,” he said.
He claimed off-duty policemen also play. Local police spokesman, Captain Gerald Mfeka though asked, did not comment.
“I wanted to put in a pond for irrigation and hired an excavator for R2 800, but when the community made threats, saying children would drown, I had to send it away.”
The final straw was when a corrugated-iron shack went up on his land and several people took up residence.
Pienaar’s staff had tipped him off about a death threat against him by unknown members of the community, so he hired a security company to accompany Chris Fourie, AfriForum’s KZN community co-ordinator, to the shack.
Fourie delivered a letter on behalf of Pienaar explaining to the occupant he had entered the farmer’s property without permission and demanding he vacate the premises by the next day. The letter said a trespassing case would be opened.
That was in November.
Pienaar duly opened a case of trespassing at the Gamalakhe police station and the docket was referred to the senior public prosecutor in Port Shepstone. Mfeka said it was decided not to prosecute as it was considered a civil matter.
Mfeka said the owner of the shack, who is unnamed, said he was given “the place” by Inkosi Dumisani Mavundla.
The matter was allegedly handed to Mavundla, who is dealing with his indunas.
The Daily News visited Pienaar’s farm last week where the occupants of the shack said they’d been willing to relocate their home to the other side of Pienaar’s fence, but a local headman had advised them to stay until a surveyor worked out where the boundaries were.
Pienaar is prepared to pay for the surveyor “but the community want a surveyor from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and we are still waiting”.
Sipho Dlamini, deputy director of communications for the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, said it appeared their Port Shepstone office had not been approached for a survey service, adding on Monday that this was still being confirmed.
Asked about the death threats against Pienaar, Lieutenant Welcome Shusha said he had addressed the community last month and they had assured him they “would not touch him”.
Now, one of Pienaar’s neighbours, Fred Lauterbach, owner of The Exchange 5316, has several brick houses built on his land.
Lauterbach also turned to AfriForum for help and last week, Shusha escorted Lauterbach and AfriForum’s Fourie to one of the houses, where he witnessed Fourie leave a notice to the owner to vacate the property.
A water meter, bearing the name of Ugu District Municipality, had been installed behind the house.
Lauterbach, who quit farming after a spate of thefts and an armed attack at his home, has now laid a trespassing case against the home owner as well as Ugu District Municipality. Municipal spokesman, Sipho Khuzwayo, said the municipality would be investigating.
Pienaar and Lauterbach were among 27 farmers to beat off a land claim bid by the Mavundla Tribal Authority.
They won the case at the Land Claims Court in 2010 with the various respondents, including the KZN Land Claims Commissioner, the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform and Inkosi Mavundla being ordered to pay their legal costs. They have yet to see any money.
TV continuity presenter, Scot Scott, who farms in the area and is the local representative of the KZN Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) was the driving force behind the legal fight.
Scott and Pienaar explained to the local community that the farmers had won the case and distributed about 10 copies of the judgment.
Explaining the community’s position, Jimmy Mnguni, chairman of the land claim executive group for Chief Mavundla, said they had not received official documents about the case from the Land Reform Department and as “there was no evidence”, they did not believe what the farmers had told them.
They had unsuccessfully tried to get some clarity from the department last week.
“The farmers and the community need to sit down and clarify the borders with a surveyor,” he said.
Local people had been playing soccer on the land for more than 60 years, he said.
There were no death threats against Pienaar, “if anything, we have a friendly relationship with him”.
Meanwhile, another land invasion battle in Karkloof, where farmer Peter Train and his wife, Gill, received death threats, appears to be over.
A labour tenant, who had grazing rights for seven cattle on Train’s land, but who had moved in more than 20, has now moved all the cattle off the land after mediation.
A further meeting to finalise the agreement will be held between the parties and a mediator from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform next Monday.
Train, meanwhile, has relocated to Durban.
AfriForum has called on farmers to join organised agriculture institutions for support. The organisation has its own farm watch organisation, which acts as the “eyes and ears” for the police.
Sandy la Marque, the chief executive of Kwanalu, said there was clear legislation and specific processes to be followed to ensure squatting did not occur.
Kwanalu members had been provided with clear guidelines on how to deal with land invasions. And Kwanalu’s farmers associations had experienced varying degrees of success where there was a working relationship with the SAPS and security forces, she said.
Referring to the 14 farm murders during 2012 and last year, she said there did not appear to be a direct link between “race, land and politics as motives”.