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KZN farms blaze mystery

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THE MERCURY

A plastic recycling factory, farming equipment and five vehicles were destroyed when a fire ravaged Lion Valley farm near Margate on Saturday. Two cane farms were also damaged in fires around Gamalakhe.

Durban - A farmer in Gamalakhe, outside Margate on the South Coast, is stunned after property on his farm was set alight early on Saturday, allegedly causing R3.2 million damage.

Two other sugar cane farms were torched, with one farmer losing 5 hectares of his plantation.

Len Pienaar, owner of Lion Valley farm, said he, his family and the workers could not believe they had to start from scratch.

“We have to go back to work on Tuesday, but I have no work to start on,” he said.

Members of the Mavundla Tribal Authority marched to the region’s Land Affairs office on Saturday morning, after the fires, to complain about a land claim. It was not clear if the complaint related to Pienaar's farm or another property.

Pienaar said the fire brigade had alerted him to the blaze at about 2.45am on Saturday.

He rushed to the farm and found that his farming equipment, plastic recycling factory and store had been gutted. Five vehicles had also been destroyed.

“I have not counted everything but, looking at the big stuff, I can say the damage is about R3.2m,” he said.

He said the buildings where the vehicles and equipment had been kept would have to be replaced.

“Maybe in the next few months we will have recovered, I do not know.”

Pienaar was not staying on the farm, but three of his staff members were living there.

A private security firm has provided guards to protect Pienaar’s family and property.

Pienaar said he was unhappy with the delayed response from police, to whom several phone calls were made.

He said that he had phoned the nearest police station, that at Gamalakhe; a captain who was in charge of farming at the Margate police; a Colonel Govender, the head of the Margate police; and a reservist – who promised police would get to the scene. Police failed to turn up.

“When I sent one of my workers to Gamalakhe police station, they told him they had only three cars available.”

Two Margate police officers came to the farm later that morning, but did not open a case, Pienaar said.

Police spokesman Jay Naicker said police could not open a case because they did not respond to fire incidents – the fire department did.

AfriForum’s provincial co-ordinator, Chris Fourie, said: “I phoned Inkosi Dumisani Mavundla’s right-hand-man, Jimmy Mnguni, who confirmed there was a march. He said the community would not march to the farm, but to a government office.”

There was no proof that the march was linked to the fire at Lion Valley farm.

“The SAPS in Gamalakhe confirmed to AfriForum on Sunday that the Mavundla community was marching in the belief the farms belong to them,” said Fourie.

“The protest march was held to hand over a memorandum to the Department of Land Affairs in relation to a ruling which saw the tribe lose (the land claim).”

He said AfriForum was worried that police were not on the farm to ensure the Pienaars’ safety.

“Mr Pienaar was forced to call in the help of a private security firm to protect his property and family.”

Fourie said the Mavundla community lodged a land claim in November 2004. In February 2010, the Land Claims Court ruled in favour of the farmers and ordered the regional Land Claims commissioner in KwaZulu-Natal to de-gazette the Mavundla tribe’s land claim.

In October 2013, Pienaar laid a charge of trespassing against people who were building shacks on his farm.

“Police refused to take action – they informed the farmer that the land grabbers were not trespassing,” he said.

KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union head of security Koos Marais said farmers were not protected in the province and it had come to the union’s notice that police did not attend to a complaint immediately after several calls had been made.

“The agricultural union is concerned that the criminal act of setting farms alight happens so often. We insist on a full police investigation,” he said.

People had to understand it was not the landowner but the Department of Land Affairs that was responsible for the completion of land claims.

Inkosi Mavundla refused to comment on the march and whether the fire on Lion Valley was linked to the land claim. He said he would talk to the media when he was back at his office.

The Mercury


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