Deputy Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Mcebisi Skwatsha, in partnership with the Women on Farms Projects, an NGO working with women in commercial agriculture, visited a number of farms in Drakenstein and hosted a farm eviction dialogue with farmworkers​ at the Simondium Community Hall yesterday. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
The more than 1 000 pending farm evictions in the Simondium area of Drakenstein have been described as suitable for the Rural Development and Land Reform Department’s test cases for expropriation without compensation, says Deputy Minister Mcebisi Skwatsha.

He was addressing a gathering at the Simondium community hall yesterday after visiting farms in the region with NGO Women on Farms following reports of the pending farm evictions. Skwatsha was given a tour and saw some of the living conditions of farmworkers and dwellers on the Marlenique and Dawn Mountain farms.

He also met residents from Breede Valley, De Doorns and Ceres, who shared their stories of evictions. Ceres resident Ragel Paulse, 67, told of her battle with a farm owner who wanted to evict her following the death of her husband in 2007.

“He (the farmer) told me I had to leave and I have been fighting his eviction ever since. He shut off my power and told me I had to put out my children before he would put it back on. I did as he said and now I have to live on my own. As an old woman it’s not safe and I fear he will force me off any day,” said Paulse.

Last week the Drakenstein municipality confirmed that there were 1127 eviction cases in the region of which 434 were currently before court.

The municipality said that should the courts decide for an eviction, they could be ordered to provide emergency alternative accommodation, which would consist of 24m² temporary structures and access to basic communal service.

Western Cape SA Human Rights commissioner Chris Nissen said that while he understood the rights of both sides of the matter, the department must review its Esta law, as it provided little protection for the farm dwellers and workers.

“We have listened to the stories of the people, visited the farms and the informal settlements, like ‘Spookie Town’ in De Doorns.

“We are calling the deputy minister and the department to place a moratorium on the Esta legislation until it is reviewed, and also to review court orders under this legislation,” Nissen said.

Skwatsha said that while the community were sharing their stories, he knew that somewhere in the country a farmer was committing the same acts.

“After 24 years of democracy, there were people within South Africa who have not tasted freedom; these people are the farmworkers.

“Simondium must be put in consideration for our test cases on expropriation without compensation.

“Our portfolio committee has been cited with reviewing the Esta legislation, but we need the voices of the farm people,” said Skwatsha.

He said the constitution allowed for expropriation without compensation and the Freedom Charter stipulated that the land would be given to those who worked it.

Women On Farms co-director Carmen Louw said that they welcomed the statements made by the officials during the discussions and they would hold them accountable.

She said that the moratorium on the Esta legislation was desperately needed as this only provided farm owners with a legal president to conduct mass evictions, while providing no protection for rural people or ensuring they received adequate housing or services.