Penhill farmers upset over court’s land ruling
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AS THE Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) ordered several Penhill farmers to relinquish some of the land they used to the provincial government, farmers said they believe they were victims of a political spat.
The SCA upheld a DA-led provincial government appeal against a Western Cape High Court refusal to grant the province an interdict against the farmers.
Penhill farmers representative and farm owner Gavin Gossman said the provincial government wanted about 30% of the land back and this would have an impact on four farms.
“We wanted to get into a lease agreement with the government but they refused. We were given the land by the ANC when it was still in control of the province, but now the DA-led government wants it back. People started occupying the land since 1994.”
Gossman said former transport and public works MEC and ANC provincial leader Marius Fransman had given permission for them to occupy the entire land during his time as MEC.
“The community is very anxious about the SCA decision. We tried engaging the department last year, but they don’t want to get near us.
“They want to bring a number of Ithemba Farms on this land. We are more than happy if they come here, but there isn’t enough space to accommodate them.”
Fransman failed to respond to an SMS he requested be sent, as he could not take a call as he was in a meeting.
Human Settlements Department spokesperson Nathan Adriaanse said the land was earmarked for areas experiencing flooding in winter. He said there were 72 illegal farmers occupying the land.
“The department’s core function is human settlement development and the department is in the process of developing the land for the function it was intended for. None of the existing structures were demolished, only the erection of the newly built structures were prevented.”
In 2011 the provincial Human Settlement Department wanted to interdict the farmers to prevent further unlawful occupation of land.
The application was rejected on the basis that the Penhill farmers were given consent and have had about 200 hectares, used by more than 70 farmers, mostly on pig farms
The SCA found that an examination of the discussions at meetings and of correspondence between the provincial government and the Penhill farmers showed that the provincial government had not agreed that farmers could occupy and farm the entire property.
“The Penhill Farmers were advised before then that the unoccupied land was needed for other people (Ithemba farmers). Nonetheless, the Penhill farmers and others continued to take occupation of portions of the property previously unoccupied and to erect structures without consent,” read the SCA judgment.
The SCA ruling stated the farmers were given notice in 2011 by the department to demolish the structures illegally erected, but the notice was ignored as people continued building structures and to fence off unoccupied portions of land.
“The provincial government is entitled to the interdict that it seeks. It, and people in the Western Cape, have been severely prejudiced by the delay in the court system.
“It is also entitled to the costs in the courts below and on appeal.
“Although the Penhill farmers argued that they were asserting constitutional rights, that is not the case. They had no right to the whole property, and they are commercial farmers,” read the judgment.