Durban - Three Midlands farmers have, after a 10-year legal wrangle, finally received compensation for cattle lost because of gross negligence by the authorities.

The Asset Forfeiture Unit seized a herd of 134 cattle from the Lions River farmers in 2003 after charging them with stock theft and claiming the animals were the proceeds of crime.

Anil Sewraj, Pramash Sewraj and Heamedlall Sewraj, brothers and co-owners of Lutchman’s Lodge farm, later got the herd back after charges were withdrawn.

But by this stage, 11 cows were missing and many of the remaining animals were sickly or in a poor condition.

The brothers, who have now agreed to a settlement of R300 000, sued the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) for R481 200.

The three were first taken to court by the NDPP in August 2003, when a preservation order was granted, authorising the seizure of all livestock on the farm.

The court order was obtained without any notice being given to the farmers, and on September 10, 2003, 134 cattle were seized from the farm.

The farmers opposed the confiscation order on the basis that their family had farmed on the land for decades and the herd did not constitute the proceeds of crime.

However, in the interim, the NDPP had failed to bring the application for forfeiture of the cattle within 90 days of the publication of the preservation order, and on these technical grounds the application was dismissed and the court ordered the herd be returned to the farmers.

Despite this court order, the NDPP did not return the cattle. Only after numerous additional applications was the herd eventually returned to the Sewraj brothers in May 2004.

According to the farmers, the herd was significantly smaller: 11 cows were missing and the remaining cattle were diseased and emaciated.

The value of the herd seized was about R594 000. The value of the herd returned was estimated at R133 000.

The farmers contended the NDPP had a duty to ensure the cattle were well cared for and was obliged to maintain and preserve the herd so as to return it in good condition.

In their papers before the Pietermaritzburg High Court, the Sewraj brothers maintained the severe neglect of the animals was a criminal offence, adding that the NDPP’s actions were reckless and negligent.

“Their conduct in seizing the herd and their failure to care for the cattle constitutes a violation of our constitutional rights to privacy and property,” the farmers said.

Anil Sewraj, who spoke to the Daily News after the settlement on Monday, said he and his brothers were relieved that the matter was behind them, but they were not entirely happy with the settlement.

“We got a considerably lower settlement than we anticipated, but we’re glad it’s all over. We have suffered 11 years of stress. This has been a terrible experience,” he said.

Legal counsel for the NDPP confirmed that the settlement was reached.

Daily News