File photo: Reuters.

More than 20 families live on the almost 130-hectare land known as Proefplaas, some of them since the 1980s.

The ARC had closed its agricultural and research operations on the farm in 1996, leaving the residents with ambitions to lease and utilise the land.

Proefplaas Residents’ Committee chairperson Willem Williams, 64, said sections of the land had been used for farming and research while the section they resided on had homes built for the locals.

Williams said they had been trying for 25 years to get permission from the ARC to lease the land along with the right to farm on it as since 1996, more people had settled on the land.

He said they heard through a local radio station that the farm would be leased to a commercial farmer.

“We were never consulted by the ARC on their plans, and we don’t know what is going to happen to us. Many of the families here are emerging farmers, but with the lack of water, we are unable to farm on the land,” said Williams.

ARC spokesperson Mpho Ramosili said the families occupied the land illegally. The ARC was considering a possible lease for farming while preparing plans for future research and development, Ramosili said.

“The farm does not have any research or farming operations running at the moment due to a lack of funding. The families living on the farm are illegal squatters and are not tenants of the ARC,” she said.

According to Williams, the last communication the residents had with the ARC was in 2015, when they were brought one-year leases - but did not sign them as they had feared eviction following the end of the contract.

Williams said since 2017, the Cederberg Municipality had been delivering water to them although it was not drinkable. This was because the residents’ water, electricity and sanitation services were cut.

Non-profit organisation Surplus People Project (SPP), which advocates for rural communities’ economic empowerment, said they had reached out to the departments of agriculture and land reform. The rural development department did not respond to the Cape Times by deadline.

SPP manager Harry May said: “The residents have to prepare food on open fires and, because of the circumstances, they pick up all types of stomach and lung diseases. The farm is unsafe, especially at night because there is no light. The department of agriculture in Elsenburg, and rural development and land reform in Clanwilliam, know about the situation but have done nothing,” said May.

He said they planned to approach the SA Human Rights Commission.

The land would be leased to a private entity, May added, but they were unable to get any correspondence from the ARC on the plan for the residents. Cederberg municipal manager Louis Volschenk was not available for comment on Thursday.

Cape Times