This week, violence flared in Donnybrook on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast where a group of former workers allegedly butchered 17 cows owned by a farmer they accused of employing Zimbabweans.
Charles Anderson, 62, of Emerald Dale Farms and Patula Sawmill, said despite building a creche for the community, paying teachers’ salaries and donating part of his farm for a soccer field, his farm has been targeted by bitter former employees.
His wife, Luan, said she was heartbroken to see crippled cows with deep wounds gasping for air before dying.
“It is painful when all your animals are lying crippled and can neither move nor walk because they have been butchered,” she said.
She added that 10 cows had to be put down due to the injuries they suffered. Five of the cows were on the mend and two were killed.
The family has bolstered security by hiring armed guards after attempts to petrol bomb the home of a Zimbabwean farm manager were unsuccessful.
Police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala confirmed that six suspects had been taken in for questioning yesterday.
“A case of malicious damage to property is being investigated by Donnybrook SAPS. It is alleged that on Thursday, a wendy house was set alight, two cows were maimed while another 12 sustained injuries,” Gwala said.
She said the motive behind the attack was being investigated.
Anderson said since last year the group had accused him of employing foreigners. He said at a recent meeting attended by ex-employees and unemployed individuals he was told in no uncertain terms to dismiss all his Zimbabwean employees otherwise there would be trouble.
He said he promised he would not employ more Zimbabweans.
There was, however, no compromise and the attitude was simply “we as the Andersons must leave the farm or the Zimbabweans must leave”.
“It is totally unacceptable to dismiss employees who have done nothing wrong but were dedicated to their duties.
“But I will wait for the employees to come up with proposals on how we can move forward. For now, production has been stopped with very little happening on the farm,” he said.
Speaking after a meeting yesterday, community leader Silwanaziphi Jama said locals had begged Anderson not to leave because many families relied on the farm for employment.
“We are happy that he made that sacrifice, but we also commit ourselves to protecting the property. The community is convinced we need the farm to exist,” Jama said.
A qualified harvest manager, who has a diploma from the College of Forestry in Zimbabwe and who asked not to be named, said he left the farm for a safe place until the situation had normalised. He said the attacks were xenophobic because they flared up after foreigners in Durban were attacked three weeks ago.
“These issues regarding their dismissal were supposed to be raised last year, but it waited until attacks flared in Durban townships. They were really taking advantage of the recent attacks.
“I was told by local employees that because I hold a senior position, my life was at stake. When employees get fired for misconduct we, in senior positions, have to carry the blame,” he said.
He said four Zimbabweans, one Angolan and a Malawian had been employed on the farm and all had left.
The attack on Thursday night took place hours after an urgent court interdict was obtained from the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
Anderson said there was a delay in serving the interdict to the attackers because police needed back-up. He said it was only formally issued on Friday.
The interdict prevented employees, former employees and anyone else from gathering or organising protests at any of the farms or public roads allowing access to and from the farms.
The “trouble-causers” have also been ordered not to burn tyres, logs, trees, plantations, building structures or any substance on the farms.
The application was brought on an urgent basis by advocate Chris Snyman, SC, before Judge Piet Koen following protest action that worsened on the farm this week.
Anderson said both farms employed between 350 and 400 people, injecting R2 million monthly into the local economy through the wages that were paid. The Anderson family has worked on the farm for the past century.
He said the hate was perpetrated by a few former employees who were fired for misconduct.
He said although his two sons William and Phillip wanted the family to leave, he was convinced he should stay after local support poured in from traditional leaders and the community.
Project manager at the Institute of Race Relations Terrence Corrigan said there was a strong element of xenophobia which was recklessly stoked up by unscrupulous politicians.
“A lot of frustration regarding the lack of service delivery causes people to be impatient and to blame foreign nationals for their situation. Although there were only a few Zimbabweans employed on the farm, locals found an excuse to use to push for the dismissal of foreign nationals.”