Farmers operating in the Philippi Horticultural Area say their farms have been turned into war zones by criminals. Picture: Tracey Adams/ African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town - Philippi farming activist Nazeer Sonday does not represent the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) or any of the commercial farmers supplying the bulk of vegetables and flowers to Cape Town and overseas markets.

This is the message of the 16 commercial farmers farming around 80% of the PHA who fight a daily battle with crime which they say has turned them into security guards.

The farmers said, in addition, Sonday, who is locked in a High Court battle with the City of Cape Town, is out of touch with the real threat to PHA farmers, the escalating crime and not urban development on the fringes of the PHA.

They say the situation has spiralled so much out of control that their farms have been turned into war zones at night where entire fields are harvested by bands of thieves who outnumber and overpower security guards.

The PHA’s major landowners are concerned that Sonday - leader of the Philippi Horticultural Area Food and Farming Campaign - has positioned himself as their spokesperson in his battle with the city.

“Sonday comes across as representing all the farmers in the PHA,” said Gunther Engelke, chairperson of the Cape Flats Farmers Association, which represents the 25 commercial farmers on the 1000 hectares of the PHA under productive cultivation.

“But he does not represent us at all or any single commercial farmer in Philippi.

“We don’t want to be part of his fight or anyone to think that we are. He does not have our mandate. Nor do we want to fight with him. We just want to set the record straight.”

These farmers, responsible for around 80% of the PHA food production that feeds Cape Town, feel that the misrepresentation is being fuelled by Sonday promoting his cause with photos and video footage of farms he does not represent and without permission of the farmers.

These images were frequently used in this week’s TV and media coverage of Sonday’s court battle with the city over its decision to rezone a portion of the PHA for mixed-use development.

Engelke said the farmers were not threatened by developers and that some even supported structured urban development as they believed it would stop the spread of informal settlements surrounding the PHA, which are the hotbed of crime.

“Our main problem is the tik koppe (meth addicts) who are robbing farmers blind,” said Engelke.

“The police do nothing. So now we are not farmers anymore, but security guards. We drive around at night chasing thieves off our land. We sleep with our cellphones so we can respond to our SOS group.”

He said they were forced to respond to incidents almost every night.

“The farm where Sonday was filmed in TV news has five security guards around its fields. But that’s not enough because they come in bigger packs and steal everything.

“The security companies don’t want to work for my cousin on the eastern side of the PHA near Mitchells Plain anymore. They are too scared. Thieves put guns to their heads and threaten to kill them if they try to stop them from stealing.”

Crime has already stopped some farmers from farming certain varieties, said Engelke.

He said that they were all fighting for survival “every single day”.

Engelke said crime could eventually put farmers out of business.

Weekend Argus