Court case to lift ban on auctions to be heard on Tuesday

A court application filed by two auction companies, a co-operative, a commercial farmer and a group of 50 emerging farmers to lift the national ban on auctions will be heard in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on 14 January.

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The application related to the nationwide ban on auctions imposed by the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform (agriculture department) after an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) was confirmed in Limpopo in November.

The ban was an attempt to contain the current outbreak, and was brought in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act.

Andreas Peens, instructing attorney for the applicants, told Farmer’s Weekly that his clients wanted the Minister of Agriculture, Thoko Didiza, to lift the ban on auctions in eight out of South Africa’s nine provinces in which FMD had not been reported.

Peens said the application would focus on the method used to decide on implementing the ban, and would highlight issues such as a lack of sufficient public participation.

“We will argue that the decision was irrational and unreasonable,” he said.

Peens said the applicants were also submitting reports from two independent vets, who said the decision to impose a nationwide ban was not logical. They wanted the ban to only remain in place in Limpopo, so that the industry could resume operations elsewhere in the country.

Peens estimated that the direct cost of the ban to his clients alone was more than R10 million. He stressed, however, that the secondary effect could be far higher.

“One farmer bought in 150 animals to graze on his maize residue. He would have sold those cattle on auction to pay for his diesel and seed purchases for the planting season,” he explained.

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The national ban on bringing together cloven-hoofed livestock from two or more sources at auctions and livestock shows, among other events, was published in the Government Gazette in early December. This followed the second outbreak of FMD in 2019.

Reggie Ngcobo, agriculture department spokesperson, confirmed that the department’s legal team was preparing for the case, but could not provide further comment as the matter was sub judice.

However, the national ban remained in place in the interim, he said. He added that the next task team meeting, due to take place on Monday, would reveal more insight on whether the decision would be reviewed to consider something such as a quarantine-based approach.

Peens said another auctioneer was also presenting a separate case about the issue in the High Court on the same day.