Land clashes escalating

Organised agriculture in KwaZulu-Natal is concerned about the growing trend of land dispute-related clashes in the province.

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The KZN Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) feels that lack of decisive action and clear communication by provincial government land departments has been a cause of the conflict. Kwanalu’s CEO, Sandy la Marque, said there had been cases where angry land claimants and labour tenants had invaded private property, and threatened violence against landowners incorrectly perceived to be responsible for delays in having land and tenancy claims speedily dealt with.

Farm fences were cut and livestock was grazing illegally on private land, while illegal hunting was also on the increase. “There has been a blatant disregard for landowners’ rights and for agreements between landowners and labour tenants. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) is perceived not to be taking a position on these land rights abuses,” La Marque said.

“Tension has been created because of a lack of clear direction by government on land issues. It’s unacceptable. These issues are also having a negative impact on local economies,” he said. Kwanalu had been working closely with the police to resolve land claim and labour tenancy conflicts, and to educate landowners as to their options in cases of land invasions and other related incidents.

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The farmers’ union said it was pleased with the police’s support, but a concern that needed to be addressed urgently was the training of police officers on how to deal objectively with clashes over land matters. “We understand that police officers are sometimes threatened by angry land claimants and labour tenants but this is no excuse for them not to provide effective service delivery.

Many police members are committed to solving problems, but others are not,” La Marque said. Kenny Robinson, a farmer from Dundee, said that his area was one of those experiencing numerous problems with unresolved land and labour tenancy claims, illegal grazing and the theft of farming materials. “Our problem is that false expectations have been created by DRDLR employees,” said Robinson.

“These land claimants and labour tenants have grown impatient waiting for their expectations to be met. I believe that the DRDLR should be called to answer for the actions of its staff, whether these staff are still in the department’s employ or not.”
Spokesperson for the KZN Regional Land Claims Commission, Nokuthokoza Ndlela, apologised for not being able to respond to Farmer’s Weekly by the time of going to print, but promised to provide answers for a follow-up story.