Squatters halt emerging farmer’s dreams

A developing farmer’s dream of farming commercially is under threat as squatters continue to occupy his land.

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“In 2008, the problem of squatters started, and they are still here,” said Ziphilele Matinise. “Now new squatters are arriving.” Matinise is one of 10 farmers who were awarded Right To Occupy agreements in 2005 by the department of agriculture for farms in the Ncera area in the Eastern Cape. He sold a smallholding in Cove Ridge to move to the larger land in Ncera, but feels the department has let the farmers down.

“The package was that we would lease these farms with intent to buy them, and the department would assist us in setting up so that we could become commercial farmers,” he said. Matinise intended growing hemp, soya bean and sunflower for the fibre and oils market, but squatters occupied his land before planting could begin. “Thembikile Albert came in 2008. He started imposing himself as the chairperson of the squatters and was mobilising people from outside,” said Matinise.

Albert declined to comment about the other squatters, but said that while he was aware the Ncera farmers were to receive lease agreements, he claimed to have an ancestral claim to the land. “My grandfather was born and bred here,” he said. “He was working here, even his grave is here.” Albert said that only the department of agriculture could resolve the issue.

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“No lease agreements were issued to the farmers,” said Palesa Mokomele, spokesperson for the minister of agriculture, Tina Joemat-Petterssen. “The matter of the farm occupants and squatters is being dealt with by DAFF and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Agriculture.” Matinise said he was frustrated with the department’s reluctance to provide details on its strategy to address the situation, especially as squatters continued to settle on his farm.

“DAFF says they’re working on this thing, but how? When? I don’t know,” said Matinise, adding that if the department were genuine in its efforts to resolve the matter, it “would come and stop these people from moving in as they’re illegal here”. In an effort to obtain clarity from the department, Matinise and the Eastern Cape African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (EC Afasa), have requested an urgent meeting with Mortimer Mannya, provincial director-general of the department.

EC Afasa chairperson Xolile Ngqamenialso expressed suspicion regarding the department’s apparent lethargy and pledged his organisation’s support until a suitable resolution is found. “We are suspicious that some important and influential persons somewhere have a vested interest in these Ncera farms,” he said. “EC Afasa will not rest until the farmers’ issues have been finally settled.”