Uncertain future for farmers on hired land

Farmers hiring land from government are allegedly too scared to make any improvements in case the land is taken back and given to people with political connections.

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At least this is the general sentiment in North West. Tiro Mongkawetsi, a cattle farmer near Vryburg, has been hiring land from the government since 2008. He has a five-year lease and said everything he does on the farm, he does in the hope that government will renew his contract. “I can’t make any improvements on the farm or to the farmhouse, because if I make it look nice then the government will take the land back to give to one of their friends,” he said.

Mongkawetsi has a herd of 156 cattle and is the Agri Vryburg Emerging Farmer of the Year. He shows great promise as a farmer, but is struggling to finance his farm because he has no security. His mentor, Bonsmara stud farmer Hasie Haasbroek, said, “I can’t understand that government does not realise how much capital is on this farm, but that can’t be used as security because there is no landownership.”

A group of 16 farmers who farm close to Geysdorp said double standards applied when government chose candidates for land recapitalisation. The group has farmed on a 5 000ha tract for the past 30 years and is trying to buy the land, but can’t get any answers from government. One of the farmers recently received an eviction order to vacate the land.

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“We are trying to follow the proper steps to buy the land, or at least prevent the eviction, but all our actions have been futile,” said Andrew Molamu, one of the 16 farmers. “The government sends us from one department to the next, and no one is willing to help us or give us any answers. “We suspect that people who are in line to get farms under the recapitalisation programme or any kind of help from government have political connections.”

Christo van Niekerk, a commercial farmer in the area who mentors some of the 16 farmers, said it’s frustrating that people who can’t farm are given land, but these farmers who have a 30-year track record can’t get any land. Cor Jansen van Vuuren, president of Agri North West, said setting up a meeting with government to deal with the issue was difficult, as the MEC for agriculture and rural development in North West, Boitumelo Tshwene, doesn’t respond to the union’s queries.

Jansen van Vuuren said it’s difficult for farmers to start from scratch and find the money to buy farms. “Without help from government these farmers can’t get off the ground. At this stage they’re using their pensions to run the farms because they can’t get any loans.

What about the Land Tenure Rights Act, which stipulates that if a worker has been living on a farm for 10 years they have the right of tenure? These farmers have been here for 30 years, but they aren’t even given an option to buy land.” At the time of going to print, no response could be obtained from the North West Department of Rural Development.