Farmers on communal land face many common challenges, such as overgrazing, soil erosion, underdevelopment and lack of security of tenure. But a recent visit to a communal farmer made me realise that some farmers have much bigger problems than others. Patrick Kukung, a farmer in Kgabalatsane Village outside Brits under the Madibeng Municipality, started farming on the communal land in the early 1970s. He believes there will be no land available for him and his fellow farmers within the next 10 years or so.
The main reasons for this, he says, are the rate at which the population of the village is growing and the lack of proper planning or interest from leaders. Kukung says that he started farming while the village was still part of Bophuthatswana. The homeland consisted mainly of rural areas, and farmland here was sought after.
Land-use management in the villages, although not perfect, was more or less in order. Everyone knew how the sections of the village were assigned. Certain areas were used for grazing and others for crop farming, mainly grain. Because almost all grain farming in the communal areas was rain-fed, this land was also used for grazing in winter after harvesting.
Cattle were not allowed near the maize lands in summer. If someone’s cattle were found on the lands, the animals would be impounded and the owner had to pay a fine. This system kept things in order – people looked after their animals.
There were also several water points powered by windmills, and local dams were maintained.
Lack of maintenance
Since the new government took over, however, farming in the villages has become an endangered activity. Apparently, there is no maintenance on the dams and some are already dried up, windmills are broken and pumps have been stolen. According to Kukung, addressing these issues with the local tribal authority is fruitless – people are always referred to the municipality.
This is Madibeng Municipality, remember. It hardly has a reputation for being helpful. I still fail to understand what municipalities do for rural villages. Madibeng in particular does absolutely nothing for its villages.
Reading: Dealing with land claims
Squatters on communal farmland
Kgabalatsane is situated adjacent to the Ga-Rankuwa industrial area. As a result, squatters, mainly from outside the village working in factories, are steadily and rapidly moving closer to their workplace – and occupying the land previously used for animal grazing. Because there has never been a long-term plan for communal land farming, especially closer to the urban areas, farming here is facing extinction.
“No one seems to be interested in what’s going to happen to farmers like us,” says Kukung. He adds that as most people employed at municipalities are relatively young and have no interest in farming, they fail to plan or come up with any answers.
I believe these are quite easy and some already exist. One solution is for the government to implement minister Gugile Nkwinti’s idea to move farmers who have proven themselves, to state farms, and for officials to stop placing their mates on them.