Court orders North West farmers who occupied government farms to leave
The minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development Thoko Didiza has succeeded in evicting 21 farmers who occupied 10 farms worth more than R50m in the North West which she intended to lease to emerging farmers.
The government had purchased these farms from existing commercial farmers with the aim of redistributing them to qualifying emerging farmers in the province. This was supposed to happen in August 2019.
However, the presence of the people who occupied the state farms during 2019 made it impossible for the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development to give undisturbed possession of them to the successful beneficiaries.
The minister went to the high court in Mahikeng to interdict them from residing on the farms. The court made that order in a judgment on Monday.
One of the farms was purchased for R24.1m and was transferred to the government on March 29 2019.
The minister alleged that five people invaded the farm without her consent and locked the gates, making it impossible for the government to access its farm. Cattle were kept on the farm.
Another farm, which was transferred to the government on March 24 2019 with the purchase price of about R25m, was occupied by six other people who kept cattle. At the farm, there was irrigation equipment worth R2.5m.
At another occupied farm, from which the government alleged it was locked out, there is a cellphone tower belonging to MTN. The allegation was that MTN was also denied access and could not maintain the tower.
The emerging farmers were from villages throughout the North West and the first occupations took place in March 2019 and the last in June 2019.
Judge Samkelo Gura said the occupations were brought about by drought and challenges that threatened the sustainability of the farmers' livestock.
He said it was untrue that the five farmers invaded the farm purchased for R24.1m and were now using padlocks to deny the department access to the farm. He said the occupants were given permission to occupy and use some of the unutilised camps on the farm by the farmer who was in possession of the farm before the sale.
“It is not in any way a story of an invasion and unlawful occupation, as the [minister] made out to this court.”
On the farm worth more than R25m, the court said the six farmers had negotiated and agreed to the occupation of three camps at that farm with people who were in possession of the farms before the sale.
He said the other occupiers had also obtained permission from previous lawful occupiers farms.
The occupants had alleged that they obtained permission to occupy farms from the department officials, a claim which was denied by the department.
Gura said the occupiers admitted that none of them held any lease agreement with the government regarding these farms.
“They are therefore grazing their livestock and utilising the land for their benefit free of charge,” Gura said.
He said the occupiers refuse to leave the properties and some have threatened that they would only leave the land when they are in coffins.
Gura said their continued occupation meant the minister suffered loss, as the government did not receive any rental.
“Yet government spent millions of rand to acquire the properties.”
Gura also ordered the farmers to remove their livestock within two weeks from the date of the order.
Should they not remove the livestock, the sheriff, with the assistance of the police, is authorised to attach, remove and deliver the livestock to the nearest animal pound within five days from the expiry of the order to remove livestock.