Avatar photo

By Narissa Subramoney

Deputy digital news editor

Mpumalanga’s farm dwellers fight for their ancestral land

Farm dwellers share stories of cruel evictions and underhanded tactics in their quest to keep ancestral lands.

Behind the booming coal mining and agriculture sectors in Mpumalanga, painful stories of alleged abuse, forced evictions and criminality underpin the daily lived experiences of farm dwellers.

Poor families are forced out of their homes, which are situated on lands that have been in their families for generations.

But now, they are being bullied and subjected to underhanded threats, allegedly at the hand of billion-dollar mining companies and larger-scale farmers – with the intent of chasing them off their properties.

Mpumalanga farm dwellers

Sindane Family and Exxaro Mining

One such family of farm dwellers, the Sindanes, have been embroiled in a typical David and Goliath battle with mining giants Exarro.

Over the weekend, joint parliamentary delegations – representing the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development; and the Portfolio Committee on Employment and Labour – visited the family as part of an oversight trip to the province’s Nkangala and Gert Sibande districts.

The delegation wanted to assess the living conditions of farm dwellers and the working conditions on farms.

Exxaro had apparently bought the farm on which the family lived for more than 60 years.

According to portfolio committee chairperson Zwelivelile Mandela, the mining company tried to evict the family from the farm, but the family is challenging the eviction order.

The consequences of going to war with a multi-continent operation like Exxaro have led to the family now being surrounded by mining operations.

They would leave their home only if a list of tabled conditions are met. Key on this list of demands is that the family benefit from business opportunities at the mine.

The Sindane family told the parliamentary delegation they want to be compensated fairly for being evicted.

However, as the legal battle drags on, it’s business as usual at the mine, posing a safety risk and health hazard to the Sindanes and their livestock.

They are exposed to explosions and their livestock’s source of water is poisoned by the mine’s wastewater.

And the Sindanes aren’t the only ones facing this problem.

Mpumalanga's farm dwellers fight for their ancestral land

ALSO READ: Clean up Mpumalanga’s toxic air, organisations demand

A local non-governmental organisation Vulamehlo Sekusile told the visiting parliamentarians at least 500 families in the province are in a similar situation and fighting eviction at the hands of mining houses and farmers.

Mandela condemned the injustice and inhumane treatment of farm dwellers and the failure to handle eviction matters fairly.

“Mining houses make billions but cut corners when it comes to compensating people – it is not fair,” said Mandela.

The Hadebe Family

In Piet Retief, members of Parliament were appalled by the story of the Hadebe family, who have been living in a local community hall for almost 13 years.

They were evicted from a farm where generations of their family had lived for over one hundred years.

Their livestock was stolen, their crops and seeds destroyed and they were even shot at during the forced removal.

The family lambasted the government’s attempt at rehousing them on alternative land and even built houses; but they are not happy, saying the ground isn’t arable.

During public meetings, the delegation heard many painful stories of farmers banning farm dwellers from keeping livestock, poisoning water supply and grazing lands, shooting people and stealing livestock belonging to the farm dwellers.

Farmers have also been accused of vandalising graves or removing remains to rebury them in mass graves without following legal processes for grave relocation.

ALSO READ: Mpumalanga: How land invasion ‘syndicates legitimise criminal enterprise’

Most of the families who live on these farms are a product of the labour tenant system, where people paid their rent by working for the farmer.

Other families say the farmers found them in those areas and established farms on their ancestral lands.

Some of these farms are now the subject of land claims with the Commission for the Restitution of Land Rights.

The delegation wants all the claims and allegations of injustices and abuses to be followed up and investigated by the relevant authorities, and for an urgent intervention to prevent human rights violations.

NOW READ: There is no political will on land redistribution, says expert

Read more on these topics

Land reform Mpumalanga Parliament