cabbages over graves

Sibongile Mashaba

Sibongile Mashaba

Each time the Gadzayi family passes the Witstinkhoutboom cabbage farm, sad memories come flooding back.

The family told Sowetan that their seven-year-old son, Bongani, was buried on the piece of land in Randfontein on the West Rand in the early 1990s.

But his grave and a few others belonging to neighbours living on the farm have been flattened to make way for a cabbage plantation.

Bongani was knocked down by farm owner Fernando Gommes' tractor and died.

"I only realised that my son's grave had been destroyed last winter after I dreamt of him telling me that he was cold.

"I had a bad feeling and went to his grave. I was shocked to find cabbages all over the piece of land," said Bongani's sobbing mother Phumzile Gadzayi.

The 63-year-old mother said she had not visited the grave for many years.

"My son was telling me that he missed me and that his grave had been destroyed.

"I cannot believe that I will never have a connection with him. These farmers are selling dirty food to people, food fertilised with human bones, our ancestors," she said.

Gommes, who died in a car accident last October, was alleged to have flattened Bongani's grave and a few others.

Sowetan visited the farm and found Gommes' brother Tony, who claimed to have bought the farm in partnership with his brother in 1994.

He said that he and Fernando grew up in Dobsonville, Soweto.

"We know and respect African culture. I know that African people are connected to their ancestors and I would never do anything to hurt their feelings.

"If we had destroyed the graves then we would have been bewitched by now.

"The vegetables wouldn't sell," said Tony.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) said it was concerned about reports of ongoing human rights violations in farming communities.

"We continue to receive complaints about evictions and disrespect for people's cultural rights on the farms, where graves are being dug up without any consultation with the affected families," said spokesman Vincent Moaga.

He said that in 2003 the commission conducted public hearings into conditions on farms in an effort to investigate and attempt to minimise the alleged abuse of farm workers.

He said it was apparent that many of those issues identified at the hearings had still not been addressed.

He said farm dwellers were still experiencing human rights violations.

"Another hearing was conducted in September last year and we are in the process of putting together a report of all the findings and recommendations which we hope to release soon," said Moaga.