Farmworkers get land at last

PIET Shabalala has dreamt of owning his own land for a very long time. Having worked as a farmworker all his life, he had faced the indignity of being evicted from farms many times.

PIET Shabalala has dreamt of owning his own land for a very long time. Having worked as a farmworker all his life, he had faced the indignity of being evicted from farms many times.

But in November his life changed. The 60-year-old man from Memel in eastern Free State and 40 other families were resettled by the provincial government.

Today, he stands proudly on the fields of Rondebloom farm, which he and seven other families share. The livestock that he has acquired over the years - 246 cattle, 109 goats, 37 sheep and countless chickens - roam freely on his piece of land. He is a happy man.

"It feels great to be here. I was born and have lived on farms my whole life. I have been evicted from one farm to another not knowing where to go. Finally, I am here, doing what I love most on the land that I control," Shabalala says.

The 40 families moved on the farms in November last year after the Free State department of rural development and land reform spent more than R200million to buy them 7645 hectares of land. They had been left homeless after they were evicted by their employers on their farms.

In 2005 Sowetan wrote a series of stories exposing their plight after they became homeless following the evictions. The SA Human Rights Commission and officials from the agriculture department intervened.

Now that they have the land, their concern is that they cannot claim ownership of the property because they do not have title deeds.

Alfred Ngwenya, the leader of the local branch of the Landless People's Movement, an organisation that lobbies for government intervention, said: "This is a serious problem because we cannot apply for funding. Banks want title deeds.

"We are poor and cannot afford to buy farming equipment. We need to buy tractors. We need water and other things to farm."

They will need to wait a while as the agriculture department says the farms cannot be transferred to them immediately.

The department's Gani Ramagaga said it is working on a new system to ensure that farms are transferred to people who are ready to farm.

"We have given people farms before and that proved to be a waste because the very people we had given farms to sold them back to white farmers," Ramagaga said.

"Some were left unused and vandalised.

"We are now giving them access to the farms for at least three years while we monitor if they are using them productively.

"We are visiting that area next week to start a new programme in which we will identify the needs of those people.

"Though we know that those people have worked on farms their whole lives, we will also give them training because we want to turn them into professionals who produce quality products."

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