KARAS Governor Clinton Swartbooi yesterday vowed to intervene in the eviction of 10 small-scale grape farmers under the Orange River Irrigation Project at Aussenkehr.
"This is a joke; the contradiction is glaring. While the Swapo Party [national policy conference currently taking place in Windhoek] is considering how jobs can be created, these farmers who got skilled are being chased off the farming plots they have worked for the last 12 years," the young governor said.
Seven of the 10 evicted farmers who arrived in Windhoek on the same day of their eviction - on Tuesday - in a desperate attempt to secure legal representation to challenge the eviction, said they have only received a faxed letter informing them of the impending eviction, claiming that there was no eviction order.
The farmers, however, are exasperated because they say they might not be able to afford legal representation, and appealed for assistance.
The grape farmers are Anneli Shithigona, Ester Kadhidhi, Risto Nambase, David Shikongo, Tomas and Permiema Haitembo, Applonia Hausiku, Simon Olavi, Augustinus Haith, Elizabeth Haith, Patrick and Erna Jossob, and Josef and Anna Frederick.
The farmers yesterday said their families and furniture have been haphazardly thrown out of the government houses they have occupied since they started at the project in 2001.
They are concerned that their children are now forced to sleep in the open, and their furniture is being damaged.
Also of concern is that their children's schooling at Aussenkehr is being threatened at the crucial end of the year.
The farmers said the reasons for their evictions are vague and unclear.
The accusations levelled against them are that they have not honoured their obligations with the Agribank of Namibia, and for not complying to a cropping programme.
But the farmers are challenging the claim that they have not been paying off a loan from Agribank, and claimed that they have never been informed of, or have been party to, any cropping programme.
In December last year, the High Court ordered that the farmers' grape harvests be attached and stored as security on a loan from Agribank valued at more than N$1,2 million.
The loan was to be paid off over a one-year period at an interest rate of six per cent.
The High Court order stipulated that Agribank was to retain 50 per cent of the proceeds of the sale of the grapes, which it could sell to the highest bidder.
The farmers yesterday said Agribank has received 107 100 cartons of 4,5 kilogrammes each of the harvested grapes.
The farmers said priority ought to have been given to Dutch national Leen Droogendij with whom they had a prior arrangement to buy their harvests. Under this arrangement, they would have received N$50 per 4,5 kilogramme carton of grapes.
Instead, they said, Agribank sold the grapes to the lowest bidder.
They further claimed that they have not yet received the requisite 50 per cent of the proceeds of the grapes sold by Agribank as per High Court order.
"If Agribank takes all our produce, how can we cover our costs?" Nambase said. "From the day Agribank got the court order, my rights to produce was taken away."
They further claimed that if the deal with Droogendij were allowed to go ahead, they would have been able to repay the Agribank loan.
Instead, they said, they were forced by administrative officials in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry to sell the cartons at either N$3 or N$6.
They accused these administrative officials of trying to get them off the four-hectare-large farming plots after Dutch-owned service provider Cool Fresh Namibia terminated its five-year contract with the farmers in 2010.
"People in the ministry are using Government's name to do their dirty work; there are those who stand to benefit from our eviction," one said. "Government wants to develop the country. Is this development? Since we moved to the plots we have been producing more each year, but now we have been evicted so someone can benefit from our sweat and labour."
They claimed that Cool Fresh had gotten the tender to provide services to them without the company having gone through a tender process.
The farmers are of the opinion that Cool Fresh is likely to take over the running of their plots.
"Why is Government supporting a foreign company and not its own people?" they queried.
Governor Swartbooi yesterday fumed that Cool Fresh has no right to dictate how Namibian citizens should be pushed off projects designed by Government.