17 September 2012

Namibia: Evicted Grape Farmers Threaten Court Action

THE legal representative of small-scale farmers evicted from plots at the Orange River Irrigation Project, Richard Metcalfe, says the eviction orders were "obtained by foul means" and has threatened urgent court action.

Metcalfe on Friday wrote to the government's legal representative in this matter, Conradie & Damaseb, saying that the eviction was contrary to applicable laws.

Moreover, he said, the timing for the eviction was in bad faith since it is two months before harvesting starts.

Last week Tuesday, Government evicted the farmers who have been part of the Orange River Irrigation Project (Orip) since 2001 for allegedly not repaying a N$1,2 million loan from Agribank, and ostensibly because they would not sell their grapes through the government-appointed Cool Fresh Namibia which the agricultural ministry insisted upon.

In a letter also sent to President Hifikepunye Pohamba, Prime Minister Nahas Angula, Agriculture Minister John Mutorwa, Attorney General Albert Kawana and Justice Minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, Metcalfe said Government ought to hang its head in shame at the "shocking and inhumane treatment" of the farmers, which affects about 200 people.

Metcalfe said that after a 36-month training period which started in 2001, the farmers were assured of permanent allocation of the small farms.

On April 1 2005, the farmers were notified that the transfer of the farms could not take place because the ownership of the land had not yet been transferred to Government.

Instead, an interim lease agreement was concluded with the farmers on May 31 2005.

In April 2006, the Ministry of Agriculture indicated that it intended to give the farmers the opportunity to become owners of the plots and houses in which they lived.

From 2008, however, the farmers were expected to pay rent for the plots to the ministry, which Metcalfe surmised was because the farmers "had turned barren land into successful small farms with high value".

"The small farms presently have a substantial market value and it is obvious that there is an unconstitutional agenda to expropriate our clients' property without any compensation," Metcalfe said.

He said the farmers were turned into squatters ("bywoners") on the plots they worked, by a "landlord who has forced them to obtain finance" from Agribank and to give their produce to a designated purchaser, Cool Fresh Namibia, who he said has a "very cosy" relationship with the ministry.

"The situation in which our clients find themselves is one of slavery which is contrary to the Constitution. The obvious fact that this slavery is endorsed and controlled by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry engenders nothing but revulsion," Metcalfe said.

He said the farmers were "bullied" by the then Permanent Secretary Andrew Ndhishishi into signing the leasehold agreements for fear of being chased off the plots.

In August 2011, the ministry cancelled the leasehold agreement and eviction orders were served on the farmers.

Subsequent negotiations led to a compromise and a promise that the evictions would not be enforced, until the farmers received new eviction letters last week, Metcalfe claimed.

Metcalfe said no notices of set-down were served on the farmers, 12 months after summonses of eviction were served.

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