"We aren't going anywhere!" says resident
Some families living on farms in Simondium near Stellenbosch say very little has been done to improve their living conditions and to stop evictions in the area.
This comes after a convoy of government officials met with the families and activists about their concerns nine months ago.
Early last year, the Drakenstein Municipality acknowledged that it had become "a hotspot for evictions" with an estimated 20,000 people to be affected by pending eviction matters.
Representatives from the labour department and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) as well as Alan Winde, then MEC for economic opportunities, participated in a dialogue in May 2018 with farmworkers from the area.
During the meeting, farmworkers echoed calls for better wages, an end to forced evictions, and harsh punishment for farmers who do not adhere to health and safety regulations.
A few weeks later, Deputy Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Mcebisi Skwatsha visited the homes of several families facing eviction in Simondium, in particular those living on Dawn Mountain farm and Marlenique farm.
GroundUp recently visited the families in Simondium who said that while many had received basic services such as water and toilets, nothing had been done to secure their tenure on the farms.
Most of the people living on Dawn Mountain occupy dilapidated houses, some without proper roofs or toilets. The families had gone months without running water until Women on Farms Project intervened in February last year, and the owner agreed to install a tank and fill it with water three times a week.
Last week, Maria Schippers, who has been living on the farm for about ten years, said: "We still don't have a toilet. There is rubbish all around the houses. We only get water three times a week, which is still too little for all of us. By the time those who work get home, the tank is empty."
"We see construction and business carrying on at the farm ... We previously worked for years on that farm and now the new owner is doing his own thing. We aren't going anywhere!" said Schippers, referring to an eviction notice given to several families.
Evelyn Shabalala, who also lives on Dawn Mountain, said she was one of those told to vacate their homes. "Where must we go?," she asked.
Shabalala said that the farm owner had recently built a wall around their homes, blocking access to the main road. "The other day an ouma got sick and the ambulance couldn't get to her. We decided to kick part of the wall down to carry the ouma out. She could have died," said Shabalala.
When we contacted the farm owner, Mohammed Surtie, on Monday, he said: "I have nothing to say ... These people always run to Women on Farms. This has been carrying on for a year now and nothing has happened because I have acted within the law. You can print what you like and if it's wrong, I will sue you."
"All these years we've worked ... and today we still can't afford to have our own homes," Corina Kanah told a hall filled with people living on farms in Simondium last week.
Kanah had worked on Marlenique Estate, formerly Boplaas farm, for 51 years before she was retrenched in 1999. She now lives in a small two-bedroom house on the estate with her adult son and a grandchild. Her weathered house, situated along Simonsvlei Road, stands in stark contrast to the lush and modern wedding venue just beyond the gates of the estate.
In February 2018, Kanah and over a dozen other families living on the property received notices from the new owners. They were requested to make representations about their personal circumstances to the owner's attorneys. The process came to an abrupt end when activists were not allowed into the meetings.
"I asked what their plan was for us because it seems like they want all of the coloured people out of Simondium. We want our land and we will get it," said Kanah.
Hein Otto of Van Wyk Van Heerden Attorneys Incorporated, representing the owner of Marlenique Estate, told GroundUp that the current owner took over management of the property in 2017 and was "taking progressive steps to improve conditions for residents there".
Otto said gates with fingerprint access control had been installed around the homes as requested by residents for their safety. "It was proposed by the housing committee that was established on the farm," he said.
Asked about the residents' fears of eviction following the notices they were served last year, Otto explained that it was part of a process to establish who was living on the property. He said of the estimated 250 people living there, only ten worked on the estate.
"The rest form a mixture of people that might have certain life [long rights] and develop rights in terms of the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA). At this stage, the only step was a letter asking them to make representations," he said.
No further steps have been taken on the eviction process to date, said Otto. "We are still looking at different options and waiting instructions from our client. We have no clear instructions yet to go ahead with an eviction process against anyone," he said.
Otto said the estate was currently being developed, which could create further job opportunities for people living there. "They are new owners and [they] want to better the situation for the people on the farm ... We know it's an emotional thing, but its hard on our client as well. He inherited the people living there from the previous owner. It was quite a mess," he said.
Otto said that since Skwatsha visited, the owner has bought 20 new portable chemical toilets which are serviced every week. A new water pipeline was also installed to ensure residents had clean running water.
He said residents were encouraged to contact management if there were any issues on the farm.
"Over the long run, [the owner] will have to consider possible options but they will have to consider bettering the conditions of some of the households that may have rights in terms of ESTA. But this decision will be made in the future," he said.