South Africa: Small-Scale Farmers' Fight for Grants

17 September 2019

Though they battle to find good grazing land and water, impoverished farmers on small plots of land will not be cowed by government's failure to follow through with promises of support.

Farmers in Nelson Mandela Bay say their livelihoods are at risk because of the government's failure to help them with water, equipment and feed during times of drought. The municipality asked them to register for agricultural support, which they did. But nothing came of the promised backing. Later they were told the government only provides cattle dip and other livestock medication for people who own at least 100 cows.

Like their colleagues in Jeffreys Bay, the small-scale farmers from Holomisa township in Uitenhage have no grazing land. If they use the roadsides, they run the risk of their livestock being impounded, and so they are often forced to direct their animals to the small grassy patches between the homes of other residents.

A group of seven small-scale farmers have had to resort to making a homemade dip from R13 bottles of Jeyes Fluid to rid their animals of ticks and lice as they cannot afford the proper products, which costs several hundred rand. "We demand land, water, dip and feed. Our stock are dying in this situation," says Bigboy Kangapi, 54.

The group is now attempting to clear a dense, bushy valley near their homes, which is infested with snakes. If they manage to open up this unused public land, they intend to plant grass and lucerne for their livestock and access the river that runs through the valley. But it's a long-term project they are carrying out using only handheld axes, and so far, only a small patch is usable.

Lack of support

Solomon Manna, 54, has eight cows and 10 goats. Without access to a supply of running water, Manna uses five litre bottles to fill a bath he keeps as a trough for his livestock. Manna says the government must install water tanks in small-scale urban farming areas. "They don't care for us. If they cared, they would have brought us a tank by now," he says. "We are also really struggling for grazing land. If our cows get into people's yards, they get thrown with boiling water and stones."

Alfred Mtati, 54, owns six pigs, three cows, 11 goats and has two vegetable plots. He has to water the vegetables and provide water for his animals using only the grey water left over from hand-washing his clothes. "There is not enough water from my washing, and so we pray for rain," Mtati says.

Although his house has running water and is about 200m from his kraal and vegetable plots, Mtati can't use water from his house. "The [Nelson Mandela Bay municipality] check our [water] meters. If we use too much water, they close our electricity," he said, explaining that the municipality can disable the prepaid electricity meters more easily than they can shut off the water.

"Five of my cows died of disease. There was no support from the government in terms of providing medications. They only want an X when it comes time to vote, but after that, nothing. The money goes to the rich people, not the poor people," Mtati says.

Desmond Tieket, 62, questioned how the government could offer support to some factory farmers during times of crisis but not small-scale agriculturalists. "There was a drought and the government didn't take responsibility to help with feeding our animals but they help commercial farmers." According to Tieket, the lucerne dies during a drought, leaving cattle with nothing to eat.

In this part of Holomisa township, the farmers say there are large wild cats living in the bush which makes it impossible to keep chickens. "Last month, I lost 12 chickens in the coop. The cats just got in," said Tieket.

The farmers, who have joined the Makukhanye Rural Movement in the Eastern Cape, which supports emerging farmers, say their vision is to install a pump and a 50-metre pipe from the river to a tank that they could then use to irrigate their vegetables and provide water for their livestock. "This would dramatically improve our lives," says Freddie Pipe, 51. It is a few years after the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality asked small-scale farmers to register to get various types of support, including workshops on best practices, and "niks - nothing - has happened", he says.

Isaac Nokele, assistant director for urban agriculture at Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, says the small-scale farmers' issues would only be addressed once the municipality's policy on urban agriculture was finalised. But there is no indication when this work will be complete. It has been ongoing for several years now.

Abandoned farms

On Pipe's patch of land, a newly sprouted potato and mielie crop is looking good but without rain or any other way to irrigate it, he says the crop might not survive. He has watched his vegetables wither and die in the past.

Victoria Siwundla, 64, is an activist in the Makukhanye Rural Movement and also an urban small-scale farmer based in nearby KwaLanga. "I have seven cows. I used to have pigs but they got stolen. Luckily, I have a tap for their water but sometimes no water comes out. Then I have to take water in a wheelbarrow or carry a 20-litre on my head. It is too difficult."

Siwundla says the lack of land and water means the farming takes a lot of time and she cannot work because she needs to watch her livestock whenever they are grazing. "If we just let them wander into people's yards, people will burn or kap (chop) them. Today, my husband is busy with the cows all day," she says.

In the area, two abandoned kraals show just how difficult it is to be a small-scale farmer without any resources. Pipe says the owner of the kraals left farming after his last animal died.

The group of farmers, who are all over 50 years old, have been farming for between 14 and 23 years. Their agriculture sustains their families and helps their neighbours. They are determined to organise with other small-scale farmers to get government's support, so that their work can continue into the next generation.

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