South Africa: No Public Land Made Available for Farm Animals

17 September 2019

A lack of municipal grazing land for the livestock of township-based Eastern Cape farms results in them straying into streets, becoming impounded and incurring heavy costs for their owners.

Small-scale farmers in Jeffreys Bay, Humansdorp, Patensie and Hankey have vowed to ramp up their struggle for public livestock grazing land, saying they cannot afford to continue paying expensive penalties whenever their livestock are impounded.

These farmers are township- and shack-settlement-based, and have no grazing land of their own. The Kouga municipality, which covers these small towns, has the power under a commonage by-law to declare some areas open for grazing and to give permits to urban small-scale farmers to take their livestock there.

The municipality has, however, failed so far to establish this commonage, which has left the small-scale farmers with nowhere but the sides of busy roads and highways such as the N2 and R102 to graze their livestock. This is risky because livestock that stray onto the roads or onto privately owned land can be impounded.

After five years of protesting outside the Kouga municipality offices in Hankey and Jeffreys Bay, the small-scale farmers, who are part of the Makukhanye Rural Movement, vow to take their protests to the provincial legislature in Bhisho, and to march on Parliament in Cape Town if necessary.

The Kouga municipality has not lived up to the powers conferred on it by the commonage by-law, but it is implementing the impoundment of animals by-law, which declares that any animal that is lost, stray or abandoned in a public place or someone else's private property may be impounded. The animal will only be returned once fees published by the municipality are paid.

Expensive pound fees

For 2019, there is sustenance fee of R164 per day for an impounded horse, cow or pig and R78 per day for a goat. There is a further trespass fee per day of R335 per impounded horse, cow, sheep, pig or goat and an additional pound fee of R100 per day per impounded horse, ostrich, cow or pig and R28 per day for a goat or a sheep. This brings the total daily municipal pound fee for a cow that has gone astray, for instance, to an amount of R599.

The additional costs of transporting livestock to the pound are also high. The pound master, Dave Preller, says the transport is provided by two private companies, as the municipality has no cattle trailers of its own. The providers charge R12 per kilometre, which is added to the cost of four experienced cattle handlers, who are hired to get the cattle onto the trailers. Stray cows can often be found up to 60km from the Humansdorp pound on Van Stadens bridge. Long distances increase the transport cost, Preller says. These figures mount up; some small-scale farmers end up being expected to pay about R4 500 for the return of just one impounded cow, says small-scale farmer Mhlozayo M Scritch, 45.

It is allegedly commonplace for residents in shack settlements to lose their jobs in factories by the time they reach 35, because employers prefer younger people. "We are fledgling farmers who have been ignored and neglected by our own government," he says. "Our government has no dignity and is disgraceful. When we are over 35 and we get fired, we can't find work but at the same time there is no support. And then today, because we are unemployed, we are trying to farm these animals but we don't have land and our livestock gets impounded."

He continues, describing the problems he and his fellow farmers face: "[Our] livestock is being impounded by white farmers all over South Africa. They are even impounding cows from Uitenhage and taking them to Humansdorp [81km away] and after three days, they auction them. And as the owner of this livestock, I have no idea where my cows are. If they impound them today, tomorrow [I] will pay R4 500. What did this cow eat there for [me] to pay so much money?"

Close the pound

Nosipho Mengu, 38 agrees. "I am left with only one cow and one pig out of all my animals. I had to sell the others as the municipality was taking them to the pound. We want commonage land and for the pound to be closed," she says.

Betty Trongo, 67, has been farming all her life. She says she recently paid R2 500 in transport fees when four of her cows were impounded. "Our problem is when we take our cows to the railway station [public] land to graze, the white farmers also take their cows there, even though they have [their own] land. Then we have to go to the road." She argues that the pound must be closed down as "it is only for us black farmers".

Preller says he has only been running the pound at his farm in Humansdorp for the past five months after many years at the Loerie pound, which was closed down early in 2019 allegedly because of complaints of animal cruelty. Preller says his fees are much less than those prescribed by the municipality - R250 for the first day that an animal is impounded, which includes food, water and a dip to rid the animal of any pests, and R125 for every day thereafter.

"We have brought the fees down. We have nothing to do with how many animals are brought here by law enforcement. We are not allowed to transport animals ourselves. That would be a conflict of interests," he says.

Preller has been running the pound for 12 months, based on a verbal agreement with Kouga municipality. The municipality has confirmed that Preller has no written contract. After the shut down of the Loerie pound, Preller says the SPCA approached him to see if he would be willing to run the pound from his own farm. He agreed, and the municipal chief of safety and security then wrote a letter of recommendation, which has been seen by New Frame, to Charl du Plessis, the municipal manager. Du Plessis signed the letter, adding the word "approved".

Preller houses, feeds and takes medical care of the impounded animals brought to him, based on the pound fees published by the municipality. But his presence as pound master is a breach of the Municipal Finance Management Act and the Municipal Systems Act. These laws say that public-private partnerships such as with the pound should be put out to tender and decided on after consultation with the community and unions.

Breaching by-laws

This is also a breach of the municipality's impoundment of animals by-law, which says it is mandatory for the municipality to have a service delivery agreement with the entity that keeps and operates the pound. According to municipal media liaison officer Laura-Leigh Randall, no such service level agreement, or any written contract, for that matter, exists between the municipality and Preller. She adds that the municipality has now realised that the pound would probably need to be put out to tender.

Yet, when the small-scale farmers demanded that the pound be shut down, the speaker of the municipality, Hattingh Bornman, replied to them in writing on 30 August 2019 saying the municipality could not close the pound down because there was "a signed agreement in place", and until the municipality gets a legal arrangement in place, they will continue running the pound as it is. There is clearly no such agreement.

Siyabonga Modikoe, 29, a programme officer for small-scale farmers at the Khanyisa Education and Development Trust in Port Elizabeth, says, "The public has a right to know and be part of the process and establishment of any public entity, however, this was not the case regarding the pound."

Modikoe says the pound and the municipality had been "taking money from the most marginalised communities, particularly black emerging farmers. There is no transparency or fairness to this matter. It illustrates what we have been saying, that this is racially motivated."

Protestors were locked out of the municipal office's gate in the Jeffreys Bay town centre when they sought a meeting with Bornman, who later responded in writing to their memorandum. Placards opposing racism were displayed, declaring statements such as "End racism now", "Kouga racist supremist [sic] council" and "Ninemali nje kungeni yethu bantu bamnyama" ["You are rich at the expense of black people"].

The municipality claims it is not racially targeting black small-scale farmers. Randall says "animals are only impounded if they are on or near the road and a potential threat to the safety of road-users ... animals are not 'targeted'."

She adds: "The municipality has a responsibility to ensure that our roads are safe to drive and walk along. These road users would include the poorest of the poor who also deserve to be safe on our roads."

The municipality is still looking into three pieces of land that might be viable as commonage. "A challenge is finding municipal land that is suitable for commonages," Randall explains. "For example, livestock owners prefer land that is close to them and when it comes to Jeffreys Bay, for example, there is no suitable land nearby."

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