Namibia: Grape Farm Workers Demand Land

19 November 2019

GRAPE workers at Komsberg farm near Ariamsvlei in the //Kharas region have urged the regional governor, Lucia Basson, to address their needs for land and housing.

In a leaked letter dated 13 November seen by The Namibian, they urged Basson to engage Komsberg farm owners to provide workers a piece of land on the privately owned farm.

They called on the governor to talk to Komsberg farm owners for a piece of land to be given to them and be declared a settlement so they can build their own houses.

"We have families, but have no place to call home," they stated, saying they too pay taxes but feel neglected by the government. The workers, most of them employed at the Komsberg and Desert Fruit farms, live in reed houses situated in a dry riverbed.

About 5 000 people live on the farm.

They threatened not to vote for Swapo party during the upcoming national elections if Basson fails to address their needs for land and housing before the polls.

"We are very unhappy, honourable (governor), that your esteemed office has never assisted the (Komsberg) community to uplift their living standards," the workers further complained.

Basson on Wednesday said she was out of office, and thus could not comment as she has not yet received the letter.

The governor said she would be in a position to react to the letter when she gets back to office yesterday.

However, the politician said the grape workers, during her visits to the farm in the past, had never mentioned to her their demand for a piece of land on the farm.

"This is news to me," she remarked.

A worker at Komsberg, who preferred anonymity for fear of retribution, said their families live in fear of imminent eviction from the farm.

He said Komsberg's management informed workers that they would not be allowed to live with their families once they are relocated to newly built staff houses. The worker described the staff houses, which were recently constructed by the company at the farm, as a "single room with a toilet and shower" that can be occupied by one person only.

This, he argued, was clear evidence that the company intended that all non-employees should vacate the Komsberg farm.

A farm manager, the worker said, had even told workers that they had to demolish their reed huts once they are relocated to the new staff houses.

Komsberg general manager Jacques Cliff on Wednesday denied claims that the company does not want workers to live with their families on the farm.

At no stage, he claimed, did the company management instruct or give notice to the grape workers' families to vacate the farm land.

"Yes, some people not employed at the farm came to live here [on the] farm to run shebeens, and that's not what we want," he added.

He revealed that the company had constructed a total of 574 houses for its employees during the first phase of the staff housing project that was completed recently, adding that the relocation of employees to more appropriate staff housing is already underway.

Cliff said the company, however, would require those grape workers who live in the new staff houses to get prior permission from management for their friends or families to visit them on the farm.

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