MARIENTAL locals have been flocking to the Edel Dates Farm every day to harvest free dates since the farm's closure after the owners abandoned the project.
The farm, situated about two kilometres from Mariental, is owned by Octant Investment Pty and was one of the country's prime date exporters. The business had 20 permanent workers and 100 seasonal employees before all the workers were retrenched in July last year and the business closed. Ivan Skrywer, a community member, has been coming to the farm daily since December last year to collect dates to sell on the streets of Mariental.
"I come here to collect dates which I can sell to get an income. We do not always fill buckets like today. Sometimes we only fill up plastic bags to sell in town," he said.
Also, Julien Pienaar and Christina Saal heard about the farm from their friends in the location.
"Some people come here to collect dates, some sell and others eat. They are even dry, some are not ripe yet. This is my first time here and I do not sell the dates, I just eat them," said Saal.
Pienaar, who was accompanied by her three young children, also said it was her first time at the farm and that she went to the farm to collect dates for her family to eat.
According to the caretaker at the farm, Linus Hitewa, the company closed down because of the drop in the water level in the Hardap Dam and the owners gave locals permission to collect and consume the dates.
"For now, the company is closed because there is not enough water in the dam. People from the location can eat the dates; we have permitted them to eat the dates," he said.
He, however, expressed disappointment with some locals who come to the farm under the pretext of collecting dates, only to steal and vandalise the property.
"During the week, it is quiet, but during the weekend the entire location comes here to collect dates and I am advising them to stop stealing the things on the property.
He said the only problem he has observed is the theft. "But if they come here to eat, we don't have a problem. They should stop stealing and damaging the things belonging to the company," Hitewa warned.
However, according to various sources, the date farm, which was considered one of the biggest date farms in the region, closed because of the ongoing legal dispute between the two owners of Octant investments and SOMNAM investment.
The company used to export dates mostly to the United Arab Emirates and South Africa and also sold some locally.
*Lorato Khobetsi-Slinger is an information officer for the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology in the Hardap region.