Four months after the Deputy President, David Mabuza, assured South Africans that no farmer will be evicted from their farms under the government's land redistribution programme, Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) officials have been going around giving farmers one-week notices to vacate their farms.
On 22 October 2020, while answering questions in the National Assembly on the government's planned 700 000 hectare land redistribution programme, Mabuza unambiguously stated that "... those people that are currently occupying those farms (identified for redistribution), I don't think there is any intention to forcefully remove people at this point in time".
Mabuza's assurance was obviously misleading because Mr Ivan Cloete, a successful pig farmer at Colenso farm in the Western Cape was recently served with a 7-day notice to vacate his farm by officials from the DALRRD's Western Cape provincial offices. The claim by these officials that Mr Cloete does not qualify to continue practising his farming activities at Colenso farm is nothing but naked abuse of power designed to intimidate him into giving up his livelihood. The DA will not stand by and allow the use of dubious eviction orders to harass and victimise a defenceless farmer.
The unfair treatment of Mr Cloete appears to confirm well-founded fears among farmers that 700 000 hectare scheme was now being used as a cover by DALRRD officials to intimidate them into vacating their farms. What makes this state-sanctioned intimidation worse is that the farms of some of the farmers facing this intimidation do not form part of the 700 000 hectare program.
The DA has always been on record arguing that the chaotic approach to land reform will open up avenues for corrupt abuse of the process and disrupt the agricultural sector:
On 10 March 2020, I warned members of the Portfolio Committee that, even without data or information on the monitoring and evaluation of land reform, Departmental officials had been issuing eviction notices haphazardly.
During a committee session on 01 December 2020, I told committee members that farmers in the Western Cape, Gauteng and Mpumalanga who have been on the land for years, had received letters to vacate in the past year.
It is ominous that while the controversial section 25 amendment is being debated in Parliament, farmers are already facing unrelenting pressure to vacate their farms from a Department that has gone rogue. Mabuza and his colleagues in government have an obligation to stop this reckless targeting of farmers before it inflicts irreparable damage to the agricultural sector and the economy.