WHITE RIVER – A disastrous effect of land expropriation without compensation became evident when hectares of grass destined for emerging farmers were reduced to ash on Sunday.
Hennie Mentz, owner of Montabello Farm bordering the KaBokweni Road, watched haplessly and in fear when hundreds of Tekwane residents illegally occupied his property.
Mentz said he left for church in the morning, and upon his return, his property had been alight.
“It was horrific to see. We felt threatened,” he said. The group of people started marking out plots on the piece of land.
Though the majority were aware that it was privately owned, they said a political party had sent them. No one would divulge which party it was. “The land is unused and therefore we will take it to build our houses on, to farm, to start a business and to use as a cemetery,” one of the protesters said.
They set the veld alight to make access easier, after which they started pegging the patch of land out. Little did they know that the very grass they had destroyed was actually about to be baled and sold to farmers in barren areas in the province.
“There was no fear for the police,” said the DA’s shadow deputy minister of rural developments and land reform, Ken Robertson, who arrived shortly after what had transpired, fearing that it would degenerate into conflict between the members of the public who came out to protect the land and the land grabbers.
One of the community members was threatened with a panga should he intervene. “The fact that property had been damaged did not mobilise the SAPS into recognising the need for an emergency response,” he said.
Around lunchtime, three hours after it commenced and with little to no SAPS presence, Robertson phoned the Mpumalanga police commissioner, Lt Gen Mondli Zuma, who then deployed the public order police (POP) at around 14:30. In the meanwhile, the queue to put their names down on a list grew longer and longer.
“The invaders who were pegging out stands showed no respect for the SAPS, and as the police mobilised towards groups of invaders, they would just circle around them and continue to peg out stands for houses,” said Robertson.
“President Cyril Ramaphosa recently said expropriation without compensation would not create job losses, affect the economy or food security or the agricultural sector. The invasions are indicative of how ambiguous the president’s message has become, and that an invasion of this farmland immediately affects the farmer, his employees and the emerging farmers who purchase large hay bales from him to sustain their cattle in drought or when there is overgrazing on commonage ground,” said Robertson.
“The long-term effect will be that properties will be targeted for many reasons, which leads me to wonder whether proper assessment of whether property is being used or not will be done as clearly. Sunday’s invasion indicates that what seemed to be unused actually has a significant use to both commercial and emerging farmers,” he said.
The invasion increasingly grew more violent, causing the POP to step in. Rubber bullets as well as teargas were used to disperse the crowds. At around 16:00, people for a brief moment blocked the KaBokweni Road with rocks and branches, but it was opened soon after the POP stepped in.
Eight people were arrested for alleged trespassing, arson and malicious damage to property, police spokesman Col Motsholi Bhembe confirmed.