The findings of an investigation surrounding the removal of pig farmer Ivan Cloete will only be concluded at the end of February. However, government now acknowledges the 53-year-old farmer was not treated fairly.
In a SAfm interview with Aldrin Sampear, the deputy minister in the department of agriculture, Mcebisi Skwatsha, conceded that officials may have flouted a 30-year lease agreement with the Western Cape farmer.
DA shadow minister for agriculture Annette Steyn believes the department’s sudden U-turn “borders on illegality and makes a mockery to equitable land reform.”
Spokesperson to minister Thoko Didiza, Reggie Ngcobo, went on to further clear the air on recent allegations levied against the department by the DA.
Ngcobo explained that the department had an obligation to provide Cloete, and many others, with land to ensure that their right to farm was protected.
“The department is also aware that there was a recent attempt to evict Mr Cloete from Colenso. An investigation was launched on this matter on 9 February 2021. A report is expected by the end of February 2021 and, thereafter, appropriate measures will be taken,” Ngcobo told Food For Mzansi.
On Monday, 1 February, a delegation of high-level government notified Cloete that his lease was terminated. The award-winning pig farmer was given seven days’ notice to evacuate the farm so that a group comprising Umkhonto we Sizwe military veterans (MKVMA) and established farmers could take it over.
In 2013, Cloete and former partner Theo Sibeko were first allocated the Bellevue farm in Northern Paarl in the Western Cape. This was under government’s proactive land acquisition strategy (PLAS) programme.
While there was an agreement in place that the duo would jointly farm with chicken layers, it soon became apparent that Cloete and Sibeko had different farming interests. Cloete wanted to build his dream piggery instead.
The department thus divided the land between the beneficiaries, but in their six years as neighbours tensions began to arise. Conflicts escalated to a point where officials sought alternative land for Cloete to protect the state’s investment.
In 2019, Cloete was then moved to the Gelukwaarts farm in Porterville, where he came to blows with a claimant he refers to as Ms N.
“What dismayed us, was when we learned from officials the owner did not tell them there was someone on the farm.
“At the time the person (Ms N) was illegally there only to find when that woman produced papers (claiming) she had some form of a contract,” Skwatsha noted.
Ms N then proceeded to allegedly intimidate Cloete, vandalising his property and also later allegedly violently attacking him. Fearing for his safety, Cloete was given “temporary” approval for allocation to the Colenso farm as PLAS lessee, Skwatsha confirmed.
“Mr Cloete had then gone to Colenso because he felt his life was no longer safe at Gelukwaarts. So, we said we have an agreement with you. We will accommodate you. We have a lease with you. We must make sure that you get land from us,” said Skwatsha.
Skwatsha went on to confirm the DA’s allegation that the group set to replace Cloete, were indeed veterans of the MKVMA who were already established farmers. He said Cloete’s eviction and treatment was the “the most disappointing thing (outcome).”
Questions need to be answered by officials implicit in his removal, said Skwatsha. “How do you accommodate somebody in a farm, then run interviews. What is it that is fundamentally wrong with him to be excluded?”
He reiterated Ngcobo’s sentiments and said, “We have a legal obligation to provide Mr Cloete with a farm. We must look into whether we can keep Mr Cloete on that farm or accommodate him on another that is equivalent to that one.”
Meanwhile Steyn said that it was “clear the department has lost control of the land reform process.” A set of “outlaw officials” were slinging around eviction notices with no regard for the rule of law and the rights of farmers, she said.
“The harassment of vulnerable farmers to make way for supposed MK vets has been going on for a while. Mr Cloete is just the latest victim.
“A great concern is that minister Thoko Didiza allows these harassments of farmers to continue with impunity and only launches investigations after the fact.
“How can individuals who already own farms and farm enterprises be allowed to apply and obtain new farmland, depriving vulnerable farmers like Mr Cloete in the process?”
Steyn furthermore called on Didiza to investigate and stop pending evictions against farmers across the country.
This, according to`Steyn, includes 39 Mpumalanga farmers who face a similar situation as Cloete. Ngcobo added, however, that the department was still awaiting details from Steyn over the alleged evictions in this province.
A case of contradictions?
Responding to Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address, DA leader John Steenhuisen said it was contradictory how the president spoke of strengthening the country’s agricultural output.
“In the very same breath (he) reaffirmed his government’s commitment to the expropriation of property without compensation.
“If you are still unsure how that will go, just look at the case of Ivan Cloete, a Coloured farmer who has been leasing, and successfully farming, a state farm in the Darling area.”
Skwatsha clarified that Cloete’s eviction had nothing to do with expropriation nor was he one of the farmers whose land was advertised in the 700 000 hectares of state land which was earlier availed. Cloete’s circumstances were simply an oversight that government never anticipated, Skwatsha said.
Building an inclusive future
Ramaphosa responded to Steenhuisen’s remarks. “To be successful, we need to align agricultural development with an effective and accelerated land redistribution programme.
“Providing more land to many more South Africans, along with the means to productively work it, is not only about correcting a past wrong; it is also about building a prosperous and more inclusive future.”
In his rebuttal, Ramaphosa further described Mzansi as a country of great agricultural promise. “The investment we are making in agriculture and agro-processing will enable us to fully realise the potential of this great renewable resource.”
ANC hits back
Meanwhile the ANC in the Western Cape slammed the DA. In a media release, the party says Steyn’s allegations that the ANC was set to benefit from Cloete’s removal were “fabrications and distortions.”
Provincial ANC coordinator Ronalda Nalumango said, “It is opportunistic and hypocritical of the DA and others to play to the gallery and misrepresent the true state of affairs.
“Seems to us that when things go wrong, the DA hyperventilates and blames the ANC. We appeal to Mr Cloete to stop playing the victim and state the true facts. Distortions have damaged our reputation.”