A Western Cape farmer accuses government of intimidation after being given seven days to vacate his West Coast farm without any prior notice. If government succeeds, this would be the third consecutive land reform farm he would lose.
In an exclusive interview with Food For Mzansi an emotional Cloete says, “They intimidated me on Monday. They harassed me. They threatened me with illegal eviction, demanding I immediately hand over the farm.”
The 56-year-old Cloete, who has dedicated his life to farming, is close to breaking point. As a land reform beneficiary, he believes he is a victim of bureaucracy by the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development.
“I didn’t even know that they were coming,” he says. “They didn’t inform me. I had just taken my wife to work and they were standing here, lots of them, the acting chief director, the director, deputy directors, everybody was standing here.”
The high-level government delegation came to notify him that he would be removed from the Colenso farm in Darling on which he has been farming since 2019. Cloete has since laid intimidation charges against these officials.
For 17 years, Cloete patiently waited for the day he would farm his own land. In November 2012, his dream finally came to fruition when he was first announced as a beneficiary of government’s land reform programme.
This, however, would be the beginning of many tribulations.
Cloete tells Food For Mzansi that he has been driven off his land no less than three times before.
“I am very emotional. I got the letter this morning (4 February 2021) to say that I must hand over the farm. I am a farmer. They placed me there. It is not like I came here and invaded this property. The department placed me here. I don’t know anymore.”
Dream turned nightmare
When he became a land reform beneficiary in 2012, Cloete was ready to finally put years of skills development to practice.
“It is my dream. It is my passion. That is what I live for, you know. It’s always difficult to grow from (being) a small-scale farmer, farming a small piece of land to a commercial property, and I was grateful.”
“They intimidated me on Monday. They harassed me. They threatened me with illegal eviction, demanding I immediately hand over the farm.”
That very same month, the department allocated him 94 hectares on the Bellevue farm in Northern Paarl, also in the Western Cape.
“They placed me there with another beneficiary. We had many challenges because we did not share the same dreams. Our working relationship deteriorated at the time.”
For six years, Cloete farmed on Bellevue until he relocated to another farm in Porterville in September 2018.
Embracing the new beginnings on the Gelukwaarts farm, the Western Cape department of agriculture also gifted Cloete a “state-of-the-art biometric” machine along with the land to grow his pig farming interests.
He says, “I think it was the first ever in the Western Cape. They invested R10 million into that farm and I was placed there to continue my farming activities.”
However, Gelukwaarts farm soon became a nightmare when he discovered that he was embroiled in a battle of land rights with a former farm dweller who claimed that she was the rightful beneficiary of the farm.
For seven months, Cloete was allegedly intimidated, assaulted, harassed, and eventually brutally attacked.
“Her motivation was that she had an agreement with the previous owner that she could have the farm, and she claimed that right.
“When the department bought that farm, she refused to move. She started to intimidate me because she saw me as a threat. She didn’t fight with the department. She fought with me, the valid and legal beneficiary.”
He further details his experience saying, “I was brutally attacked. I was assaulted. That pig production (enterprise) with a value of R10 million. She broke the doors open. She damaged the guava orchards and completely damaged the irrigation system.”
The nightmare continued.
“She assaulted my worker and one morning she brutally attacked me. I ended up very traumatised.
“The matter was reported to the police and the department, and that brutal attack was (also) reported to the portfolio committee on rural development and land reform at the time.”
Cloete recalls a meeting on the 13 March 2019 with the portfolio committee. Departmental heads were present, including former minister in the national department of agriculture, Candith Mashego-Dlamini and deputy minister Mcebisi Skwatsha.
Cloete says, “They were summoned to the portfolio committee to say why there was such a brutal attack on a land reform beneficiary.
“Both the department and the portfolio committee mutually agreed that I be taken from that dangerous, toxic environment and he must be relocated once again and allocated another farm.”
Intimidation of land reform beneficiaries
Along with his subsequent placement on a West Coast farm, Cloete was promised that the 30-year lease agreement he entered on Gelukwaarts would be transferred to Colenso farm – the very farm where he is now allegedly set to be evicted.
The department has yet to follow through on their promise, he claims.
Now he risks losing his farm for a third time.
“Knowing that I am here… They advertised the farm in the newspaper as a vacant farm. It falls outside of the 700 000-hectares of land that was identified for redistribution, but it is also a land reform farm in the PLAS programme.”
Cloete recalls, “It was an open invitation, without my knowledge. A process for a beneficiary selection process was started without consulting me, or even informing me.
“Now, all of a sudden, the department comes here and tells me to hand over the farm and my farming activities.”
DA shadow minister for agriculture Annette Steyn tells Food For Mzansi that incidents of forced eviction coupled with the intimidation of farmers have, unfortunately, become a common occurrence.
“It came as a shock. That is my life. I was given rights here. The department knew I was here.”
The DA has written to the chairperson of the portfolio committee on agriculture, land reform and rural development, Zwelivelile Mandela, calling for the deliberation on “the release of state land.”
There are many other farmers who are in a similar predicament to Cloete, says Steyn.
“The DA’s letter to chairperson Mandela will call on him to issue a directive that all provinces furnish the committee with the status of all land that falls under the ambit of the department’s land reform programme.”
Cloete intends to oppose the matter in court. “I am confident that the judge and court will rule in my favour. The magistrate will see the injustice in this situation.”
Cloete says, “It came as a shock. That is my life. I was given rights here. The department knew I was here. They placed me here. They did not offer anything else. They didn’t offer me another farm. They didn’t offer me nothing.”
He describes his ordeal as “a violation of my human rights at its worst.”
Acting chairperson of AFASA in the Western Cape, Elton Jefthas, tells Food For Mzansi, the organisation drafted and sent a letter on Cloete’s behalf, demanding urgent intervention.
“This is a total abuse of power,” says Jefthas.
“Ivan is one of the productive farmers, and what the department is doing to him is very unfair. The department should stop pushing Ivan around.
“They approved everything with the portfolio committee to make sure that Ivan is settled on his farm. If officials don’t have respect for the committee in parliament, then my question is, ‘Who are they going to give respect to?’”
Mandela says he has been made aware of Cloete’s current predicament. “We have received the issue and we have raised it with the relevant entities.”
Sad news for Cloete
Meanwhile, the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development confirms that they have, indeed, evicted Cloete off the Colenso farm.
Departmental spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo tells Food For Mzansi that Cloete did not own any rights to the property, and as such was to be evicted as informed by government officials.
Ngcobo adds, however, that the department has also initiated disciplinary processes against officials who facilitated the movement of Cloete.
“On Monday, 1 February 2021, officials of the department initiated a process of handing over the farm, known as Colenso, to a new lessee. The new lessee has duly followed a process of the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development. This is the same process where Mr Cloete participated and unfortunately, he was not successful,” Ngcobo clarifies.