An Eastern Cape family of 12 looks set to lose the land generations of their forebears have been farming on since the 1960s. They are being evicted by the new owner of the farm, the husband of the provincial MEC for transport, safety and liaison, Weziwe Tikana.
An emotional Neziswa Moyeni tells Food For Mzansi that she and her husband have been intimidated and fenced in on a tiny part of the land on Sunnyside farm, near Qonce (King William’s Town). The farm was controversially bought by Tikana’s husband, Thembelihle Gxothiwe, in March 2020.
Moyeni alleges that their cattle have been dying off since they are also denied access to grazing and water. The tenant farmer says she was raised on Sunnyside. Both her parents and grandparents cultivated the land for decades, but since Gxothiwe took ownership, their lives have been a living hell.
“The farm was [originally] owned by Ronald Burger, who is the son of Bertie Burger that my father used to work for as a farmworker in 1964. When Bertie passed away, his son took over. He sold the farm to Edward Collar and then Edward sold it to Hanelly Fourie,” explains Moyeni.
“So, [Tikana’s husband] bought the farm from Hanelly Fourie in March 2020. When he bought it from Hanelly, the situation was already in court, because seemingly she also wanted to evict us. So, when we included the department of land reform, she let it go.”
The 38-year-old Moyeni says she is confused how the MEC and her husband were able to buy the farm when they were still entangled in court proceedings with the previous owner.
They also want to know why they weren’t consulted by the department about the transaction when they were in regular communication with them regarding their possible eviction.
Ancestors’ graves cordoned off
Moyeni tells Food For Mzansi: “We just saw a white Isuzu bakkie driving around on the farm and we saw the previous owners [the Fouries] moving out their livestock. They didn’t say anything to us, but we still had access to the water and grazing fields.
“[This was] until August last year when Gxothiwe and his wife told my mother and I that they would demolish our house with a bulldozer and that she had already hired it. She said this via a WhatsApp voice note.”
Moyeni claims they then alerted the national department of agriculture, land reform and rural development.
Deputy minister Mcebisi Skwatsha visited the farm, but his attempts to mediate the situation had failed.
“She [Tikana] constrained us to an approximate 100x150m area on the farm when initially we were able to farm on 61 hectares. She did this by putting a very high fence around the area we used to farm on.”
The cordoned off area includes the grave sites of their deceased parents and grandparents.
“Now we don’t have access to them the graves. We also don’t have access to water because she has locked the gates to the dams and our cattle also don’t have access to grazing fields,” Moyeni says.
No action from government
Moyeni allegedly asked Gxothiwe about their rights as tenants who have been living on the farm for generations.
“We love farming, but we don’t have finances to buy a new farm. So where are we going to go?”
Gxothiwe then allegedly said he would give the Moyeni family until December to vacate the farm. “If we don’t leave by December, they are going to impound the cattle and chase us away,” Moyeni says.
In desperation and frustration she again reported the matter to government, who asked Thobelani Mtsewu, a senior project officer, to visit the farm. However, he didn’t come immediately. In January she was then given the number of Zuks Pityi, chief director: land restitution, who summonsed Mtsewu.
“Thobelani left us saying that he sees the situation and that he can see the cows don’t have access to water, but he did nothing about it.
“Each and every weekend I have to ask people to help me hire tractors from farmers around to transport water for us and grass. But the cows are still dying and now they are dying more frequently because they are giving birth.”
To date, the Moyeni family has already lost 56 cows to hunger and dehydration. Yesterday morning they lost one and last weekend alone they lost four cows.
They once had 78 cows in their herd. “I even told the deputy minister Skwatsha to come and see one of the cows,” she says.
Skwatsha confirms to Food For Mzansi that he went to the farm to try and resolve the tension between the two families. Through government’s office in the Eastern Cape, the Moyenis are being assisted.
A forgotten promise
Moyeni says it is unfortunate that her father was not educated. Burger, his original employer, allegedly told him to stay on the farm forever. Unfortunately, he never gave him an official document to support this promise.
Bulelani Poswa, an East London advocate representing the Moyenis, says there is now a legal dispute between the family and Gxothiwe. Gxothiwe approached the court for an order to evict them.
Both parties and their representatives appeared in court on 11 March for a hearing.
Gxothiwe based his case on the eviction order that was granted by a magistrate in King William’s Town in a previous dispute between Moyeni and Fourie.
According to Poswa, Fourie alleged that Moyeni had vacated the farm for some time and by doing so she had relinquished her rights in terms of the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA).
“It is a result of that decision that Mr Gxothiwe has approached the court for an order evicting Mrs Moyeni,” he says.
Moyeni’s representatives went to court to inform the magistrate that they had previously appealed the court order relinquishing Moyeni of her rights as an occupier in terms of ESTA.
“As far as eviction is concerned, we have managed to withhold the eviction pending the outcome of the appeal before the land claims court,” he says.
The MEC’s husband responds
Food For Mzansi first reached out to Gxothiwe on Wednesday, 14 April 2021 about Moyeni’s allegations. He denied that he was evicting the Moyeni family from his farm and told us that the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development was looking for an alternative place for the Moyenis to live.
When asked about the claim that the Moyeni family had since been confined to a small space on the farm without access to food or water, Gxothiwe asked the publication to, instead, email him with a list of questions.
On Thursday, 15 April 2021, Food For Mzansi received an email from Gxothiwe’s attorneys, Moolman & Pienaar Inc, stating that they cannot discuss the matter as it was still in court.