Breadbasket easy pickings for thieves

About 2 000 people are employed in the PHA, mostly from surrounding communities.

Philippi farmers say they want to sell and out of the area because of crime and that campaigners fighting to keep the farmlands free of development don’t speak for them.

This after the campaigners held a four-day summit on the importance of not tarring over the Philippi Horticultural Area (“PHA in spotlight”, Bulletin, September 21).

During the summit, Nazeer Sonday, farmer, activist and chairman of the PHA Food and Farming Campaign, lodged papers at the Western Cape High Court challenging numerous development approvals by the City of Cape Town and provincial government.

But a week later, a group of farmers gathered at Lekkerwater, a farm owned by Marius and Zelda Hestermann. They said they were among 25 farmers (not 40 as stated by Mr Sonday) whose German forefathers had settled on what had been sand dunes and bush between 1860 and 1865.

Mr Hestermann said there were 2 000 farmworkers (not 6 000), most of whom came from surrounding townships.

The night after the summit ended, Sunday September 17, the Hestermanns were woken by gunshots. A farmworker phoned to say thieves had carried off two duvets filled with about 200 cabbages, which they had thrown into a bakkie before disappearing.

Mr Hestermann said it was fine to discuss the academic side of horticulture but none of the speakers at the summit would last one night in Philippi.

“Driving through the area anyone can see what the small-holding owners, who get funds from government for farming, are doing to this area.

“They are not farming but instead are running businesses such as brick-making, taxi depots, catering, a liquor store and transport. None of the commercial farmers receive any funding or subsidies. Farming is no longer viable. We want to leave.”

Shawn Ohloff said the state was wasting money funding emerging farmers because they knew nothing about farming.

“They are given state-of-the-art tunnels, their pump breaks, they leave, owing us money for seedlings,” she said.

Gunther Rix said that instead of subsidising farmers, it would make more sense for government to buy the farmers’ produce and sell it on to consumers.

Jasper Terblanche said Mr Sonday’s idea of giving land to emerging farmers and creating 34 000 jobs could not work as it would equate to spending R120m on labour each month.

“And with supermarkets dictating the price that farmers can sell produce this is not possible,” he said.

He said water was a problem in the area because a lot of sand had been removed by sand miners. “Sand acts as a sponge, but with no more sand dunes, we need to drill deeper, 40m, costing R50 0000, and hopefully get usable water for irrigation,” said Mr Terblanche.

And it’s not only the sand that is being taken, according to Ms Ohlhoff. “Packs of dogs are used for hunting our wildlife, and our dogs have been caught in traps and snares.

“One day I bought a large tortoise from a man. He said he was taking it home to cook it in its shell. I offered R20; he wanted R50.”

Errol Ohlhoff said their electricity (when they have it) costs R60 000 a month. He has worked their 30ha farm and 7ha seedling nursery since he left the army. Now aged 62, he said he had been attacked recently by four panga-wielding men.

“Thieves take everything from tractor parts and electrical lines to irrigation pumps and produce. Many people buying from hawkers and spazas have no idea where the produce comes from, but it is big business here. When we report it to the police, they say it’s petty crime, they have no vehicles, or they are off to a murder in Hanover Park,” said Mr Ohlhoff.

In one year he calculated from police cases opened that R500 000 of produce had been stolen.

Stephen Bock and his brothers have farmed the PHA all their lives, but they too want to leave.

They employ 350 people from the surrounding communities, mainly Xhosa women collected from townships, but not anymore, he said, because the trucks got stoned.

Increased traffic was another problem, said the farmers, particularly during peak times when roads between Mitchell’s Plain and the city were used as rat runs.

The farmers also complained that some state-subsidised emerging farmers simply built homes on their plots and didn’t farm. To level the ground for the houses, they filled in dykes, which created a flooding risk.

None of the farmers claimed to know of the PHA summit and they do not hold Mr Sonday in high regard.

Mr Sonday said it would not be productive for him to comment, but he said the farmers had a right to sell. “But it’s not their right to say the land can be rezoned from agriculture. The land belongs to the community, and the City is doing nothing to enforce land-use.” Meanwhile, Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for transport and urban development, said a permit had approved in May this year for a sand mine on farmland in the area. This after the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning granted environmental authorisation in July 2016. Beverley Schäfer, who chairs Province’s standing committee on economic opportunities, tourism and agriculture, said she was aware of the crime and dumping problems in the PHA, but it would not be helpful for the farmers to sell the land while the committee was fighting desperately to save it as a breadbasket for the city.

She said allocating land to beneficiaries of land reform was done by national government only.

“ A comprehensive study to assess the agricultural potential of the PHA is underway and should be completed in February. We urge the farmers to wait until this is complete before decisions are made. It is vital that the PHA remains a protected agricultural space for the benefit of future generations to come,” she said.

Funding models, improved security and analysing the quality and quantity of water resources feeding the PHA form part of the comprehensive study.

The Western Cape Department of Agriculture (WCDA) spokesman Darryl Jacobs said they were committed to protecting farmland in the urban space and opposed development applications in the PHA.

The department, he said, was leading the development of a socio-economic agricultural plan – set to be finalised early next year – to ensure the PHA reached its full potential. Economic Opportunities MEC Alan Winde said they had a vision for the PHA.

“The region could be an economic hub, and a vibrant space for various small, medium and commercial enterprises in the agriculture value chain,” he said.