“In the last meeting they gave us until September 6 to get everyone off the farm, or they’re going to charge us with violating municipal bylaws,” said the farm owner Andrew Wartnaby.
“Exactly which ones, they didn’t say,” he said.
In early July, Wartnaby and his wife Rae opened their farm to refugees after the last standing shelter for those displaced by April’s xenophobic violence had been shut down by members of the South African Police Services (SAPS). Without a place to call home, the refugees were forced to sleep outside for two nights. When they awoke on Friday July 3, SAPS had gathered all of the adults in the group, arresting them for child neglect and trespassing.
“The police had separated these people from their kids, and their only crime was that they didn’t have a place to go to,” said Wartnaby.
Separated from their children for a weekend, the adult refugees were released only when the Wartnabys offered their home, Hope Farm, as a fixed address and a place of refuge.
“When people ask us why we did what we did, my response is, ‘how could we not?’” he said.
All 146 refugees have been living at the farm and are cared for by the Wartnabys, their families, friends, neighbours, and the Anti-Xenophobia Coalition.
“Even the gun-toting farmer down the road stopped by our place during the first week, gave us a thumbs up, and offered to sell us some of his chickens to feed our new guests,” said Rae.
Member organisations of the coalition, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the South African Council of Churches have been providing the refugees with food, clothing, and medical care. However, according to MSF, municipal officers have expressed their displeasure at the ongoing services provided by the coalition.
With the looming eviction deadline, the coalition has called on South African authorities to abstain from making any further legal threats “until all matters have been resolved amicably for all concerned”.