Talking Point 6.12.2016 03:25 pm

‘Julius Malema, they have land, but they have nothing’

Warrant Officer Jannie Odendaal and Solidarity's Dirk Hermann after Odendaal filed charges of defeating the ends of justice, assault and reckless and negligent driving against Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and her bodyguard at the Brooklyn Police Station in Pretoria, South Africa on 11 February 2011. Picture: Gallo Images

Warrant Officer Jannie Odendaal and Solidarity's Dirk Hermann after Odendaal filed charges of defeating the ends of justice, assault and reckless and negligent driving against Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and her bodyguard at the Brooklyn Police Station in Pretoria, South Africa on 11 February 2011. Picture: Gallo Images

The leader of SA’s biggest minority-rights union has used a personal story to challenge the EFF’s view that the transfer of land can solve poverty.

Solidarity CEO Dirk Hermann wrote an opinion piece on Afrikaans news website Maroela Media on Tuesday in which he shared an alleged personal experience of land/farming reform gone horribly wrong.

He said it was an example of 40 000 chickens being “empowered to their deaths”.

What he wrote appears to be based on a genuine personal experience and the concerns it raised, and it was also published as an evident challenge to leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Julius Malema, who has been pushing harder than ever for the ownership of land to move exclusively into the hands of black owners.

Malema declared last month that if white people did not give up their ownership of land, they were at risk of being “slaughtered”, an outcome he claimed he did not desire but which might prove unavoidable.

Hermann alleges his family’s chicken farm was sold to a “bemagtigde” (BEE-empowered person), who allegedly ran the farm into the ground within a year of the sale, which was presumably funded by government as an empowerment deal.

ALSO READ: ‘Dear Mr Malema, who really owns the land?’

Writing in Afrikaans, he claims that his father-in-law, Gert, and his wife lifted themselves out of a life of poverty and began to farm with chickens decades ago. Starting out without electricity and very little money, they began building chicken coops out of second-hand wire. He says they developed the farm from the ash heap into a “spoghoenderplaas” (a poultry farm worth bragging about) over a period of 45 years.

When Gert was preparing for retirement, government approached him to do an “empowerment transaction”.

The farm was then transferred to the “empowerment candidate” in November 2015. Hermann’s father-in-law apparently assisted for a time during the ownership transition period and received an SMS from government thanking him for his contribution towards empowerment in South Africa.

However, Hermann alleges that, only a year later, he was informed by one of the farm workers that all 40 000 chickens were dead. The SPCA allegedly had to euthanise the last surviving 3 000 scrawny chickens after they were not fed for “three weeks”.

He writes that when he enquired as to the fate of the other 37 000 chickens, he was told that some had been sold for cash, while many had already started dying in their coops in January.

ALSO READ: Malema’s neighbours take up his ‘invitation’ to occupy land

The farm worker allegedly told Hermann that they had driven bakkie loads of dead chickens to the dump, while on the farm itself not enough feed was purchased for the surviving chickens and the lights were also switched off after accounts were not paid.

Hermann alleges that 23 farm workers have now lost their jobs and can no longer provide for their families. The worker in question reportedly pleaded with Hermann to intervene, asking for the farm to rather be transferred to the farm workers themselves because “we know the farm; we know how it works”.

Hermann, however, wrote that he preferred not to see the property in question, hoping to remember it as it had been before.

He ended by writing, still in Afrikaans: “I want to remember a place that, over a period of 45 years, was built up piece by piece, and I would prefer to forget the place that was broken down within a year. The image of dead chickens lying on a heap and the anxious voice of a worker going hungry over Christmas while the empowered person has a huge party … is one that does not want to go away.

“I feel as though I want to scream it from the rooftops: They have land, Julius. They have nothing.”

Though Hermann’s article about black economic empowerment on a farm deals with an alleged empowerment failure, he makes no mention of any of the success stories in agricultural empowerment, which also do exist.

Solidarity is a trade union that dates back to 1902 and has a claimed membership of more than 130 000. The union has positioned itself as a vehicle for minorities in South Africa to have their voices heard. Its membership is mainly, but not exclusively, white people and it has often taken up cases opposing what it feels are cases of unfair discrimination precipitated by affirmative action policies.

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