The Mays have been squatting with their belongings and only a plastic sheet to cover them.
For nearly a month, Zonwabile Alfred May and his nine family members have been living on the R44 roadside near Paarl. They were evicted from the Windmeul Kelder wine farm on March 26, where they had lived for almost 40 years.
The May family have been squatting outside the farm gates ever since the eviction, with all their belongings, including couches, mattresses and a cupboard, with only a plastic sheet covering them.
Elna Brown, who is dating May’s son, Dumsani, said the family were trying to maintain some normality.
“The children are living with my sister so they can still bath and go to school. I’m still attending college and writing exams. It’s hard because we are still sleeping outside,” she said.
Billy Claasen, director of the Rural and Farmworkers Development Organisation, said: “It has been hot, windy, and it has rained, but with God’s grace, the family survives. They are unemployed and in desperate need of funding so they can buy food.”
The family’s troubles began after May was fired for alleged misconduct in 2008.
A two-year legal battle with Windmeul to evict them ended last month. The directors and management of Windmeul Kelder detailed their version of events, making several allegations against May and his family.
The family have repeatedly rejected the Drakenstein Municipality’s offer to house them at the caravan park in New Orleans, Paarl. The building offered to them is not big enough to house ten people and their belongings. The park is already home to over 150 evictees who have been living in tents for over a year. The small brick structure offered to the May family is currently used as a washroom. It often floods due to leaking pipes.
Gerald Esau, director of community services at Drakenstein Municipality, said: “Our offer is still on the table.”
He said the New Orleans Park was the only available option to place families in need of emergency accommodation in the area. He said construction at the municipality’s emergency housing project recently came to an abrupt halt after the property was illegally occupied.
“This area was recently invaded by the surrounding community, who refuse for these evictees to be accommodated in the area. We could therefore only offer New Orleans Park to the Windmeul evictees,” Esau said.
Lawyers representing the family are now gearing up to challenge their eviction in the Randburg Land Claims Court on April 25. They will also be asking the court to evaluate the living conditions of the alternative accommodation offered by the municipality.
“The plight of a farm-dweller family evicted from their home on a prominent wine farm in Paarl this week put the spotlight back on the growing tension between the legality and morality question relating to farm evictions. This eviction followed days after President Cyril Ramaphosa assured farmworkers in Citrusdal that his party would support farmworkers in their fight against evictions and oppression.
Days later, Alfred May and his family found themselves out on the street with all his belongings when the sheriff of the court enforced an eviction order. According to the organisation Women on Farms Project (WFP), May worked on the farm for 28 years until his employment was terminated. The eviction also sparked isolated protests by some farmworkers. Yet, according to a statement the farm owners issued, May was fired in 2008 because he sold liquor illegally on the wine farm. He had been asked to vacate the premises, but he refused. The owners insisted they followed due process with court rules and legislation, and thus acted within their rights. “The eviction of the occupiers did not occur abruptly. It was the culmination of a nearly decade-long process at a large financial cost and prejudice to the farm,” the statement read.
Co-director of WFP Carmen Louw told Parlybeat the issue of tenure security is closely linked to broader land and agrarian reform. “Current legal instruments such as Esta (Extention of Security of Tenure Act) give farmworkers limited protection, and farmers learned how to use these loopholes in legislation. They only need to provide accommodation to farmworkers whilst they are in their employ and when you reach long-term occupier status,” Louw explained. “What we see now is farm dwellers who lose their employment before they reach long-term occupier status, as is the case with May’s eviction.” A long-term occupier refers to a person who is older than 60 and who has lived on the farm for 10 years, or someone who became disabled or sick while employed on the farm.
Louw explained that farmworker women are often at an even greater disadvantage. “Historically women were not employed on farms, so they never qualified for tenure security in their own right. As a result, widows are evicted “legally”, as was the case on a farm in Rawsonville earlier.” Louw said legal processes also mean very little if poor farm dwellers who live far away from courts cannot access these courts, or are unable to read or understand legal documents. WFP director Colette Solomon during a recent seminar at the University of the Western Cape said laws are well intended, but farmers are well-resourced in terms of legal representation. “Farmworkers have a moral and economic claim to the land,” she insisted. “One of the greatest perversions in South Africa is that those who produce our food often go to bed hungry.” Solomon referred to a “systematic backlash by farmers over the land expropriation issue”. Says Solomon: “What we see is increasing evictions and unfair dismissals.” Solomon said the organisation also observed “constructive evictions”. She explained that farmers often make living and working conditions unbearable to force farmworkers from farms. This may include cutting off water and electricity and locking doors.
When approached for comment, farmer representative body Agri Western Cape asked for details of evictions to investigate and said they cannot comment on allegations. According to Solomon, however, there are more than 1 000 eviction cases on the court roll for the Drakenstein area. This include towns like Paarl and Wellington. It is estimated that if granted, these eviction court orders will affect about 20 000 farmworkers and families living on farms. May was likely part of these statistics. WFP deals with an average of 35 tenure-related cases per year. Last year the organisation dealt with almost 100 matters affecting almost 500 farm dwellers.
Director of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas) Prof Andries du Toit said there are clearly problems with the legal framework and with the implementation of the current law. “However, the legality of the issue aside, a big problem is that evictions contribute to the marginalisation of the poor and vulnerable population, who join the large masses of landless and unemployed people seeking to survive on the edges of the urban economy.” Du Toit labelled it as a “clear betrayal of the promise of our Constitution”. “Processes such as this end up excluding large numbers of people from any kind of meaningful citizenship, relegating them to an impoverished and insecure existence on the margins of a wealthy society. Not only does this have potential destabilising political consequences in the long term, but it’s also not in accord with our values as a society.””
Ethical trade association to review Windmeul Kelder wine farm
A family of ten is gearing up to fight a court judgment that forced them off the farm which was their home for 38 years. Windmeul Kelder wine farm hired armed security to be present at the eviction of the family on Tuesday. The family was left on the roadside with their belongings and no roof over their heads.
The evicted family are Zonwabile and Sweetness May, their children – Dumsani, Zola, Sinazo and Azola (aged between 15 and 37), and grandchildren – Anoxolo and Ivile (aged nine and 11), together with Elna Brown, who is dating Dumsani, and their child, Charlton, aged nine.
Brown said security guards arrived on Tuesday morning. “It was around 8am and the children were still sleeping when the securities arrived with papers telling us to leave. We tried putting up a fight, but our parents said we would be hurt … We should let go.”
Their belongings were put on the R44. The family has spent four nights sleeping rough, watching over their belongings.
When GroundUp contacted the family on Thursday, Sinazo was sobbing. “We have not bathed nor had a proper meal since Tuesday. There are people trying to assist us, but we need help urgently.”
Sinazo said the family had lived for 38 years on the farm. She said her parents are old and do not have any strength left to fight.
Carmen Louw, director of activist organisation Women on Farms Project, said it is common for farm owners to evict former employees. “Since Zonwabele stopped working on the farm, the owner started eviction proceedings against the family. We are busy with a lawyer drafting an urgent application to have the eviction judgment set aside.”
Billy Claasen, director of the Rural and Farmworkers Development Organisation, said it believed the court had made an “error in judgment” by granting the eviction order without stating that the family should be offered alternative accommodation.
“It is clear in this case that if you don’t have the money to litigate, you will lose even if you have a strong case,” he said.
Zonwabele said his troubles started a decade ago. “I was fired in 2008 after I was accused of selling alcohol, someone took a video of me with beers under a tree.”
Sinazo said her father never sold alcohol. “He was drinking when the cellphone video was taken. After firing him, we continued to stay on the farm, but it was hard because we received threats.”
Brown has been staying with the family for 15 years. “We received letters telling us that we must leave the only place we called home. We had a lawyer, but we heard that the lawyer reached an agreement with the farm owners that we must be out by January this year,” she said.
Jonathan Marthinus of the Drakenstein Municipality said that the municipality was aware that the eviction order had been granted, but was not aware that the order had been executed by the sheriff.
“The Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA) places an obligation on the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to intervene and assist farmworkers with access to legal representation. The Land Claims Court did not order Drakenstein Municipality to provide alternative accommodation in this case, and the evictees also at no stage requested assistance or alternative accommodation from the municipality,” said Marthinus.
He said the municipality had offered the May family temporary accommodation. “We also provided them with food parcels and water, which were delivered to them. The evictees, however, indicated to municipal officials last night that they did not want alternative accommodation from the municipality.”
Asked if municipality has plans to deal with pending eviction cases which may affect thousands of people living on farms, Marthinus said, “The municipality is aware of the scale of evictions within the jurisdiction and is proactively planning to assist within our resources. Furthermore, the municipality has meaningful engagements to discuss alternatives to evictions and also produces a report to the court.”
In response to Marthinus, Claasen said they were appalled by the premises the municipality had offered the family. “It is a small structure connecting to toilets on the property. When you stretch your arms, you can touch both walls. It’s only big enough for two people. There are already 52 tents on the property,” he said.
Claasen added that his organisation approached the Wine and Agricultural Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) to call on its members [which Windmeul belongs to] to halt evictions until proper housing solutions for displaced families are implemented.
“We as NGO’s also want an urgent meeting with the President to discuss issues affecting farmworkers,” he said.
Amelia Heyns of WIETA said the organisation was currently helping to find alternative accommodation for the family. WIETA also questioned the manner in which the eviction order was executed.
In a statement, CEO Linda Lipparoni said, “Any court decision around security of tenure should take into account the moral obligation and impact on evictees.”
Lipparoni urged the Drakenstein Municipality “to provide interim shelter and then longer term accommodation solutions for this family and many other farm dwellers whose human rights are infringed on during lawful eviction processes”.
She said WIETA has evoked its Incidents Reporting and Code Violations Protocol regarding Windmeul Kelder.
In a statement on Wednesday, the directors and management of Windmeul Kelder said the May family’s eviction was “the culmination of a nearly decade long process at a large financial cost and prejudiced Windmeul”.
It said that the first notice was delivered to the family in July 2017. “Windmeul further held a meeting on 4 April 2018 with the occupiers in an attempt to amicably resolve matters. On 30 April 2018, Windmeul obtained an order from the Land Claims Court,” it stated.
The company said that the family was given extra time to move their belongings before the sheriff of the High Court obtained a warrant to evict the family.
“The occupiers conduct, in brief, includes: destruction of property, overcrowding and the illegal use and sale of narcotics and alcohol which forced Windmeul to bring such eviction proceedings,” it stated.
Windmeul said it sympathised with the family and that the process was “regrettable”.