Duty of Tolerance: Meyer and the Zakwe Sisters

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When Seven Oaks farmer Grant Meyer learned that two occupiers on his farm would be accommodated in tents by the Umvoti Municipality (Greytown), he was horrified. ‘Tents are just not adequate accommodation’, he says.

Meyer has gone to considerable cost and effort to ensure that the two problematic occupiers – Sizane and Ntombi Zakwe – received free RDP houses, a considerable improvement in quality of dwelling and security of tenure on their present circumstances.

The sisters are illegal occupiers on Meyer’s farm, Blinkwater. They have never worked on the farm but live in two rondavels originally built for farmworkers. They are problematic and have no legal right to live on the farm. But Meyer believes he has a duty of tolerance towards them and has sought to make alternative arrangements which, he believes, would actually improve their standard of living.

But Meyer’s consideration has not been reciprocated. The Zakwe sisters have refused to vacate the farm and Meyer has been vilified in the media. The farmer thought he had arranged a ‘win-win’ outcome. But his efforts were rejected after the Zakwe sisters fell under the influence of an activist associated with the Landless People’s Movement. He has promised them they would be granted full ownership of the farm. This is the worst possible advice. The Zakwe sisters have no viable land claim and stand to not only lose on this score but to surrender their rights to the RDP houses. ‘A potential win-win has become a lose-lose’, says Meyer.

The Zakwe sisters were not born on the farm but at Ngome, near Keates Drift. Their father came to work for the Meyers in 1991, followed a couple of years later by his wife and the two girls. The sisters were not born on the farm, as they claimed in a SABC television interview broadcast on 17 August, their family has not lived there ‘for 60 years’, nor are their parents buried there. The supposed ‘gravestones’ shown by the SABC are in fact beehives.

The sisters have forfeited any moral right to reside on the farm as a result of a litany of misbehaviour, culminating in an irretrievable breakdown in the relationship with the farmer. The Zakwes have caused malicious damage to the property, prevented the erection of a boundary fence, destroyed a toilet built for farm workers and are suspected of having been involved in the setting of a fire in the sugar fields. ‘They’ve been an endless problem’, says Meyer.

Noise, litter and poor hygiene have been an on-going issue and requests for better behaviour have been met with verbal abuse. The sisters are occupying accommodation intended for farm workers who are, as a result, forced to live on a neighbouring farm and walk to work. This is a round trip of 12 kilometres every day, often completed at night. The sisters have enjoyed free accommodation, water and firewood without making any contribution to the farm. Unlike farm workers, they are not available to help deal with quick-breaking emergencies like wild-fires. Indeed, there is a strong suspicion that they have been instrumental in starting fires. Despite the fact that both have incomes – Sizane works at a sawmill and Ntombi receives a disability grant – they discontinued the nominal contribution to rent paid by their mother prior her retirement in 2016.

In July, the Zakwe sisters prevented the erection of a boundary fence, removing newly planted poles and filling the trenches with soil. In the absence of any cooperative engagement with the sisters and concerned for the security of the property, Meyer felt compelled to lay a charge of malicious damage to property. The response of the sisters was to raise the ante. They hosted a visit to the farm by a Mr Shabalala of the Landless People’s Movement. He arrived with about 20 other people, some of whom claimed to be members of the Economic Freedom Fighters. Their behaviour was threatening. One said to Meyer: ‘You are finished. The days of your white skin are numbered and Malema is coming’. Shabalala threatened that the next visit would not involve twenty activists but two thousand.

Shabalala insisted that ‘the sisters are not animals and should therefore not be fenced in’. He added that Meyer was not entitled to erect a boundary fence. In fact, Shabalala is completely wrong. A boundary fence is a legal requirement in terms of the Fencing Act of 1963. But misrepresentation of Meyer’s position and motives has been the order throughout the saga.

The August 2019 SABC report was introduced as a story about ‘desperate farm dwellers’ who were being ‘evicted’ after ‘living on the farm for more than 60 years’. Hardly a word of the report is true or accurate. In her interview, Sizane Zakwe insists that the sisters ‘have nowhere to go’. This is quite simply a lie. At the time of the interview, RDP houses had already been arranged in Greytown’s Slums Clearance Project Phase 2. These are two-bedroom houses with full services and separate lounge and kitchen areas, and a full bathroom. Meyer had already facilitated housing in the same project for farm workers who had been living at a hostel in Greytown.

The Zakwe sisters were in fact granted special treatment. The municipality accelerated them up the queue ahead of people who had been waiting far longer for housing. In September the houses were available and, according to the municipality, the keys were ready and waiting to be collected. But the sisters refused to move.

This is not the first attempt Meyer has made to find adequate alternatives. A previous offer on his part to build them each a house in Ngome, which is their actual birthplace and where they have relatives, was turned down. Nor was it easy to persuade the Umvoti Municipality to make arrangements for them. There was considerable resistance despite the fact that providing shelter for illegal occupiers is an obligation of the municipality nearest the farm in terms of the Extension of Security of Tenure Act. This is where the possibility of the sisters having to live in a tent arose. Case law precedent, in this case Grand Valley Estates versus Nkosi, makes it clear that a tent, provided by the municipality, is ‘suitable accommodation’.

Sizane Zakwe alleged in the SABC interview that the sisters were forced to sign an eviction order but that the nature of the document was never explained to them. This is not true. The document is not an eviction order but a deed of settlement which promises them the RDP houses in Greytown. They signed under the guidance of a state-appointed lawyer. The contents of the document were meticulously translated into isiZulu in the presence of attorneys acting for all three parties (the Zakwe sisters, Grant Meyer and the provincial Department of Rural Development and Land Reform). The Zakwe’s attorney, Linda Shembe, confirms that the sisters were ‘happy’ with the promise of RDP houses.

At the time of writing, the Zakwe sisters are still resident on the farm and Grant Meyer is continuing to exercise his perceived duty of tolerance. The sisters continue to insist that their claim is to the entire farm and have dismissed the state-appointed attorney who had informed them otherwise.

Meyer points out that no one has won and, indeed, that ‘no-one wins in a fight’. He is continuing to work for a mutually beneficial resolution and in so doing is demonstrating that the ‘callous landowner’ image portrayed by the SABC report is simply nonsense. Unfortunately, by listening to poor advice, the Zakwe sisters appear to be in the process of losing the chance to take ownership of the two RDP houses in Greytown. ‘The Greytown Slum Clearance Project has a Phase Three. We’ll just have to see if we can’t accommodate them there’, says Meyer.

David Christianson was commissioned to write this article by the Institute of Race Relations, a liberal think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Go to https://irr.org.za/

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