Researchers from the Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE) Fani Ncapayi and Boyce Tom together with TCOE Chairperson Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza, conducted a field research visit to the Mopane Farmers Association in Limpopo. The trip formed part of a research visit investigating the Mopane farmers land use experiences. The research is part of a broader publication project about the work of TCOE and the Inyanda National Land Movement. But the trip was also prompted by disturbing reports about the challenges of land tenure and the violation of the rights of smallholder producers in some areas in Limpopo. This is the first in a series of two articles about the researchers initial observations and reflections following their fieldwork.
The Mzilela Co-operative in Limpopo, an affiliate of the Mopani’s Farmer’s Association, is one of the few cooperatives administered and run by women. The cooperative consists of a group of 14 households currently using 25 hectares of land for food production. It was first established in 1987 by then Prime Minister Professor H.W.E Ntanwisi of the ‘independent homeland’ Gazankulu. The original group of households consisted of 80 members and each member was allocated one plot as part of the agricultural scheme. The cooperative now grows tomatoes, vegetables, ocra and butternut. The produce is sold to the community at an affordable price and is an important source of income for the women. Some have even been able to provide their children with tertiary education with the proceeds. The cooperative also provides food to some school feeding schemes at no cost.
In 2021, a group of young men approached the women indicating that they wanted to form part of the cooperative and could make it more productive by raising sponsorship. While the young men provided no written agreement for their proposal, the women trusted them to be sincere.
The women say that in no time it became clear that the young men wanted them off the land. The men went as far as switching off the agricultural water supply, changing locks for the storage as well as the padlock gate. The women claim that the men deliberately damaged the pump and tractor. The women resisted and refused to leave the land. To raise money to fix the tractor and the irrigation, the women sold grass.
Although the women reported the matter to the headman, the headman was not helpful. Instead of assisting, he sided with the young men – arguing that the women were old and needed to give way to young people. The Mopane Farmer’s Association and the Department of Agriculture was also roped into the matter to try and assist the women. But the young men continued to harass the women and had mobilised others in the village to threaten them.
“We don’t want anything from those boys, they must leave just leave our farm. We need to plough and grow our crops” explained one of the elderly women from the cooperative, who asked to remain anonymous.
This case is a typical case violation of the provisions of the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act (IPILRA) of 1996. The Act prohibits taking decisions about the land that affects people currently utilising it without their consent. The Act applies to people who have been on the land for more than five years.
This case also highlights the issue of communal tenure and the failure of the democratisation project. The court judgments on the Ingonyama Trust Land and Xolobeni are useful in that they clearly state that traditional authorities are not owners of land in communal areas – it is the users who own it. Xolobeni judgements also emphasises that traditional authorities cannot take decisions on the land without the consent of the community – the women in this case.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As we go to print, the cooperative is still locked up and the women are unable to access the land.