/ 13 January 2020

Land reform is about more than just land

Kowa has the highest rate of land restitution in the country. Black farmers now own 46% of formerly white commercial farms in the area.(Madelene Cronjé/M&G)

On paper, the Bino family of Kowa (formerly Elliot), Eastern Cape, are a land reform success story. In 2000, they applied with their relatives to pool their government subsidies and buy the 500-hectare Killcholoumkill farm, which the government had bought from a white commercial farmer for the purposes of land reform. 

Over the past 20 years, the family has managed to build up a large stock of 100 cattle and even more sheep. The group of 16 people are active farmers who live and work on the land.

The farm is about 20 kilometres from the town centre of Kowa. The Kowa area has the highest land-restitution rate in the country, with 46% of formerly white commercial farms now owned by black farmers.

But the group’s success has been hampered by the government’s failure to provide them with any municipal services. They have no electricity and no municipal water. There is a nearby river from which water has to be carried up a steep hill in bottles and then decanted into a tank. The Killcholoumkill farm is only accessible by 4×4 vehicle as it has no access road. The group has never been able to afford a car.

One of their sons, Sibongile Bino, 27, was born with extreme mental and physical conditions – he cannot talk, has no use of his legs and one of his arms, cannot feed, dress or wash himself, is incontinent and takes daily medication for epilepsy. Sibongile needs to be washed frequently and this is very difficult without electricity and water as the family has to fetch dirty water from the river, boil it and then allow it to cool down.

Sibongile has never been able to go to school. He has no wheelchair and, because the farmhouse is built on a steep, rocky hillside, it is not safe for him to be left alone outside as he propels himself forward using his functioning arm.

Visiting the families without a 4×4 vehicle means parking on the road two kilometres away, climbing down a valley, then wading through the river and hiking back up a hill to reach the house. This would be impossible for Sibongile. The children of the family wake up very early to climb a steep hill to reach their transport for school.

The families also survive on child grants and Sibongile’s disability grant. “Sometimes Sassa [South African Social Security Agency]wants to see if Sibongile is still alive and so we have to take him to town on a bakkie. But the guy with the bakkie is no longer living in Kowa. It is very difficult now and we don’t know what help we will get to take Sibongile anywhere,” his grandmother, Nonthukunina Bino, 66, said. The bakkie ride used to cost R90 return, which ate into the R1 780 monthly grant.

“Now I am losing my eyesight, it is difficult to look after him. I am struggling. Because I am poor, there is nothing I can do more.”

Possibilities for improvement

The Bino family make their land available for workers who have been evicted from other farms in the area and need a place for their livestock to live. This epitomises the neighbourly spirit of rural farmers who care for their community.

Their lives could easily be much improved if the government installed a road, electricity and water. Their home could also benefit from some upgrades, such as a fence and decked area where Sibongile could wheel himself around safely if he gets a wheelchair.

Family member Nonthembiso Mzimasi, 54, said they were very happy to receive the farm but the families needed support to make it an easier place to live. “We are happy here. If government ever told us to leave and stay in town, we would not go. The only problem is if government can fix the road and give us solar power, fertiliser and a tractor because we are isolated and the worst part is the road.”

George Nqoko, the local paralegal who works at the Elliot Advice Centre, said: “I have been imploring the Department of Social Development to do something to help this family because this place is not suitable in its current condition.

“What is nice is that these families are living together on their own land. But it is enshrined in the Constitution that nobody must be neglected. It is very urgent that government improve this situation.” Nqoko added that he will visit the provincial government in Bisho, 255 kilometres away, in 2020 to advocate for the families.

The Eastern Cape Department of Social Development director of communications Gcobani Maswana said the department would immediately send two social workers to the farm to make a full assessment of Sibongile’s needs. “As a caring government, we cannot leave someone living in such a situation. Our social workers will submit a report with recommendations of how different government departments can work together to help him.” 

This article was first published by New Frame.