Sitting in his house in Pinelands, Cape Town, Lulamile Sidwaba is 1 000km away from where he wants to be – on his farm in the Eastern Cape. Sidwaba has end-stage renal failure and is on dialysis three times a week.
In 2011, he was in peak health and thrilled to have become a beneficiary of a land reform project in Stutterheim, about 90km from East London. Sidwaba sank all his savings and pension money into Bushside farm, which the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform bought and leased to him for an initial five-year period, following which he was assured it would be transferred into his name.
“The farm had belonged to an elderly couple and it hadn’t operated in a very long time. I had to invest in a fence to keep my cattle in and cut back all the growth,” says Sidwaba.
He received a recapitalisation grant from the government in 2014 to get the farm up and running – enough to pay for nine cows to add to his stock of 30, a tractor, repairs to the shed and more fencing.
But then a large group of people broke down Bushside’s fences and gates and set up shacks on the farm, bringing their own herds of cattle. According to Sidwaba, these were not impoverished people who had nowhere else to go. He says two men who were violent led them. They killed Sidwaba’s bull. They told Sidwaba that they were occupying the land with permission from Rosemary Nokuzola Capa, then the member of the executive council for rural development and agrarian reform, and currently the national deputy minister for the department.
“Their leader told me he asked Capa why I was given the farm when I was from Transkei and not a ‘Ciskeian’. He said Capa informed him that I was not in the books of the agriculture department, so his group could move on to the land,” Sidwaba says.
Capa’s spokesperson, Reggie Ngcobo, says Capa “refutes these allegations with the contempt it deserves. While deputy minister, Capa was the [member of the executive council] for agriculture in the Eastern Cape province [and] was not responsible for allocation of state land or farms as this was the mandate of the national government. She did not instruct nor say people must stay [on] the farm.”
The occupation was the beginning of the end for Sidwaba as his cattle escaped through the broken fences and wandered on to the highway. “I would get calls regularly at night to say my cattle were on the N6. I’d drive out in the dark to catch them and load them on to my vehicle, which would take hours,” he says.
The newcomers’ free-roaming cattle ravaged his grain and grazing fields.
A new farmer arrives
In 2014, the department said it would move Sidwaba to another farm. But nothing suitable could be found quickly.
“I was losing livestock. My tractor was sabotaged, vehicle damaged and there were strange individuals carrying weapons knocking on my windows at night. My family stopped staying on the farm out of fear. I was forced to sell some of my stock to repair the damage,” he says.
Then the department asked him to “assist a fellow farmer who was losing stock to disease” by letting him move in with Sidwaba at Bushside. The farmer was Thithi “TT” Tshwete, nephew of Steve Tshwete, the late former minister of sport and then of safety and security, an ANC and Umkhonto weSizwe stalwart who was imprisoned on Robben Island for 15 years.
Sidwaba was delighted to have a member of such a high-profile ANC family moving in, expecting that Tshwete would attract preferential protection from the police and the government. Tshwete also bought six heifers from Sidwaba, who was planning to auction them to pay for some of the damage to his farm. “This was great because it enabled me to pay my Eskom bill and my assistant manager who stayed on the farm with his family,” says Sidwaba.
By Christmas 2015, Tshwete had moved on to Bushside and Sidwaba went to visit his family in Cape Town for the holidays. But as he arrived in the city, he collapsed and was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure. He was then told that his assistant farm manager, Jeffrey Gwxala, had also experienced sudden organ failure and had died.
Still recovering and about to start dialysis in Cape Town, Sidwaba feared that without a manager, nobody would tend to his herd. He arranged with a friend to collect his cattle and take them to his farm to look after them.
“I sent someone to pick up the stock only to be locked out by Tshwete’s worker, who claimed there were no other livestock on the farm other than those belonging to Tshwete. I called Tshwete, whose phone was either off or would go to voicemail, which he did not respond to. No one at [the land reform department] was available,” says Sidwaba.
He then received a message from Tshwete demanding a refund of R45 000 for the six heifers he had bought from Sidwaba on the grounds that “the state had paid for those cattle”, and so Sidwaba had no right to sell them.
Sidwaba says Tshwete has never allowed him to set foot on his farm again. Sidwaba’s clothing, furniture and livestock are still in the farmhouse where Tshwete’s family now lives. “I have been locked out since 2016, when I was first hospitalised. This was after a nightmare three years where all my savings and pension funds that I had invested were destroyed by the people who moved in. I’m unemployed and dependent on my wife. Even my medical aid has been exhausted,” he says.
The department says it is untrue that it allowed Tshwete to grab Sidwaba’s farm. In an undated report on the dispute, Nomfundo Mbewana, a regional director in the department, says Sidwaba let four local people use his farm.
“That was the beginning of his problems … as a few weeks later he realised that his fences were brought down and livestock from the village wandering on to his farm. On approaching the four individuals … they defiantly told him that he was not supposed to get the farm in the first place as he was from the Transkei. This was reported to the department, which tried to intervene. Officials from the department were ignored by the villagers and told in no uncertain terms that they will not stop grazing their cattle on the farm. In 2015, Mr Sidwaba advised the department that he could no longer conduct successful farming operations in that farm as his life was being constantly threatened,” the report says.
The department says Sidwaba then agreed to move and so it reallocated Bushside to Tshwete as he was “from the Amabhele area and … familiar with the community”. It offered to accompany Sidwaba to Bushside to retrieve his furniture and cattle but he did not show up for the appointments.
But Sidwaba says he has not seen the report. “Why would I have left all my belongings and livestock on the farm if it was no longer mine? Why would I have still been paying my assistant manager his salary after I left? A handover would require my signature.”
Tshwete says he did not hijack Bushside. “I want to put on record that I never locked Mr Sidwaba out of the farm or the house. The department … requested that he informs them when he is removing his belongings from the farm so that they can make sure he is not removing their cattle or implements. That was the last time I heard from him. He never contacted me after that. The farm is still owned by [the] government. I cannot block the police or departmental officials from entering the farm. If really there was a dispute between us, he could have made government officials or police aware and they could have assisted him,” says Tshwete.
“I consider Mr Sidwaba … a friend and I really went there to help him with farming. I was looking for a farm closer to home and [the government] said I should come. Mr Sidwaba was having problems with some people in the community, [so] I should come and take over because they were identifying another farm for him.”
Tshwete maintains that it was wrong for Sidwaba to sell him the cattle he had bought with state funds. “I still don’t consider him to be an enemy, even though he sold me government cattle. They were bought with government funds, the breed and everything. I verified with the department, and I was very disappointed that he did that,” he says.
Sidwaba, who has farmed for decades, disagrees. “Any farmer will tell you what I did is trade eight out of 39 cattle to save stock, equipment, workers and the farm in general.”
He has applied to the Western Cape government to become a land reform beneficiary there instead. But he has been told he only qualifies if he can provide a letter confirming he has accounted for the R1.8 million in recapitalisation funds. The department will not issue him the letter because it will not accept certain receipts amounting to R44 000. He says he spent two days in the department’s office in 2017 providing receipts for the money, which it accepted. But even after this, he has not been given a letter of good standing.
Sidwaba is now in limbo – he cannot travel to the Eastern Cape because of his ill health and depleted funds but he also refuses to stop fighting for what he feels is right. “I cannot let this go. Never. In principle, this is hijacking,” says Sidwaba.
This article was first published on New Frame