Controversial council land reduced to ruin
ONCE a thriving dairy farm, the municipal-owned Kruisfontein farm in Alexandria has been used as commonage for cattle without any municipal oversight, its farmhouses and dairy reduced to ruins, the land over-grazed and riddled with alien invasive vegetation.
The commonage has also been a haven for stock thieves who have struck neighbouring farms over the years.
With dilapidated fences, strays from the commonage have wandered onto public roads and neighbouring farms. None of the cattle are branded in accordance with the Livestock Identification Act. The issue has been compounded by the fact the municipal pound was still not operating a year after it was supposed to be ready.
When TotT visited Kruisfontein farm recently, we saw many of the animals were in a terrible condition, sick and starving, and we came across several dead and rotting animals.
The Alexandria Agricultural Association (AAA) has been trying for years to get the municipality to do something about the issues which plague this farm, as it also affects surrounding farmers.
After continued lack of response from municipal manager Rolly Dumezweni, in October last year AAA chairman Brent McNamara laid charges against Dumezweni as the responsible official, for failing to enforce the municipal commonage bylaws and contravening the Livestock Identification Act.
The matter is still waiting for a decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions in Grahamstown.
Kruisfontein farm has had a convoluted history since it was purchased by the Alexandria Transitional Council (the predecessor of Ndlambe Municipality) for R2.6-million in the mid-1990s and intended for a land reform project. In 1998 it was leased to the Chungwa Trust, primarily made up of family members of ANC stalwarts Stone Sizani and the late Thembile Bethe.
Full-scale looting of farm infrastructure had started a few years ago
The original lease was for three years, subject to renewal, but the trustees claimed that in 2002 Ndlambe had converted their lease to a 99-year lease. The municipality denied this and the matter went to court.
The farm was also the subject of investigation by the former Scorpions into the use of state funding, and the Scorpions retrieved a number of files from the farm.
Subsequently Bethe, a former Alexandria mayor and then Ndlambe councillor, was charged with fraud and corruption. He was named along with Sizani in an auditor-general’s report as a beneficiary of a land scheme meant to help poor farmers. The case remained unresolved by the time Bethe was murdered in December 2009. His killers were never caught.
The same year Chungwa Trust applied to the Grahamstown High Court for a review of the Ndlambe council’s decision in 2003 to rescind an earlier decision to grant a 99-year lease to the trust, even though the municipality denied making the earlier resolution.
At the time, Chungwa Trust had a five-year lease which expired in 2009 and the municipality told them it would not be renewed.
While the legal battle dragged on, the municipality claimed it could not attend to any issues on the farm as the matter was “sub judice”.
The case was finally resolved in 2014, when the high court ruled that Chungwa Trust failed to comply with the provisions of Section 7 of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act.
“The farm started becoming a problem in 2009,” said McNamara. “When the trust was there the farm was going backwards but there was some form of control.”
He said the full-scale looting of farm infrastructure had started a few years ago. In addition to the dairy and farmhouses which are now shattered ruins, there was a borehole pumphouse which used to supply water to the entire farm, but the pumps are gone.
The cattle on the farm now huddle around rapidly diminishing watering holes, and when TotT visited we saw a sickly animal stuck in the mud, as well as rotting carcasses and skeletons.
About two years ago the Grahamstown Stock Theft Unit conducted an operation on the farm in which they found stolen cattle.
With the assistance of local farmers they used mobile kraals to round up about 750 animals and used loudhailers in Kwanonqubela township to call owners to come identify their beasts.
“They identified about 75 owners, but one owner had in excess of 100 cattle. He’s got his own fenced off section in the commonage. He doesn’t pay a cent,” McNamara said.
“People from Peddie, Grahamstown and Motherwell had cattle there. The Grahamstown owner was a policeman.”
He said the AAA had offered solutions to the municipality, one of which was to properly tag the animals on the commonage, but all their overtures were ignored.
In response to TotT’s queries, Dumezweni said he and other officials met with McNamara on June 2 to discuss various issues relating to cattle, the pound, branding, fencing as well as the Kruisfontein farm.
“At exco on June 3 a resolution was taken that the Alexandria Stock Owners be given permission to utilise the Kruisfontein farm while the processes of the lease agreement is being finalised. Exco also resolved to look at the issue of establishing holding pens, but this is subject to the availability of budget / funds,” Dumezweni said.
“The municipality has supplied fencing material to the stock owners that indicated they will erect the necessary fence. At present a TLB will be send to the farm to address the issue of water availability to the animals.”
He said the Department of Agriculture had also offered assistance, like supplying dip for dipping the cattle.
“The municipality engaged Kula Developments in 2014 to conduct a study that looks at the re-capitalisation and commercialisation of Kruisfontein farm. This study took place while the high court Case was ongoing,” Dumezweni said.
The local economic development department applied for funding to implement the resolutions of the study, but to date no funding has been received.
Dumezweni assured that the pound would now be available for SAPS and members of the public who want to impound stray cattle.
“Ndlambe municipality, with the support of the AAA chairman, and that of the Cattle Owners Association, are continuing with the process of obtaining funds for the re-capitalisation and commercialisation of Kruisfontein farm. The municipality is committed to enforce bylaws in any commonage with the most minimal staff we have.”