Tears, shock, as farm workers return to land after ConCourt ruling

2017-01-19 20:48

Tears, though not of joy, flowed on the farm Voorbaat, outside Ladismith in the Little Karoo, on Wednesday when a farm worker and his family were able to return to the home they were previously evicted from.

This return brought an end to an eight-year-long struggle between Karel Snyders and the farm manager Louisa de Jager.

De Jager – who was appointed farm manager in 2008 – sacked Snyders, who had been living and working on Voorbaat since 1992.

In 2009 she brought a successful eviction application against him, his wife and children in the magistrates’ court. The eviction has since gone to the land claims court, the Supreme Court of Appeal and, ultimately, the Constitutional Court – where Snyders managed to overturn the eviction.

Snyders, his wife Sophie, and their two grandchildren stood in their home dumbstruck and broke down in tears at the state it was in when they finally returned to it on Wednesday.

Sophie Snyders’s (50) joy over her family’s return home soon faded when she saw the state the house was in. There were broken and missing windows, parts of the front door were missing, parts of the iron coal stove had been disassembled and there were holes in the kitchen floor and some parts of the ceiling.

Not very far from their home, farm manager Louisa de Jager, was busy with the electric wiring to her own house, to which she is making improvements. The Snyders’ house – as well as the other houses for workers on the farm – doesn’t have electricity. In an interview with Media24, De Jager insisted the house was in “better condition” than when Snyders was evicted.

The court inter alia ruled the eviction – which has been referred to as an “apartheid style eviction” – as lacking procedural fairness and said it didn’t adhere to the requirement that evictions have to be fair and justifiable, as prescribed by the current Extension of Security of Tenure Act (Esta).

Early on Wednesday morning Snyders was already busy loading his belongings for the great return. After their eviction, Snyders, his wife, their daughter and two grandchildren had found a place to stay in a corrugated iron shed on a nearby farm.

“The Lord protected us,” says Sophie. “In summer it gets so hot we constantly had to wet the floors with a hosepipe for some respite from the heat, and in winter it gets so cold I had to dress the children under a blanket. I’m glad we can move back.”

The Snyder’s family won their case against their eviction from their home on the farm Voorbaat  in Ladismith in the Klein Karoo where they have been living since 1992. They had to find refuge in a shed on a nearby farm (pictured) after their eviction in 2015. 

The joy was short-lived, however. The walls were dirty, windows were broken and holes in the kitchen floor were clearly visible. The coal stove had also been taken apart and a fence that Karel says wasn’t there before, had been erected around the property. He referred to it as being “choked into his own home”, allowing for little room to move outside. “It feels like I’m moving into a prison,” says Sophie.

Part of the court ruling states that the property must be restored to the condition it was in before the eviction.

Snyders was emotional. “I was chased away from here like a dog and now I must come back to live like a pig surrounded by trash.” He pointed to the drain outside the kitchen door where green waste water has been allowed to dam up and cause a stench.

But De Jager said the fence was put up where it was originally erected before “Karel started his own farming thing” and the property was in better condition now than it was before. She is clearly not impressed with the family’s return and maintains the court ruling is unfair and didn’t take into account the full context of her problems with Snyders. She says she didn’t have “any control” over Snyders and the situation became unbearable after she repeatedly had to complain about his animals, especially the pigs, coming into her garden and geese ruining the vineyards.

De Jager says some of her own workers are now without a place to stay because of Snyders’ return despite him no longer working there. He works on a nearby farm.

“It’s obviously unfair,” says De Jager. “If it carries on like that and I fire workers, but they can stay on on the farm – where do my workers live then? Do I have to build them homes too? In the end there won’t be land left for me to farm if I have to build houses.”

Karel Swart, general secretary of the Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural and Allied Workers Union, welcomed the Snyders’ return and hailed the Constitutional Court ruling as “confirmation of justice for farm dwellers, who occupy the most marginal and oppressed sectors of our society”.

The union assisted the family in their legal battle.

“The upshot of the Constitutional Court judgment is that terminating employment does not automatically terminate the right of residence of a farm dweller,” Swart said in a statement. “This is indeed a great victory that significantly protects workers and families residing in farming communities.”

Alicestine October
Parliamentary journalist
Media24 Parliamentary Bureau
City Press
p:+27 11 713 9001  e:

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January 12 2020