Amandla! interviewed Norah Mlondobozi, a member of Mopani Farmers Association and the Rural Women’s Assembly in Limpopo.
Norah Mlondobozi: I am a farmer around Mopani in Limpopo. We are doing cash crops. We are doing vegetables. And then we also have free-range chickens. And then the Department of Agriculture, they sometimes support us with seedlings. But in most cases, we do it ourselves.
Mopani Farmers Association is a self-organised movement of small-scale farmers. We came to organise this because we realised that it was not easy for us as small-scale farmers to do it in silos. When we have to ask for assistance from the Department of Agriculture, they will tell you that you have to be a group of people. So the main purpose was to lobby for assistance and for our needs as small-scale farmers. And we capacitate each other with knowledge of how to do things, especially agroecology. We assist each other.
We became members of Rural Women’s Assembly when RWA was started in 2009. We felt it was a good thing because as women we have a lot of challenges. We’re not able to access land. Like for instance myself as a woman, I believe I got my land because I went to the traditional leader with my husband. I think if I was alone I wouldn’t have access to that land.
Amandla!:Tell us how you got access to your land.
NM: I accessed my land in 2004 and it was a lease agreement with the chief on a three-hectare area. We were supposed to pay R1,000 per hectare. Then, in 2005, the NGO Itereleng found us and they started to capacitate us on issues of land, especially in our area, because it’s communal land. The information that we got was that the area where we were does not belong to the chief. It is state land. So, we were not supposed to pay. And the worst part of it was that the letterhead of the lease was the Gazankulu government. Still, in 2004.
So, when we get this information, we stopped paying. We only paid for one year. Then the chief started to write letters to us demanding payment of that land. We did not respond to him. And then he finally sent his cabinet; they came to our farm with letters of eviction. And then they summoned us that we have to appear in the traditional authority, a court whatever, on a set date. When that date arrived, we did not go. We wrote a letter to him and told him that we are aware that this land belongs to the state and we are not supposed to pay. He did not respond, but he kept on sending his lawyers and his people to come and say we have to get out.
One day, two or three years back, we were surprised when we see a white man coming into the farm. He did not even talk to us. He said he was going to measure and to take a soil sample. So my husband went to him and asked him, “why are you here and why did you not even come to me and ask permission to come in?” He said, “I was sent by the chief because this area belongs to the chief. He has given it to us as Komati company”. So we said to him, “this land does not belong to your chief. Take your things and go now. Otherwise, we will burn your things”. So he went.
We didn’t move. Up to now, we are still there.
Amandla!: If it’s state land, how is it that the chiefs are able to distribute the land?
NM: The area where I am, previously, during the homeland government, it was under the Agriculture and Rural Development Corporation (ARDC). So when democracy came, all that land was taken to the state. The then then-chief minister was owning that land. The chief that we’re talking about now is his son. He’s claiming that the land that is father controlled belongs to him.
Amandla!: And how does the Department of Agriculture respond to the situation? Were they supportive of you in this struggle with the chief?
NM: After we have realised that this land does not belong to the chief, it belongs to the state, we started writing letters to the department, asking for them to give us this land. Unfortunately, they also communicated to him. And then he said we have to go through his secretary. And his secretary is a commercial farmer who has an interest in that land. So he said we have to tell him how much are we going to pay if we would get that land. And the department is quiet now. If we ask them, how far are they, they have no answer.
Amandla!: So your right to the land is very tenuous, you could be moved off and evicted at any moment.
NM: If we hadn’t refused to move by then, we would be out by now. As we speak, now, we have farmers in another area where women also were doing their farming. Also on land that was owned by the ARDC, which the chief claims that it belongs to him. A white commercial farmer came and evicted them. They are out now as we speak. They are no longer farming because that land was given to the commercial farmer.
Amandla!: Do you think the influence of the commercial farmers on the chief is because they buy him through money and gifts? How is it that the chief can support the interests of commercial farmers against his own people?
NM: I think they give him money. When he comes to us, he says they are going to create jobs. So allow them to use your land. And when he goes to the indunas he says the same. He even said that we, as small-scale farmers, we cannot even feed the nation, we cannot create jobs, we are unable to pay whatever amount he is asking. The commercial farmers, according to him, they will create jobs, they will feed the nation, and they are able to pay the money that he is demanding from them.
Amandla!: What is the relationship between the chief and local and provincial government? Where does the government side in these type of disputes?
NM: I’m not sure if really the government is intervening, because if the government was really intervening and talked to him, he wouldn’t be doing this. We escalated this to the Department of Agriculture, and nothing is happening up to date.
I listened to Thoko Didiza’s advisor when he was interviewed recently at BRICS. He said that the BRICS ministers of agriculture have a joint declaration that the land that is in the hands of traditional leaders will be upscaled to commercial farmers. And this is the very same land that we as rural people, we want to access. So this means that what he is doing is what the government wants.
Amandla!: I wondered if you could speak specifically to the situation of women and women farmers and the challenges that you face. From what you have said, it seems to me that women face major obstacles in being able to get land.
NM: Yes, for a woman to access land, it’s really a challenge. Going to the traditional, as a woman, to ask for land, it’s a mountain. They will demand money, which they know you won’t be able to raise. And then even if you have it, they give you a Permission To Occupy (PTO). And they tell you that the PTO does not mean that you own this land. Whenever we think there is a developer who wants to use this land, we will come and take it.
Amandla!: Inyanda, the land rights movement, and may be also the Rural Women’s assembly, has a campaign for “one woman one hectare”. Can you talk a little bit about that campaign. Is it something that you are pushing there in Limpopo?
NM: We are pushing in Limpopo one woman one hectare. But as long as the Minister does not recognise this campaign, she does not implement it. She does not accept it. Remember the minister said that instead of one woman one hectare, rather be one household one hectare. And up to date, if we can ask her how many households you have given this one hectare, she cannot tell us the numbers.
As rural women, we are still saying that we don’t want one household one hectare, we want one woman one hectare. The reason is because a lot of women are being abused at home. Because they cannot sustain themselves or they cannot fend for themselves, they are bound to stay in a toxic relationship. Because they cannot afford to buy food for themselves. So we are saying that this hectare must not belong to a household. Because most of the households in South Africa, especially in rural areas, they are controlled by a man. If a man controls a household, it means that that one hectare will belong to him. And the woman won’t have a say. Whenever he wants to sell it, he can sell it.
So we are saying that we want one woman one hectare. Our traditional leaders, they don’t even want to hear about that; they don’t want to listen to that.
Amandla!: And is there any sense in which traditional authority can be democratised, can be made more accessible to women, or is it completely patriarchal?
NM: For now, it is completely patriarchal. If we have women in traditional authorities, there are very few and these women are just there to try to balance the gender. But they have no opportunity to say something. Like for instance in the communities when they have to elect leaders, they will say a certain number of women must be there, but you will find that these women are mostly those that are related to the induna. And if they are related to the induna, it means that they won’t oppose him.
Amandla!: Can you say something about the role of the government, and particularly the Department of Agriculture, in supporting small-scale farmers and particularly women. Because it’s one thing to have land, but once you’ve got land, to use the land you need lots of support, in terms of getting access to extension services, dealing with problems of water, how to make your land more productive, access to tractors and things with which to plough and so on. And I suppose with marketing your produce.
NM: The Department of Agriculture, they support small-scale farmers with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. There is a Farmer Support Programme, where you have to fill in forms and state what are your needs. But unfortunately, for these farmer support forms, one of the requirements, it’s a water license. And then the form is written in English and most of our small-scale farmers cannot read or write. So they cannot be able to fill in the form.
And then when it comes to water licenses, there’s very few small-scale farmers have water licenses. Take for example my area. It is very close to the river, but they say there are no longer water rights in that river because all the rights are given to the commercial farmers. So, it means that the small-scale farmers that are around by the river, all of them do not have water rights and the Department of Agriculture in their form, they say one of the requirements you must have water rights. So its very difficult for us to access.
And then when it comes to the market, we are selling our produce to the hawkers around our farms and the communities around us. But we also send to the national markets in Johannesburg and Pretoria. And this has a lot of challenges. You have to pay for the transport, for the packaging materials, for market fees. And sometimes you find that the agent will send you an information that your produce, when it arrives at the market, it is spoiled. So you will get nothing out of that, but you still owe the transport. And in the national market, you don’t decide the price. They tell you what the price is. When we sell to the hawkers, we tell them what our prices are.
Amandla!: Do you get any support from the nearby commercial farmers or do they just see you as competitors?
NM: There is no relationship between us and commercial farmers because we are fighting for the land. They are taking our land. We don’t communicate with them. We are not friends. There is no relationship between us.