Durban – TENSIONS ran high between farm owners and workers during a rural safety imbizo in Normandien, near Newcastle, yesterday after allegations and counter-allegations of abuse, animal theft and a lack of intervention by government.
Police Minister, General Bheki Cele, led the imbizo three weeks after the murders of Glen Rafferty and his wife, Vida, at their farmhouse in Normandien.
Farmworkers living and working in the area claimed they were being victimised, assaulted and abused by their employers.
They also alleged their livestock had been confiscated, that some of them had been assaulted during working hours and that their informal housing structures had been illegally demolished.
They claimed that police in the area ignored their pleas for help.
One worker, Dunazile Lukhele, alleged they had been suffering at the hands of their employers for years and had received no help from police or government.
“We are being abused and treated like animals. Some of the farm owners even victimise our children. I have had my livestock impounded by the farm owners. When we confront the issue, we are abused even further,” he claimed.
Another worker, Somnandi Hadebe, said they were fed up with the way in which they were being treated and wanted urgent government intervention.
He said that government needed to engage with the farm owners before they attempted to fix the relationship with the workers.
“We are tired of all these structures that are being set up every time there is a problem. There are many committees that were formed to try and raise these issues. However, there has been no success.
“These committees are meant to solve our problems. Why is the government not engaging with the owners about the treatment they are giving us as workers? Why are you afraid of white people, Minister Cele?” asked Hadebe at the imbizo.
One of the farm owners’ representatives, who was not named, told the meeting that they acted in accordance with the law and in the protection of their farms.
He accused the farm dwellers of not looking after their livestock, which led to them eating their crops and damaging them.
“What do you do in that regard? We don’t even plan now.
“We report the matter and the police don’t want to get involved. We are not stealing any stock in the community,” he said.
The farmers also accused the workers of illegally occupying their land and refusing to move when asked to.
Both owners and workers agreed that the police in the area were “useless” and claimed they are doing nothing to resolve tensions in the community.
After listening to both parties, a disgruntled Cele described the local police station as a “shebeen”.
He said that teams would be deployed to the area to investigate complaints made against the police.
Cele tasked the national police commissioner, Lieutenant-General Khehla Sithole, to send the team from national office to investigate all the allegations and cases opened by farmers and workers. According to Cele, there have been more than 14 cases opened between both parties.
“I will also send my own team to investigate the police station. We can’t have a police station that is a shebeen and we will work towards changing that,” said Cele.
Cele urged the farmers and workers to fix their relationship as he called for peace.
“It doesn’t matter whether we take the whole army, all the police officials and put them here, because if there are no good human relations, nothing will work. You need to talk as a community. If you don’t, you will fight non-stop,” he said.
Meanwhile, a 29-year-old suspect who was arrested on Sunday in connection with the murder of Glen and Vida Rafferty appeared in the Newcastle Magistrate’s Court yesterday.
KZN police spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker said that Siyabonga Goodman Macu was arrested by the organised crime unit in Osizweni.
Natasha Kara, spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority in KZN, said that Macu faced two charges of murder, robbery with aggravating circumstances and conspiracy to commit robbery.
Kara said that the matter was adjourned to Monday for a formal bail application.
She said the State would be opposing bail.
Reacting to the arrests, Cele said that they were happy that the suspect was now behind bars.
He said that police were still searching for the other four suspects who are believed to be linked to the murderer.
“Police have been following the suspects since soon after the killing. These people are ruthless, heartless and brutal that they can come into someone’s house and kill them,” said Cele.