Grape empowerment programme soursBy: LUQMAN CLOETE at AUSSENKEHR
TEN small-scale grape farmers along the Orange River were evicted from their plots by the Karasburg deputy sheriff yesterday.
Only two of the ten growers against whom the government had obtained eviction orders were present when their belongings were removed from the plots and the State-owned houses they occupied.
The eviction, executed by deputy sheriff Andrew Walters came about two months before the grape harvest.
The farmers were angry that they had tended their vineyards for the whole season and now had to abandon them before reaping the rewards.
The government obtained High Court eviction orders against the farmers after it had terminated a lease agreement with them, claiming they had breached several conditions of the agreement.
The standoff between the ministry and the farmers stems from the farmers’ refusal to sell their produce through a government-appointed service provider, Cool Fresh Namibia.
Eviction threats against the farmers started in 2010 when they started to directly sell their produce to a Dutch-based international buyer instead of to Cool Fresh Namibia. The farmers claimed that they earned less by selling grapes through the middleman.
The Government and Cool Fresh Namibia subsequently came up with a tripartite agreement to heal the rift with the farmers.
However, the farmers rejected this agreement too, which they claimed was not beneficial to them because it gave total control of their cash flow and business decisions to Cool Fresh Namibia.
Watching helplessly how the deputy sheriff and his handymen removed her belonging from the State-owned house, farmer’s wife Elizabeth Haith angrily said: “You can put my belongings on the street, but I’ll not move an inch from these premises.”
“You can shoot me like the police in South Africa did to the mineworkers,” an emotional Haith challenged the police who oversaw the eviction.
“I’ll not move or will die on these premises, otherwise the government must compensate me for the harvest I have sweated for,” Haith added.
Blasting the government for its alleged empty promise to empower the small-scale growers, Haith fumed: “We have worked like slaves to grow the vineyards, but now we’re being chased out like dogs because we’ve talked about money.”
Referring to the government as “this black government,” Haith accused the government of being hostile to the Nama people.
“We voted for this government, and at the end this is the treatment we receive,” said another affected farmer, Josef Frederick.
Frederick said the only time he had made a profit from his produce was when he had sold it directly to an international grape buyer.
“For three years I had worked without pay to develop the vineyards. Government has failed to empower us,” he added.
Augustinus Haith also echoed the sentiments that the government had failed to empower the small-scale farmers.
“The service provider pocketed the bulk of our produce earnings. This government has failed to empower us. When we started pushed for independence as farmers, the government turned against us,” said Haith.
The regional councillor for Karasburg constituency, Paulus Ephraim, who witnessed the eviction, said he could do nothing to stop it.
“The eviction sends the farmers directly to the street as they have become unemployed,” said Ephraim.
He urged the government to look into the plight of the farmers by allocating them another piece of land instead of letting their skills go to waste.
The farmers had received three-year government-sponsored training in grape cultivation.
Following the training they were settled on the vineyard plots which they had developed from scratch with the promise that they would be resettled on the plots.
But nothing has come of the resettlement promise, with the government and farmers later entering into a five-year lease agreement in 2009.
Since their first harvest in 2003, each of the farmers was producing 3 000 to 6000 4,5kg boxes of grapes for export, which generated income ranging between N$300 000 and N$400 000.