By Libuseng Nyaka
SENEKAL-Community members who participated in public hearings on the Preservation and Development of Agricultural Land (PDAL) Bill used the occasion to complain that the overcrowded commonages in Thabo Mofutsanyana District Local Municipality are in a state of crisis and said farm evictions are rife.
The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development in Free State held public hearings in the District on Thursday.
The Acting Chairperson of the committee, Busisiwe Tshwete, told the participants that the committee is here to solicit their views on the Bill, to ensure that they exercise their rights in the law-making process. She urged them to make their voices heard.
“It will be appreciated that you provide us with reasons why you support or reject the Bill and tell us whether in its current form it will be able to fulfil its intended purpose,” she said.
She added: “Where you have concerns with certain aspects or clauses of the Bill, we will need you to highlight those specific areas while also making proposals on how we can address your concerns as the Portfolio Committee when processing the Bill.”
The participants raised numerous concerns about the congested commonages, access to land and farm evictions. They complained about the many challenges that those who belong to commonages much face, including overcrowded commonages and shortage of grazing land. One resident after another complained about this and said they needed clarity on the policies governing these areas of common land.
Residents also claimed that local municipalities and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development interpret these policies differently, which is frustrating for them. They also asked for clarification on the qualifications needed to move to bigger farms – things such as the number of livestock and the type of crops – as this will give them adequate grazing land and access to water to irrigate their crops.
The residents also submitted that access to land is the greatest challenge in the area. They claimed that people from other provinces receive preferential treatment when land is allocated in the area, even though they are not residents. The residents want this practice to be stopped. Furthermore, they told the committee that they are instructed to apply for land, but do not get any feedback, nor progress on their applications. They claim that officials do come to inspect their animals and conduct interviews, but after that they hear nothing. Other participants in the hearings spoke about the effect of farm evictions on their lives.
The committee requested the Speaker of the local municipality to respond to the complaints that were raised about the actions of the municipality. The Speaker undertook to take the various issues to the accounting officer and the executive mayor, including the issue of access to land after consultation with the Department of Agriculture.
Tshwete thanked the people of Thabo Mofutsanyana for their meaningful participation. She told them that promotion of public participation is one of Parliament’s constitutional mandates. She assured them that the committee will follow up with the Department of Agriculture and the municipality to ensure that all the complaints and challenges raised are attended to.