afrol News / AENS, 30 May - The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and police are developing emergency contingency plans to prevent threatened Zimbabwean-style land invasions in the southern part of the Mpumalanga Province, African Eye News Service reports.
SANDF area commander Colonel Anton Kritzinger said on Tuesday plans were being developed for the mobilisation of a rapid response team, but stressed the army would only be deployed if requested to assist police to keep law and order. "We obviously hope it is not necessary, but are developing contingency plans to deploy troops if the situation is too big for the police to handle," said Kritzinger.
Police are also boosting local capacity after the Mpumalanga Labour Tenants’ Association (MLTA) threatened to invade two State farms and at least seven private properties in the Wakkerstroom district.
The committee, which represents landless farm labourers in the impoverished Piet Retief and Wakkerstroom districts, accused government of dragging its feet on land reform at the weekend and warned it would invade the farms unless MLTA demands were met within one week.
Committee chairman Sipho Makhombothi said Land Affairs officials had repeatedly broken promises over the past four years to transfer land to poor farm labourers. "We have waited long enough. Nothing has happened despite the promises and we are still living in slavery. We have therefore given government an ultimatum to give us land or we will simply follow the examples of our brothers in Zimbabwe and invade," he said.
Makhombothi added that MLTA would on Wednesday formally invite Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to address a land rights rally in the Wakkerstroom region as soon as possible. "President Mugabe has supported what we believe is the best solution for returning land to black farmers. We want to hear him speak and learn from him," said Makhombothi.
Land Affairs spokesman Moses Mushi on Monday branded MLTA’s campaign as "thuggish and lawless behaviour" and warned police would arrest anyone attempting to illegally invade either State or private property.
Local farmer’s union Agri Mpumalanga also condemned the threatened invasions, saying the threats heightened local tensions between farmers and workers, undermined the legal land reform process and damaged international investor confidence. The Goedgevonden and Polton state farms targeted for invasion are already the subject of formal land claims by local labour tenants.
Makhombothi said on Tuesday the seven private farms identified for occupation were chosen because their owners were allegedly guilty of human rights or labour abuses.
Government has meanwhile distributed roughly 80 000 hectares of agricultural land to 3 200 families in southern Mpumalanga since 1994 and is processing an additional 670 land claims lodged by labour tenants in the Wakkerstroom district.
Regional police spokeswoman Captain Sibongile Nkosi said police intelligence was monitoring the situation and stressed police had placed a specially trained rapid response team on 24-hour standby. "We haven’t deployed additional officers to the area yet but are prepared to react within minutes if necessary," said Nkosi.
MLTA’s threatened land invasions have received nominal support from the umbrella National Land Committee (NLC) non-government organisation.
NLC land rights co-ordinator Andile Mngxitama said on Tuesday "I understand where the frustration comes from. We’re not going to tell anybody to invade farms, but we are saying that ways have to be found to help people access land," he said.
Land Affairs Mpumalanga director Alwyn van der Merwe is meanwhile spearheading a committee with affected farm labourers to find alternative peaceful ways to fast-track local land reform. The committee includes Land Affairs, agriculture, housing, safety and security officials, as well as farmer unions, worker representatives and land rights activists.