The Fight For Urban Land For Agricultural Livelihoods

Vol 23 No 1


The Western Cape Department of Human Settlements is involved in a protracted struggle to remove livestock farmers on the edge of the City of Cape Town. In October 2016 the Department issued eviction notices to the Ithemba Farmers Association and Penhill Residents Small Farmers Co-operative Association. As long-term urban residents they have engaged in livestock production and crop farming since the mid-1980s and 1994 respectively. The Ithemba Farmers Association comprises 175 members occupying approximately 70ha of land whereas the Penhill Farmers Association consists of 269 members occupying 200 hectares of land currently owned by the Department of Human Settlements.

Instead of addressing the pressing land hunger in the city by strengthening the land rights of these occupiers the department wants to expel them from the land to make way for mixed development.  According to Human Settlements mixed development include “residential uses, social facilities and amenities, commercial, business and industrial uses”. As a solution Human Settlements is offering to squeeze both the Ithemba and Penhill farmers on 40ha of land currently occupied by the Penhill farmers with no guarantee that every farmer will be accommodated on the land. In essence the department wants to evict Penhill farmers to make way for the Ithemba farmers. What a textbook demonstration of the tactic of divide and rule! The number of livestock and land use will also be severely limited. This poisoned chalice, offered as a solution, will effectively render a sizeable number of the Ithemba and Penhill farmers once more landless, continuing the callous history of dispossession. It clearly shows that the interests of the different layers of government is completely opposed to the landless and working class.

Urban land occupations for livestock production upend the misleading claim by left formations and pundits that maintain the peasantry has completely disappeared from the landscape of South Africa. As I. B. Tabata forewarned, “Whoever flounders on the agrarian question is lost”. Such individuals or left formations will “lead the movement into the swamps of opportunism”. These types of urban land occupations for agricultural livelihoods are revealing of a central contention of the APDUSA that migrants to the city do not abandon their peasant outlook despite being culturally, socially and economically assimilated into the city. In a city like Cape Town research suggest that the city comprises 54% migrant households, 40% mixed households and 4% non-migrant households. In fact circular migration to cities has increased during the post apartheid era with households maintaining their linkages to the countryside. Migrants are part of both urban and rural households and continue to invest in rural homesteads and livestock.  The agrarian question continues to be a fundamental problem of South African society.

In order to avert the imminent threat of eviction and to advance the broader quest for radical anti capitalist agrarian reform the urban livestock farmers need to understand that theirs is a political struggle.  The illusion that the bourgeois courts will solve their land hunger is a political cul-de-sac. As a first step unity on a principled basis between the livestock farmers is essential to execute the struggle for land. This has to be extended to a broader alliance with the working class and landless peasantry in both the city and countryside advancing the struggle for land on an independent basis with a clear political programme. The immense land hunger in the cities and countryside can only be solved through a complete overhaul of the existing unequal landholding system and the ushering in of a new division of the land in the interest of the landless peasants and workers on an independent basis