In a crucial display of civic engagement, Namakwa District residents gathered at the Lenie Skippers Community Hall in Calvinia to participate in public hearings conducted by the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development. The primary focus of the hearings was the Preservation and Development of Agricultural Land (PDAL) Bill, which has the potential to reshape the agricultural landscape and address longstanding challenges in the Namakwa District. The residents passionately voiced their support for the Bill, while also bringing to light a range of concerns, including farm killings, land disputes, and economic empowerment in the region.
Farm Killings and Crime Prevention
One of the most pressing issues raised during the public hearings was the alarming rate of farm killings in the Namakwa District. Residents fervently implored the committee to prioritize investigations into these heinous crimes, attributing them to embittered former farm workers who had experienced exploitation on the farms. The community’s plea for immediate action against farm murders was accompanied by a call for swift justice to be served against the perpetrators.
Land Availability and Agricultural Challenges
Namakwa residents also highlighted the scarcity of agricultural land in their district, shedding light on the significant impediments it poses to the local farming economy. Despite being an economic backbone of the area, farming struggles due to a lack of protected agricultural land. Participants in the hearings lamented the state of the land, which was often marred by litter and unsuitable for livestock grazing due to health risks.
The hearings brought attention to a long-standing land dispute that dates back to 1996, further exacerbating the scarcity of arable land. The unresolved dispute has rendered the land unusable for agricultural purposes, a situation that the community urged the committee to address promptly. In addition, concerns were raised about the dysfunctionality of Communal Property Associations (CPAs), which contribute to the challenges faced by small-scale farmers.
Economic Empowerment and Education
Support for the PDAL Bill was echoed by a traditional leader, who decried the neglect faced by Calvinia in comparison to other towns in terms of agricultural upliftment. The traditional leader underscored the necessity for an empowered farming community and modern farming techniques, emphasizing the inadequacy of existing resources in the region.
Addressing youth empowerment, the traditional leader and residents alike called for increased training and resources for young individuals in the area, equipping them with the knowledge and tools needed for successful farming ventures. Residents expressed concern over the absence of agricultural studies in the local school system, advocating for the inclusion of agricultural and environmental education to safeguard the future of farming in the region.
Preservation of Cultural and Economic Heritage
The decline of tourism due to the lack of protection for historical indigenous plants emerged as another concern. Residents lamented the negative impact of the unprotected agricultural land on the local economy, as farmers were left with no choice but to use these plants for livestock grazing. The community called on the government to take measures to protect these important resources that had once been vital to the area’s economic stability.
Committee’s Response and Future Steps
Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, the Chairperson of the committee, highlighted the PDAL Bill’s significance in addressing the shortcomings of the outdated 1970 Subdivision of Agricultural Land Act. The new bill seeks to protect agricultural land from non-agricultural use and ensure its sustainable development. Mandela expressed gratitude for the active participation of Namakwa residents and assured them of the committee’s commitment to addressing their concerns.
Mandela emphasized that public participation is a constitutional mandate of Parliament and pledged to collaborate with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development to address the service delivery issues and land claim challenges that were raised during the hearings.
In a powerful display of civic engagement, Namakwa District residents have called for immediate action on crucial issues, ranging from crime prevention and land disputes to economic empowerment and education. As the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development responds to these concerns, the hope remains that the PDAL Bill will usher in a new era of prosperity for the agricultural heartland of Namakwa.