Durban – New Hanover commercial farmer Reinhard Ortmann was granted an interim court order to remove a “troublesome” family from his sugar cane farm after a long toxic relationship.
But the family claim that they have no alternate accommodation and have been squatting in the office of uMshwathi Municipality for almost two weeks.
Ortmann, a trustee of the Ortmann Trust, which owns timber and sugarcane plantations in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, applied to the Land Claims Court to have the Gumede family evicted, citing safety concerns.
In his court application, Ortmann claimed they posed a fire risk to his sugar cane plantation and that two of the sons were recently involved in the burning of his sugar cane.
He also accused the family of threatening him and his employees and opened police cases against them.
Land Claims Court Acting Judge Thomas Ncube ordered that the family be removed from the farm pending the outcome of the final court case.
The interim order found that Ortmann had suffered damages when the sugar cane plantation was set alight and stated it would continue if the Gumedes were not removed.
It said in any event, the availability of alternative accommodation was not a requirement for the granting of an order of removal.
Ncube said he was mindful that the Gumede family had denied the allegations, but they had just tendered a bare denial without substantiation.
“In fact, the Gumede family concede in their answering affidavit that there were heated exchanges between the two parties.
“However, Ortmann has given the details of what transpired, while the Gumede’s have failed to elaborate on the nature and extent of the heated exchanges,” Ncube said in the judgment.
The court ruled that pending their final eviction from the farm, the Gumede family was interdicted and restrained from assaulting, harassing or threatening to assault the trustees of the Ortmann Trust and or committing any act of violence or arson on the farm.
They were also restrained from entering the farm without Ortmann’s permission.
Following the execution of the court order by the Sheriff of the Court, the family was left stranded and spent several nights sleeping on benches in the municipality’s foyer.
The family is headed by Lucy Gumede, 71, a widow, and her 17 children and grandchildren.
Gumede, who had worked for Ortmann for more than 35 years, said she was upset with how the order had been enforced by Ortmann.
The Sunday Tribune understands that the Gumedes and other families had lodged a land claim against the farm under the Land Restitution Act and Labour Tenants Act because their forefathers had lived and worked on the farm.
Ortmann had inherited the farm from his forefathers.
Gumede alleged that Ortmann evicted her family to jeopardise the pending land claim.
She claimed to have not been allowed to take some of her belongings including her chronic medication, when they were forced out.
“We could not take anything from the house; we were removed like criminals and our home was barricaded with irons without our consent.”
She said the relationship with her former employer soured when she retired from working for him and he disconnected their electricity and prevented them from making fires.
Gumede said her livestock, which included ducks and chickens and her dogs, were left unattended after their removal.
When the Sunday Tribune visited her house last week, some of the ducks were dead. Windows and doors had been barricaded with iron and the fence had been removed.
Ortmann declined to comment and directed all queries to his lawyers.
Hans-Jurie Moolman, Ortmann’s lawyer, maintained that everything was done according to the law and the family was given a fair chance to take their belongings from the farm.
Moolman said his client’s request to barricade Gumede’s house with a steel gate and keep it intact was granted by the court, until the matter was finalised.
“We are satisfied that the family was offered enough time and assistance to remove their belongings from the house”, said Moolman.
Siyabonga Sithole, land rights co-ordinator for the Association for Rural Advancement, said they intervened in the matter on behalf of the Gumede family.
“We want the court to ascertain what Mrs Gumede has done wrong to be evicted from her home. We understand that only two members of the family have been criminally charged for arson, but does that mean the whole family has to suffer?” asked Sithole.