No place for vigilante farmers, says union
August 13 2007 at 11:23PM
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Monday demanded action against Limpopo farmers who arrest Zimbabwean border-crossers, but the farmers said they were merely protecting private property.
The rounding up of Zimbabwean migrants by farm patrols were reminiscent of apartheid-era white farm commandos, Cosatu said.
The Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU) said members were protecting their farms, insisting that the influx of fleeing Zimbabweans posed agricultural and veterinary risks.
"Our attitude is to arrest people who are trespassing on private property and then hand them over to the police to be processed," said TAU safety and security manager Chris van Zyl.
"The farmers haven't got an axe to grind with undocumented foreigners, but if the farm is your business, your livelihood, the least you can do is take measures to protect it."
Last week, the BBC reported on patrolling farmers who rounded up Zimbabweans and bound their wrists in order to hand them to police.
"There is no place for such behaviour in the new South Africa," said Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven.
Estimates of daily illegal border-crossers vary but 100 000 Zimbabweans were officially deported between January and the end of July, according to figures compiled by the department of home affairs.
"We are purely doing what the president had asked us to do and that is take care of the security of our own environment," said Van Zyl.
Not only TAU members were involved in the "arrests", he said.
"My question would be what would the provincial commissioner (of police) do if a couple of farmers jumped over his fence in his own house and walked around his garden. Would he tolerate that? I don't think so."
The farmers union Agri SA said it did not support the action.
"Our members are definitely not involved with the sort-of arresting of people and taking them to the police stations," said Gert Rall, of Agri-Limpopo.
"You don't correct one crime by committing another. We don't agree with it."
Rall said the union's members had boosted security and that broken fences, disruptions to farming, and damage to water equipment and empty housing had been reported.
The numbers of border-crossers were impossible to estimate but one farmer had reported 60 people from "toddlers to stone-age" crossing his farm.
Both the TAU and Agri SA said the solution needed to be political.
"Whichever way you look at it, South Africa is stuck with thousands of people and they are going to stay here for many years," said Gall.
Control should come from leaders and not citizens, he said.
"The problem is that there is no constructive policy or decision on how its going to be handled. There is no co-ordinated effort at this stage."
Van Zyl said the government needed to "realise that there is a problem".
"The problem is getting so big that government needs to take a decision on this. Whether they support the president of Zimbabwe is immaterial," he said.
"There is some type of human tragedy playing off there - famine is running rife unless you are fortunate enough to be part of the political elite."