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t’s a chilly win­ter’s evening in Mpumalanga’s highveld re­gion, and tem­per­a­tures are plum­met­ing.

The Hadebes are brac­ing them­selves for yet another cold night in a com­mu­nity hall in Ntompe – a ru­ral vil­lage tucked away 40km out­side the small town of Piet Retief. Here, sub­zero tem­per­a­tures are com­mon at night.

The fam­ily’s mea­gre be­long­ings are packed in boxes. The el­e­vated stage at the lo­cal hall is their makeshift bed­room. They have squeezed three beds on to the stage and hang their face­cloths and small pieces of cloth­ing on rail­ings.

Two can­dles shine dimly at op­po­site ends of the hall. The Hadebes have been liv­ing in the hall for three years, with no elec­tric­ity dur­ing that pe­riod.

Bare­foot chil­dren play on a cold, con­crete floor, their young minds clearly un­able to com­pre­hend the grav­ity of the fam­ily’s sit­u­a­tion.

In one cor­ner of the hall, Philile Hadebe (21) is bathing her 15-month-old daugh­ter An­gela and dresses her warmly be­fore it gets colder.

“She’s al­ways cough­ing. This hall is just too cold,” Philile says.

Her grand­mother Sa­maria Madon­sela also walks around bare­foot. She con­stantly com­plains about the sub­zero tem­per­a­tures.

Their makeshift kitchen – a tiny cor­ru­gated iron shack erected next to the hall – pro­vides some warmth from a coal stove and a bra­zier made from a large tin can.

This hall has been the Hadebe fam­ily’s home since their homestead of mud houses was razed af­ter a farmer in nearby Donker­hoek ob­tained a court or­der al­low­ing him to evict them. They had lived in Donker­hoek for gen­er­a­tions.

The Hadebes said the source of the ten­sion was their re­fusal to re­duce their 108-strong herd of cat­tle and 135 goats, which the farmer said en­croached on his crops.

They were am­bushed at night, but were un­able to iden­tify the as­sailant. The po­lice were also un­able to help them.

Cases such as these have been com­mon in Mpumalanga’s agri­cul­tural heart­land.

Farm work­ers have been shot dead; oth­ers have been bru­tally as­saulted and tor­tured. Some have suf­fered se­ri­ous in­juries to their gen­i­tals ( as a re­sult of be­ing elec­tro­cuted af­ter ac­cu­sa­tions of stock theft, dis­putes with farm­ers over the des­e­cra­tion of graves, shoot­ing of tres­pass­ing live­stock and wa­ter cut-offs.

As a re­sult, Mpumalanga’s premier, David Mabuza, de­cided to ap­point a com­mis­sion of in­quiry to get to the bot­tom of the mat­ter.

It was an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary, and Mabuza’s spokesper­son, Zi­bonele Mncwango, said the premier would pro­vide more de­tails at a later stage.

Be­fore the com­mis­sion even be­gins its work, though, peo­ple on the ground have been tak­ing steps to defuse strained re­la­tion­ships.

Tak­ing the lead are farm­ers’ body Agri SA and the not­for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion In­sika Yesizwe, which was formed in 2010 to as­sist dis­tressed farm work­ers.

“We sent pe­ti­tions to the lo­cal court to com­plain that cases lodged by farm work­ers yielded no con­vic­tions,” said In­sika Yesizwe chair­per­son Vusumuzi Ngema.

“We then met Agri SA for the first time in 2013 and agreed that there were prob­lems on both sides. Farm

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