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