Home is still just a dream — even after court win
● Lately, 93-year-old John Khumalo has spent his days dreaming of returning to the Free State farm where he spent decades working, and where his late wife and three of his children are buried.
His dream was within reach two weeks ago when he won a Land Claims Court case against the farm owner, Pierre Botha. According to court papers, Botha had done his utmost to evict Khumalo and his family from the Harrismith farm they had called home for 50 years.
But instead of rebuilding his demolished house and returning his impounded cattle, as ordered by the court, Botha offered him R10,000 for his home and between R3,000 and R6,000 for each of his 34 cows.
Khumalo was reportedly given his land by the former owner of the farm Dunbar, Jappie Boshoff, who later sold the property to Pierre Botha’s father Henry, since deceased. Even after Khumalo retired, he said, Henry never bothered him and his family.
Trouble, according to Khumalo, began when Henry died and his son, who lived in Johannesburg, took over the running of the farm with his mother.
“I was in hospital when my house was demolished. I was so shocked when I went back there and saw it with my own two eyes,” Khumalo said of the 2020 incident.
When the Sunday Times visited the remains of the Khumalo homestead, a metal kitchen cupboard, a kettle and some pieces of furniture lay amid the ruins.
Khumalo is now living with his 76-yearold son Patrick in Burford, more than 60km from the farm where he had hoped to spend his last days.
He says he will return to Dunbar only once Botha obeys the court order to rebuild his home and return his 34 cattle, which he first impounded and later sold at auction, after saying they had no right to be on his property.
“I hope one of my children will be willing to go back to live there with me because I want to go back. I love it there,” Khumalo told the Sunday Times this week.
“Life was good there because I would have proper amasi each day that is fresh from the cow. What we are eating here is not proper amasi, it doesn’t have real fat to it.
“I would also be so happy to have my cows back where I could simply have someone milk them.”
Something else he enjoyed on the farm was the space and fresh air high in the hills. Now he spends his days in a cramped room in his son’s back yard. He worries that his children may not be keen to return to the farm after one of them, Thulani, was allegedly badly beaten by a neighbouring farmer.
The story of how the Khumalos were booted out is well known in the area.
“I have known Khumalo for almost all my life and it is very sad what is happening there,” said a neighbouring farmer, who asked not to be named. We lived well alongside each other and whenever he would need help, he would now come to me and not his ‘baas’ any more.
“But it’s not an isolated incident. There was a farmworker who was thrown off another farm with his cattle because his ‘baas’ had decided that he had too many cattle. I helped him with feed and water for his cattle.”
Khumalo said his relationship with Botha was not good. “Pierre lived in Johannesburg and would only occasionally come to the farm when he came to see his father, who also didn’t live there full time,” he said.
“Once he has fixed the house, hopefully he will leave us alone and never set foot by our home again.”
Botha told the Sunday Times Khumalo’s home had been “inconveniently placed”. “Let’s just say it’s like being asked which room in your house you want to give away — it’s your home,” he said.
The Sunday Times has seen papers from Botha’s lawyers proposing a deviation from the court order by paying compensation of R10,000 instead of rebuilding the four-room house that was bulldozed, as well as cash for the cattle. The lawyer said it would be impossible for Botha to trace and return the 34 cows.