Clash over urban farm proposal

Vision of Hope NGO chairperson Harry Bradnick shows where the proposed urban farm is to be built.

A plan for an urban farm, which, according to its proponents, was meant to cultivate income for the needy in Summer Greens, has instead sprouted a bitter feud.

Vision of Hope NGO chairman Harry Bradnick presented the idea for the farm – which would be set up near the pylons on the N7 next to the sports field – to the Summer Greens Ratepayers’ Association (SGRA) committee in 2015. Initially, the idea called for parolees to work on the farm, but when the SGRA rejected that plan, Mr Bradnick proposed letting the homeless and unemployed do so instead, growing vegetables they could then sell.

However, in a July 14 letter sent to Zimkhitha Ngoma, private secretary for human settlements MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela, the former Ward 4 councillor, Dr Joy McCarthy, accused the men behind the plan, Mr Bradnick and Vincent Alexander, of harassing SGRA exco members, trying to get them to agree to the scheme.

“Mr Alexander and Mr Bradnick, are trying to force the area to accept an urban farm on the designated sports field, worked by parolees and young unemployed people. I offered them alternative land along the river for their farm, which they flatly refused. So, clearly, it is not about the farm but about the location,” wrote Dr McCarthy.

“They refuse to accept that the community does not want the parolees and have taken to harassing the SGRA exco members individually and collectively, to the extent that the chairperson resigned after threats to his wife and family.”

An email and several calls were made to Dr McCarthy, over the span of two weeks, to get a comment from her about the situation but Tabletalk got no response.

Mr Bradnick and Mr Alexander denied harassing the SGRA members. They claimed they were the ones who had been harassed when SGRA members forced them to leave its AGM on Tuesday June 21.

“It is a discriminatory, and strong statement she can’t verify, I am as clean as a whistle. The letter is uncalled for. I am contemplating going to an attorney,” Mr Alexander said of Dr McCarthy’s letter.

Mr Bradnick denied refusing Dr McCarthy’s offer of alternative land. He had asked to see it, but Dr McCarthy had told him the woman responsible for arranging to view it was on leave and nothing further had come of it, he said.

He said the land proposed for the farm was leased by Eskom which had granted permission to grow vegetables there.

But Eskom denies this. Spokeswoman Jolene Henn said there are underground cables on the land.

“Due to the servitude being located, no development can take place in the specified area. It is a legal and safety requirement that Eskom also maintain certain clearances from electrical structures. Eskom’s right on the property must also not be affected and should at all times have unobstructed access to and from its services,” she said.

Former SGRA chairman Nino Arendse, said Mr Bradnick had been given a chance to explain his proposal to the association, but “obvious questions” about who would manage the parolees had not been adequately answered, setting off alarm bells for residents.

Dr McCarthy had then suggested an alternative site to work around the risk some residents had felt would come with including the parolees.

“Harry then went and engaged with the community handing out a flyer inviting the community to the hall where he was to put his proposal to the community,” said Mr Arendse.

“This time round, he didn’t mention parolees. Instead, he said the farm or veggie garden was to help women and children. That meeting ended abruptly because Harry couldn’t explain how women and children fit into the proposal,” said Mr Arendse.

Mr Arendse said no SGRA member had ever harassed Mr Bradnick. Mr Bradnick, he said, had threatened him when he asked him to make an affidavit outlining his full proposal and complete a police clearance form allowing him and Vision of Hope members to work with women and children.

“Harry’s response was to threaten me and he got his friends to threaten myself and Dr McCarthy to the extent that I had to report the threats and intimidation to SAPS,” said Mr Arendse. He said he later dropped the charges because the police told him there was not enough evidence for them to investigate.

Current SGRA chairwoman Bridgette Lloyd said the land for the proposed vegetable garden was marked for a sports field for youth in the area which she said should be prioritised.

“We think it will be an injustice against the community and children who need the sports field which was promised to the community. If they still want a veggie garden, they should speak to Joy and see if land can be pursued. I do not wish to be part of disagreements,” said Ms Lloyd.