Farms on land reform list are already occupied- South Africa

About a third of the 700,000ha the government said earlier in October it would make available for land reform is already occupied by communities and black farmers, some of whom now fear they will be forced to vacate the land.

Agriculture, land reform & rural development minister Thoko Didiza announced at the beginning of October that 896 state-owned farms would be released on 30-year leaseholds to advance land reform.

The farms are mostly in the North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga and their allocation would make a significant step change to the pace of land redistribution, which has slowed to less than 100,000ha a year.

In response to questions, the minister’s office said last week that about 205,579ha was in use by neighbouring communities and 31,886ha was illegally occupied. In both cases the
“state of occupation is being attended to with a view to get these farms properly advertised and located”.

The land in question was bought by the state before 1994 for the consolidation of homelands. Most of the farms are located along the edges of former homeland boundaries. They have remained in state hands since, despite attempts by occupants to get land rights in many instances.

The government is far behind its target to redistribute 30% of agricultural farmland to black farmers by 2014. So far, about 10% of farmland has been redistributed. Both the high-level panel on the assessment of key legislation, carried out by former president Kgalema Motlanthe in 2017, and the 2019 presidential expert advisory panel on land reform and agriculture have urged the government to release state-owned land to black farmers.

Last week, Didiza advertised the farms in local media, calling on applicants to apply for leasehold rights. But some of the farms on the list are occupied by farmers and communities who have been fighting for rights for many years.

Thembakazi Matsheke, who lives in the Gwatyu block of farms in the former Transkei along with 88 other households, says the community was concerned to see that some of the farms had been advertised.

Matsheke was born on the land, as was her father, who died recently at the age of 90. The community has fought long and hard to get land rights, including marching on parliament in 2016, after which former minister of rural development & land reform Gugile Nkwinti undertook to assist them.

“We are not leasing the land; we are just surprised to see that some of the farms are on the list. We made applications in 2013 to the director-general of the department to be registered as a communal property association, but we have never heard from them,” she said.

Since 2016, there have been at least three land rights audits by departmental officials, but no progress with land allocation.

Limpopo farmer David Rakgase, who in 2019 won a landmark court order instructing the state to sell him the land he has farmed for 27 years, is another concerned farmer. His son, Mmofa, said in an e-mail to DA MP Annette Steyn last week that the farm they had fought for is being advertised for a 30-year leasehold. Steyn says she has requested detailed information from Didiza on how the list of 896 farms was compiled.

Land allocation, which takes place at district level, has been fraught with corruption. Studies show a trend of allocation to wealthy business people rather than to rural dwellers wishing to farm. Land activists say there is little confidence that the process will not be corrupt this time too.

David Nxumalo, who farms at Amersfoort in Mpumalanga, is anxious to see whether he will keep the farm he is on and
is unsure if it has been advertised. In 2019, he was ordered to vacate the farm he is leasing for failure to pay rent.

“Others who are not paying have kept their farms. If you don’t pay the bribe, you don’t get the agreement,” he said.

When announcing the release of the land, Didiza said a land-inquiry process would determine how individuals and communities occupying land got access to it and determine the future of their occupation.

“The inquiry will also look at how the land is being used and whether such use is in accordance with the agricultural practices for the area. Where such land has been used for settlement, assessments will be done, together with the departments of human settlements; water and sanitation; environment, forestry and fisheries,” Didiza said.

Research consultant Rosalie Kingwell, who has researched land rights in the Gwatyu area since 2000, wrote in the Daily Maverick on Friday that most of the households on the land had legal rights in terms of the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act, which protects occupiers who are not adequately served by the law. Advertising these farms would “amount to a form of illegal dispossession by the state, as, in terms of [the act], these rights cannot be infringed upon short of expropriation [with compensation]", she said.

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