R2bn in land dispute claims – Annette Steyn

DA MP says AG report reveals a Dept in chaos and at war with farmers

R2 billion in land dispute claims - AG report reveals a Department in chaos and at war with farmers 

17 March 2021

Chickens have finally come home to roost for the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) after the 2019/2020 Auditor-General (AG) report confirmed claims of more than R2 billion instituted against the Department. The shambolic handling of the land reform and land administration processes has opened it up to land dispute claims. These claims have mostly been instituted by farmers and communities who feel that they have been unfairly targeted by the Department.

At the heart of the AG’s findings is a revelation of the crippling amount of land dispute cases that have either been investigated by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) or the Department itself. The SIU is noted for having investigated 32 community/group claims for land restitution at the request of the Minister, but these reports are yet to be made public. As of 31 March 2020, the Department’s Forensic Investigations Directorate had concluded 45 investigations. The Directorate is currently investigating a further 42 cases.

It is worth noting that some of these land dispute claims stem from the chaotic land administration system that the Department currently presides over. Farmers who have lodged claims over disputed farmland have often found that the Department is often acting on disparate information.

A case in point is Mr Vuyani Zigana who was evicted from the Nooitgedacht farm in Kokstad. Minister Didiza was informed of Mr Zigana's case in June 2020, after which she ordered the DALRRD to launch an investigation into the eviction.

Despite the outcome of a DALRRD-sponsored report implicating Departmental officials in the unfair treatment of Mr Zigana in the allocation of the Nooitgedacht farm, the harassment of the farmer has continued. The report’s recommendations continue to be blatantly ignored and the priority, it seems, is to drive Mr Zigana off his land at all costs.

Instead of harassing Mr Zigana, the Department should instead be implementing the recommendations of the investigation it sponsored by taking disciplinary action against DALRRD officials who were implicated in inappropriate action in the allocation of the Nooitgedacht farm. Mr Zigana cannot be victimised for the department’s own incompetence and failure to adhere to its own administrative processes.

Minister Didiza has not released the investigation report into the eviction order that was served on Mr Ivan Cloete, a farmer in Darling, Western Cape. By its own admission, the Department may have violated a lease agreement it had with Mr Cloete under the land reform programme. The question that arises is why the Department proceeded to invite fresh new applications on a farm in which it already had an active lease agreement in place. By violating the terms of the lease agreement it had with Mr Cloete, the process that the Department pursued to allocate the farm to new occupants became procedurally and administratively flawed, rendering it unenforceable.

In Mpumalanga, despite making representations to the Minister on their behalf, a group of successful Black farmers are still facing eviction orders from officials in the DALRRD’s Mpumalanga offices. The DA has been working alongside these farmers and we have evidence of the relentless tug-of-war they have been subjected to by corrupt officials.

The Department should stop fighting against farmers and should instead focus on its core function of capacitating the sector and ensuring job security for the thousands of citizens who rely on it for their livelihood.

Issued byAnnette SteynDA Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, 17 March 2021