The return of the Director-General of the Department of Rural Development & Land Reform, Mdu Shabane, has been welcomed with the glory of mixed reactions.
For land reform protagonists, his return signals the wishes of the ruling party’s resolution to effect land expropriation without compensation.
“He is clothed with the encyclopedia of South Africa’s land history, theory, and debate,” said a former aide who wished to remain anonymous.
Mdu studied land tenure at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in United States of America (USA), followed by a course in Land Management with the University of KwaZulu-Natal Durban.
He has been with the department for more than a decade and his return, according to some, is coming at an opportune time and moment.
“The pending parliamentary process of expropriation of land without compensation, as well as the recent final report of the Panel on Land Reform exactly makes him fit for purpose,” said Farmers United of South Africa (FUSA).
For others, his return is received with trepidation and concern. Those in the know say the reasons for the suspension were politically motivated but this lacks substantive truth.
“He set in a sham disciplinary hearing and due processes were not followed. Only a President of the Republic is allowed to institute a disciplinary inquiry against a head of a department as prescribed in Chapter 8 of the SMS handbook,” said the former aide.
It appears that Shabane’s crime was to halt irregular programmes not aligned to the department’s strategy and performance. A contract to digitize deeds records was among those he was accused of having committed irregular expenditure on.
Shabane’s record of empowering black farmers has been impressive. Under his term, a total of R215 million was approved under the department’s Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS) for farming communities to own land and produce.
The Labour Appeals Court allowed Shabane to return to work on 14 September.
“Whatever the internal circumstances surrounding Shabane’s return to his post of DG are, one thing that is certain is that the black and emerging farmers, as well as the ever, sidelined rural poor people of this country, now hope for the stability of this department under his tenure, particularly towards a merged department of agriculture, land reform and rural development,”
Shabane has a mammoth task of driving the merged departments to be in sync with one another.
According to insiders, both merged departments have been hostile towards one another and it needed someone like Shabane’s caliber of management to turn the department into a well-oiled machine.