One of the recommendations tabled by the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture and approved by Cabinet was the publication of the Beneficiary Selection and Land Allocation Policy for public comment.
The policy provides for a credible and transparent process for land allocation and beneficiary selection. It addresses particularly, gender inequity in land allocation and access, and a lack of mechanisms to enable poor communal residents and villagers to access land in case of natural disasters and other emergency situations.
It appears Department of Agriculture Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) minister Thoko Didiza is already living up to this policy as since the first announcement on the release of state land, she has been updating the nation on every step of the process.
On Tuesday, November 10, she again briefed the nation on the progress on the release of agricultural state land allocation.
Briefing the media, Didiza said land forms an important economic base for agricultural development, industrialisation and human settlement.
“Land reform therefore plays a critical role in enabling those who have been historically disadvantaged, to have an asset that can give them a foothold in economic participation. The process of land reform will also ensure social cohesion and inclusion amongst our society,” said Didiza.
The minister said government has committed itself in supporting the new entrants into the agricultural economy.
She however made it clear that they want people who are going to use the land productively, ‘not cellphone farmers who just go on weekends to look at the land’.
Regarding the recently advertised 894 state farms, which raised questions from several societal sectors as some of them were reported to have occupants already, the minister said the department had previously indicated that a land enquiry process will be undertaken to ascertain the status of such occupation and how such lands were given to these communities or individuals.
The state land in question comprises of land that is currently occupied by individuals and communities who are residing in those pieces of land without the Lease Agreements. These are communities that applied for the 30-year lease and their applications were never finalised, and those who have never applied for State land but are interested in performing agricultural activities.
The minister said this process will ensure that proper procedure for formalisation and regularisation is undertaken.
“This is a way of enabling the State to have a record of which farm is occupied by whom and what activities are being undertaken in that particular state-owned land,” she said.
Didiza further clarified that the land in question refers to the land that the then government earmarked for the consolidation of homelands and was then held by the South African Development Trust.
In some of these lands, said the minister, farmers were allocated hectares of land in different sizes depending of the agricultural viability of the land.
“Some of these lands, like the Makhathini Flats, were managed by Umjindi Management Company. Some lands were then used by communities for grazing, though no formal consolidation had been done. After 1994, an attempt was made to transfer some of these farmlands to farmers. Unfortunately, this process was not concluded. To address the land rights of these various communities, a land rights enquiry is critical,” she said.
Didiza added that the advertisement of properties including those that have communities is to ensure that there is transparency and that the government is able to address the legal issues that are necessary to confirm the rights from a process that was left hanging.
Giving progress on the applications progress, she said they have so far received 5 838 online applications, which include cooperatives/companies and individuals. A number of physical applications have also been received and will be consolidated after the closing date.
Didiza said the land rights enquiry has commenced and a number of farm dwellers, farmers and communities have been met.
She said the process will continue until such time that all State-owned land has been recorded and accounted for.
Didiza also addressed allegations made about government officials who have written letters of evictions to individuals and communities on State land.
“In some instances, there have been allegations of our officials demanding bribes of hundreds of thousands of Rands to access land. This conduct is unacceptable and criminal. We want to advise our communities to bring these issues to the Office of the Acting Director-General for attention and to the nearest police station.”
The minister said it is important to emphasise that the main purpose of this process is not to destabilise farmers who have been farming and producing in farms in the past, but to put in place a State land administration and management system that ensure security of land tenure, stability and provide an opportunity for sustainable food security and economic growth.
“This will also enable government to develop and implement targeted and sustainable support to small, emerging and commercial farmers into active participants in the economic market. We therefore urge all South Africans to seize this opportunity and submit their applications online or at our provincial and district offices in the seven (7) provinces before the closing date of 15 November 2020. We will continue to communicate on the screening, assessment and approval process that will follow towards finalisation of this process.”