Lack of requisite skills to undertake the task of land reform a recipe for disaster

If the recent handling of the case of Western Cape farmer Ivan Cloete is anything to go by, then the department must upskill its officials to avoid a disastrous land reform administration process.

The Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza also blamed “lack of requisite skills” while responding to the ongoing saga involving farmer Cloete, who was hastily told to vacate state farm in Colenso farm in Darling.

Cloete, described as an award winning pig farmer, has been farming at Colenso for over a decade. But on February 1, he was paid a surprise visit by a high-level delegation from the department of agriculture which told him to leave the farm immediately or face legal action as his lease “had been terminated”.

Other known farmers who found themselves in the same situation are Vuyani Zigana (Eastern Cape), and David Rakgase (Limpopo).

All this followed the recent land reform programme in which government advertised for the occupation of state owned farm. It was made clear following the adverts that productive farmers would not be interrupted.

This attracted an uproar from farmers and farmer union AFASA, which ordered for a full investigation into procedures of land allocation to black farmers, more especially over the past five years.

Didiza, while appearing before parliament committee on Tuesday, said it was clear there’s a large number of individuals, mainly in provincial and district levels, who may not have the requisite skills to undertake the task of land reform. Of significance and identified by the department in its investigations in the three cases, was high levels of extortions practiced by officials on farmers.

“In these cases, we investigated what was clear the arbitrary nature in terms of farm allocations, with some farmers given caretaker status without officials giving them clear guidelines,” said Minister Didiza.

Shockingly, in the majority of state farms advertised by the department as part of land reform, some farmers were not given notices of eviction or even lease terminations.

Inkosi Mandla Mandela, Chair of the Portfolio Committee, welcomed the update from the department and pleaded for such cases to be expedited.

“How many people in similar situations just give up or simply don’t have the energy, resources or technical expertise at their disposal to sustain such a fight?  he asked.

At issue was the former department of rural development and land reform’s lacklustre performance as reflected in its 2019/2020 Annual Report.

The department spent R10.813 billion (99.9 per cent) with a large portion spent on land claims. About 436 claims were settled while smallholder farmer beneficiaries allocated 85 124.6 hectares of land.

Western Cape MEC of Agriculture Ivan Meyer welcomed the recent report by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) on the investigation into the unlawful eviction of Ivan Cloete from the farm Colenso.

As highlighted by the report the Ivan Cloete case “clearly demonstrates irregularities and improper conduct which placed Mr Cloete in a difficult position.”

He said the case further portrays DALRRD as being “cruel and lacking empathy” in dealing with real issues that affect lives and livelihoods.

Given the above, Meyer reiterated his call on the National Minister to provide a complete list of state-owned farms in the Western Cape. The list must include the names of beneficiaries allocated to these farms through DALRRLD’s Land Reform Programme.

“The list must include the names of beneficiaries allocated to these farms through DALRRLD’s Land Reform Programme. The National Government must assure South Africans that land reform is not used to benefit politicians and their friends at the expense of hard-working and deserving land reform applicants” he remarked.

Minister Didiza said her department was working on overhauling the land administration systems and have instituted disciplinary hearings against officials who had transgressed.

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