DA Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Annette Steyn MP said she visited the Gert Sibande District of Mpumalanga on Thursday March 25, where she met with some of the affected farmers to give them feedback on the DA’s efforts to get their cases resolved.
This, she said, was a follow-up visit to the meeting that she had with them on the September 29, 2020. The issues that they raised then, and which remain unresolved to this day, include that the Department has started a selective issuing of 30-year lease agreements in the District.
Furthermore, Steyn said that allegations started to emerge that some of the Department’s officials were demanding bribes before contracts could be signed.
“There was no platform for mediation of disputes, after some farmers received “eviction notices”. This forced them to write to the Director General and Minister, sometimes with lawyers’ letters, but no response was forthcoming; and Some farmers complained that officials kept records of contracts, but no records of these lease payments were kept,” she said.
The general consensus among the farmers that Steyn met with on March 26, was that the fact that these issues have remained unresolved has left them with the distinct impression that the DALRRD is dead set on evicting them from their farms at all costs.
Using the input that I obtained from the farmers, the issues that I will be taking up with the Department include seeking clarity on:
• What criteria was used to agree to lease renewals for some farmers while denying others?
• What, if any, investigations have been conducted into the allegations of bribery, especially now that the Department is trying to pin corruption on an official who has passed on?
• Why did the Department renege on the 2015 promise made by Gugile Nkwinti to farmers in the Provinces that their lease agreements will be renewed, and they won’t be required to pay anything?
“Just as we stood against the unjust eviction of Ivan Cloete, we will not allow DALRRD to intimidate farmers using flimsy excuses to evict them from their land. Successful agriculture operations take years to build and the Department should not be disruptive to the efforts of emerging black farmers,” said Steyn.
Steyn said she had written to Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD), Thoko Didiza, to urgently intervene in the case of Mpumalanga farmers, who are at various stages of being evicted from their farms.
“It’s been a month and the Minister is yet to respond or take action despite making promises to reconsider all pending farm evictions across the country,” she said.
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.”
The department said it was investigating.