9 October 2017

South Africa: Land Reform - Treatment of Black Farmers Shows the Sham of ANC "Empowerment"

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The following remarks were made today by DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane, in Northam, Limpopo. Maimane will be joined by DA Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Annette Steyn, DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Thandeka Mbabama, DA Limpopo Leader, Jacques Smalle, and Constituency Head, Desiree Van Der Walt

Fellow democrats,

I am humbled to have been invited here, to this farm at Nooitgedacht, by Mr David Rakgase, who has been farming this land for 26 years. Mr Rakgase has been leasing this farm from the government since April 1991, and has never defaulted on his rental payments, and is up to date until this month, October 2017.

He has run a successful farm that included game, more than 300 head of cattle, 100 goats, 80 sheep, and 80 pigs. His farm also included 25 hectares of planted pasture for fodder production, and a butchery. He also ran a mentorship programme assisting young emerging farmers with training and development.

In 1999, Mr Rakgase applied and became a beneficiary of government's Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) programme. The programme was supposed to benefit up-and-coming farmers by leasing government-owned land to these farmers with a view to transfer ownership to them at a later stage, when the option to buy was triggered. It is clear that eventual ownership and transfer of the land in title was one of the main objectives of the programme.

In 2002, Mr Rakgase was asked whether he would like to exercise his option to purchase the farm as an LRAD beneficiary. He immediately accepted and confirmed his intention to purchase - which government approved. Later, Mr Rakgase received a letter from the Limpopo Provincial Government confirming that he was in fact the new owner. The letter he received from the Limpopo Provincial Government, stated that "The Department of Agriculture recognises you as the new owner in terms of the Farm Settlement Policy, the LRAD Policy, and the State Land Disposal Act, 1961".

Then, in 2004 the Department of Agriculture sent a letter to ABSA bank confirming that Mr Rakgase has already purchased the farm, but that the title deed had not yet been registered in his name.

Mr Rakgase believed he was now the owner of the land, on the basis of the terms of the LRAD programme, and the confirmation letters he received. At this stage he had yet to be told how much money he had to pay, what payment structure would be adopted, and when this would commence. Mr Rakgase sat and waited for 8 years.

Then, in 2011, he was made to sign a new 5-year lease agreement with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. This despite government confirming 8 years earlier that they were in the process of transferring the land and title into his full ownership.

The government now says he has no longer has an option to become the owner of the land, as he falls under a new government programme - the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS). They deny that the original option to purchase was ever exercised. At 77 years old, Mr Rakgase is still not the owner of this farm we stand on today. For the past two decades, Mr Rakgase has been messed around and abused, and deprived of owning the land he farms despite a clear contractual agreement which he exercised.

Mr Rakgase has been robbed by the ANC government. His property suffers numerous land invasions which destroy his farming operations. He has informed the department of the invasions but they failed to assist him, even though they now claim that they are still the land owners, and therefore legally obliged to protect their land from invasions. Mr Rakgase continues to pay a monthly rental for fear of losing his farm.

This is a small scale farmer, who is economically productive, yet the ANC government has revoked his ownership rights and restricted him to life of tenant farming in constant dependence on the state.

The ANC government has all but abandoned the state-assisted land purchase and transfer of title to beneficiaries approach. Rather, since 2011, the state has altered the willing buyer, willing seller approach to the detriment of black farmers. The state has now become the purchaser of land, acquiring land for redistribution to beneficiaries without transfer of title. State owned land that is leased out has replaced the original private ownership mode.

Without ownership farmers cannot raise capital, cannot remove illegal land invaders, and cannot expand production. The ANC government is holding Mr Rakgase back, as it is doing to many other farmers.

I am angered by this story. And I know it is all too common in South Africa. Mr Rakgase is the kind of farmer we should be empowering as meaningfully and as quickly as we can.

That is why I have begun the legal process of restoring Mr Rakgase's option to become the owner of his farm. Our legal team has written to the State Attorney's Office asking for an explanation as to why the land has not been transferred to Mr Rakgase, and to provide us a date by which this will be done. We believe Mr Rakgase has a sound case, and has been unfairly deprived of the land that is contractually his. We will not hesitate to litigate on his behalf if the state will not honour their agreement.

There are many more farmers like Mr Rakgase, who are paying money to the government without an option of ownership, and are therefore excluded from economic opportunity. When we asked the Minister of Rural Development of Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, in Parliament how many farms have been leased by beneficiaries through the LRAD programme, he replied saying "None; the programme provides for full ownership by beneficiaries". This is clearly not true - and it appears the Minister is either lying to avoid the embarrassing truth, knows little about his own department.

Therefore we will be taking this matter to Parliament, as my colleagues Annette Steyn and Thandeka Mbabama, who are MPs responsible for agriculture and land reform, will be pushing for public hearings into the failures of LRAD and other land ownership schemes.

The lack of access and security of land tenure among black South Africans in rural and agricultural areas is perpetuated by an ANC government who speak the language of "empowerment", but in practice only really perpetuate dependency. The ANC will have you believe that they care about land reform, but in reality they care about control. This is not real empowerment.

The DA believes that land reform is both a moral imperative and represents an opportunity to stimulate rural economies, and truly empower disadvantaged black South Africans.

We believe in empowering individuals to become free from dependence on government through real ownership of their own assets. In the context of the rural economy, that is done through the transfer of ownership of land from government to individuals - farmers like Mr Rakgase and thousands of others.

Our track record in government shows this. The DA-run Western Cape government has implemented land reform more successfully than anywhere else, with 62% of all land reform farms in the Western Cape operating successfully - the highest in the country.

We have established a Land Reform Advisory Desk and District Land Reform Committees to provide the necessary support to emerging farmers. And we are the only provincial government to commission an external evaluation of all land reform farms within the province.

The benefits to the rural economy are showing. Employment has increased by 40% in the Agriculture and Agri-processing sectors over the past two years through the creation of over 127 400 new jobs. We are both empowering individuals and pursuing justice.

We believe that qualifying black farmers must have an ownership stake in the land they farm, ensuring economic empowerment and true freedom. Farmers, like yourselves, do not want to be at the mercy of a government lease, and left without any security of title to the very land you farm. Yet sadly, many still are today.

We also call on farmers all across the country who find themselves in similar positions to Mr Rakgase, to make contact with us. Please contact my office directly on leader@da.org.za or call us on 021 403 2911 - and we will make sure each and every one of these cases are interrogated and pursued.

In rural economies, South Africa's history of racial dispossession has left the country with skewed patterns of ownership that excludes the majority of South Africans from land assets and inclusion in rural economies.

While the ANC government perpetuates this, the DA will fight for the rights of those previously left behind. This is about justice for Mr Rakgase, and many others just like him.

Mmusi Maimane

Leader of the Democratic Alliance

South Africa

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