R5m spent on farm – then it’s leased to Block

2010-11-21 09:11

ANC leader John Block had the use of a

multi-million rand state farm that was meant to benefit emerging farmers

-- without paying a cent for it. The state even renovated the farmhouse

and erected a game fence.

The Northern Cape ANC leader, who is facing charges of corruption and money laundering, eventually signed a three-year lease in October 2008, after four years of enjoying the use of the farm. He pays about R10?430 per month.

Block’s profile in Who’s Who Southern Africa shows he has been a farmer at Taaiboschdraai since 2004 – just after his term as Transport MEC and while serving as ANC deputy leader in the province.

Block referred City Press’s inquiries to the provincial department of agriculture, which in turn referred them to the national department, because the lease was signed on national authority.

Agriculture communication director in Pretoria, Steve Galane, said Block was appointed caretaker of the farm in 2004 – without pay – until 2008.

But in 2004 a notice published in respect of Taaiboschdraai invited “emerging black farmers and formerly disadvantaged individuals and groups” and especially women, youth and disabled people to “apply for state agricultural land that is available on the farmer settlement scheme of the department”.

Willem Rossouw leads a group of emerging farmers who have a small subsistence farming business on a piece of municipal land in Petrusville. The group submitted their application. They were never even invited for an interview.

Dissie Kruger from a neighbouring farm was appointed caretaker in 1998 in exchange for letting 300 of his sheep graze there. Kruger put in temporary troughs and pumps of his own.

“When Block came in 2004 there were five working windmills, four 10?000-litre water tanks and a zinc dam that kept enough water,” said Kruger.

In 2004 Kruger and a partner applied on behalf of four of their workers to lease Taaiboschdraai.

They submitted a business plan showing how they would invest at least R3m in the farm. All they got back was a letter to say they had been unsuccessful.

Next thing they knew Block had taken over.

Not much seems to be going on at the farm today – except for two caretakers who look after it for Block.
Galane confirmed that before the lease was signed, infrastructural improvements were carried out in terms of the Comprehensive Agriculture Support Programme.

An estimated R5m was spent erecting a game fence, providing soil conservation and improving the house -- which alonecost around R1,6m.

Kruger said a power line has also been erected – something land owners usually pay for and that emerging farmers could benefit from.

Bad maintenance is really upsetting neighbouring farmers. Game persistently break through or get caught in holes in the fence. Only two pumps still work and water flows into a trough that only holds enough water for about five gemsbok.

Kruger said he proposed a dam as early as 2004.

“Things are heading for disaster. In dry months the roughly 1 000 springbok and over 200 gemsbok suffer.”

DA agriculture spokesperson Gerda Moolman said according to the Northern Cape Land Administration Act and Executive Members Ethics Act, annual reports should have been given on state assets to the provincial legislature.

“If the premier fulfilled her obligations in terms of the law, Block would never have the farm in this way,” said Moolman. “He hasn’t listed it in his declaration of interests. How do we know what he is earning from there?”

In an unrelated matter, Block and ten others have been charged with fraud, corruption, money laundering and contravening the Public Finance Management Act. He is out on bail until the case resumes in March.

The assets forfeiture unit last week seized about R30m worth of property belonging to Block and his co-accused, including his five houses and 18 cars.



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