KZN farmers say they face ruin as department freezes land reforms

2009-06-05 00:00

FARMERS in the Battlefields area in northern KwaZulu-Natal claim to be on the brink of bankruptcy, allegedly because the department of Land Affairs has frozen land reform projects.

In a press statement on Wednesday, farmers and land reform and land claims beneficiaries alleged the Land Affairs Department has put all reform projects and land claims on ice, and there is no indication when the programmes will resume again.

Chicken farmer Zane Kleb of Harrowdale Farm in the Dundee/Nquthu district said most of the farmers sold their farms to Land Affairs on the principle of willing buyer, willing seller, and have waited for months for the deals to be approved.

Kleb said there are 17 farmers from the Battlefields area on the Land Affairs list who have been left in the lurch. Many of them have sold all their equipment and livestock and moved from their farms, but are now facing foreclosures and bankruptcy due to the department’s poor perfor­mance.

He said the farmers’ deteriorating situation is further compounded by strict credit laws, the poor financial climate and the recession.

Kleb said that after the farmers indicate their willingness to sell, the processes that follow take months to be approved by the districts because of departmental red tape.

“Once this has been done and evaluations are received, a business plan has to be formulated by the department of Agriculture. All of this has yet again to be approved by the district before being sent to provincial for final authorisation.”

Farmers wait for months for this process to take place, said Kleb, with the pretence that staff are working on multiple projects because of a shortage of personnel in the Agriculture Department.

“The latest news from the department of Land Affairs is that all land reform projects have been put on ice by the new government until a yet-to-be determined date. Some officials have said as late as September 2009. What will happen to these farms and farmers’ livelihoods?” asked Kleb.

“Who will assist them in starting to farm again or continue paying bonds, loans and employees? Who will assist these land reform beneficiaries in getting temporary jobs or … land to work in order to make a living?”

Kleb said he was approached by the Land Affairs Department in July 2008 when he indicated he wanted to sell his farm to the department on behalf of the beneficiaries living on the property. He said the sale was meant to be fina­lised in January and now he has no income.

Another farmer, Mike Heyns, agreed to sell his farm to the government in 2007. Heyns ceased planting crops and sold his livestock, and due to his deteriora­ting health, his wife was happy that he was willing to sell the farm so that they could retire.

Heyns said that after all the red tape, it was agreed that they would receive 50% of the sale price on signature. Two years later, however, they are still waiting and having to sell off their equipment and tractors to make ends meet.

Caiphas Nsele of the Amalinda Family Trust is said to be in a similar situation.

Land Affairs spokesman Bruce Gunkel said the implementation of the land reform and land claims programmes is continuing as usual. — WR.

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