Ladysmith land issue 'delayed'

2015-10-28 11:02
This photo shot in August was one of several taken by the Ladysmith Animal Anti-Cruelty League when it was called to the farm operated by the claimants. (Supplied to The Witness)

This photo shot in August was one of several taken by the Ladysmith Animal Anti-Cruelty League when it was called to the farm operated by the claimants. (Supplied to The Witness)

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Ladysmith - Land claimants in Ladysmith have still not been handed title deeds — nearly six years later.

This is despite a televised undertaking in 2010 on the investigative television programme Carte Blanche by the director-general of Rural Development and Land Reform, Mduduzi Shabane, that the claimants of farms in the Elandslaagte area would be made the proud owners of the previously white-owned farms. They were bought for more than R30 million a decade earlier by the state.

And it appears the KwaKhiphikhono Farm Agri Co-operative, which represents the claimants, will not be handed control or the deeds to their farm anytime soon.

Instead the farmland, of some 3 000 hectares, was handed to a new management firm, Pretoria-based Agrifika, in August 2015 with the claimants effectively being turned back into labourers.

Claimant Agrippa Mtshali said it looked like the state was deliberately delaying giving them their ownership rights.

“It appears to be a planned thing, to keep us as labourers forever, we are tired of delays and I don’t think we will receive what is due to us anytime soon. There is no hope for the poor in this country. Only people who have money are able to influence decisions in high places. We don’t have that but we just want what we deserve,” he said.

Claimants failed by the state

A former mentor to the claimants, Colin Hume, believes the claimants have been failed by the state.

Because the state still holds the deeds to the farm, the claimants were required to seek permission to sell livestock, the lifeblood of the farm.

E-mails dated March this year, and in the possession of The Witness, say that livestock needed to be sold to pay wages and running expenses that included licks, inoculations and fuel, as well as preparations for winter. The e-mails were addressed to senior departmental officials.

But Hume said their requests to sell livestock were repeatedly ignored.

“We eventually had to seek legal representation to try and force the department to act.

“When we stepped into the farm in May 2013, we were told to run the farm as a going concern before we would receive any government finance, but at no point between then and August 2015 were we ever given a letter to allow us to run it as a commercial entity,” he said.

Hume said this resulted in the loss of more than 200 head of cattle to “starvation and disease”.

According to the Ladysmith Animal Anti-Cruelty League, they have opened a case of cruelty to animals.

Hume, who put up R120 000 of his own money to meet the farm’s expenses, is now threatening to take the department to court to recoup his outlay.

Neither the department’s KZN office nor Shabane responded to questions on the matter.

Several attempts to get comment from Agrifika’s KZN head Ralph Sarjoo were also unsuccessful.

Joint venture

An Agrifika head office employee told The Witness the farm was a joint venture between itself, the state and the claimants.

Agrifika’s website describes the company as an “agribusiness development and intelligence company”.

The farms were bought by the department for R36 million under what was known as the Elandsjagt Farm Project. These farms were meant for land claim beneficiaries.

Instead, they were registered to a company owned by the Roscoe Family Trust, which was entirely controlled by the Sewpersad family.

The farms were later seized from businessman Roshen Sewpersad.

In May 2013 the farms were handed back to the state and the legal beneficiaries took up tenancy.

From this point onwards the farm was run by the claimants with the help of a mentor, until August 2015 when Agrifika took over the management of the farmland.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  land  |  agriculture

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