Land reform debacle exposed - DA

2013-05-30 17:24
DA (Picture: Sapa)

DA (Picture: Sapa)

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Cape Town - The public protector will be asked to probe possible fraud and corruption in a "dodgy" Eastern Cape land reform deal, the DA said on Thursday.

Briefing the media, Democratic Alliance MP Athol Trollip said since the Eastern Cape government bought a group of farms called the Kangela Properties almost 10 years ago, the conditions of workers on these farms had deteriorated significantly.

The deal was meant to empower 44 farmworkers, but Trollip said a visit to the farms showed that the opposite had happened.

Photographs show containers converted into homes. Inside are makeshift beds with no mattresses.

Several other basic services were lacking.

"The conditions they live in are just subhuman," said Trollip.

The beneficiaries were not aware they were earning below the minimum wage of R105/day.

Trollip sketched a picture of how the deal was tainted from the start.

"A gentleman by the name of Norman Benjamin... put pressure on the then MEC for agriculture [in the Eastern Cape] Max Mamase to buy his farms in the Kirkwood and Addo districts for R16m.

"He [Benjamin] said he had an empowerment offer for 44 of his farmworkers to benefit from his property and [claimed] a company from Saudi Arabia was wanting to buy it for R30m," said Trollip.

The department bought shares in the land, paying R15.7m, without doing a valuation first, according to Trollip.

He said the land was later valued at R16m and not R30m as Benjamin had claimed.

"The worst part is that the department ended up paying full price for a property and only got a 49% shareholding, because Norman Benjamin retained a 51% shareholding," said Trollip.

The scandal around the deal, which allegedly included kickbacks, eventually saw Mamase and several of his officials resign.


An investigation and a court case ensued.

"An accountant of Benjamin turned state witness and gave evidence about how the transaction took place... and the acquisition of a home for Mamase and his then wife Neo Moerane-Mamase, who was also an MEC in the Eastern Cape cabinet.

"They were paid R270 000 towards the bond of a house they purchased," Trollip claims.

The court case, however, went nowhere.

"Benjamin fell ill and convinced the court he wasn't fit to stand trial and gave over his 51% shareholding to the state.

The state then ultimately got full ownership of the property at the valued price."

Benjamin had since died.

"The court case went into some kind of moribund state and the NPA vacillated and eventually decided to resuscitate that court case," Trollip said.

A trust was since established to represent the beneficiaries. It was meant to initiate development for the farmworkers, including building schools and providing job opportunities for them.

But Trollip said beneficiaries told him no such development had transpired.

"Far from enjoying any of these objectives, farmworkers found themselves in a state where they were worse off on the farm than under private ownership."

The management of the properties was given to SA Fruit Exporters (Safe).

"Safe is now running Kangela Properties... they pick and pack citrus in their own pack shed on one of the farms, and the beneficiaries say they have no idea what Safe gets per carton, and how much income they have per year, what the gross margins are."

Trollip said the Kangela debacle was symptomatic of the chaotic state of land reform in South Africa.

He described it as a disgrace, since 2013 marked exactly 100 years since the Native Land Act, which dispossessed black people of their land and dignity.

The rural development and land reform programme had done very little to reverse the legacy, he said.

Read more on:    da  |  athol trollip  |  port elizabeth  |  east london  |  politics  |  land

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