A landmark verdict

2010-02-24 00:00

PRETORIA — A land claim has been refused in a watershed verdict because the community who laid claim to the land is unable to maintain the current food production.

On Friday the land claims court in Johannesburg refused the Bahiring community’s claim to the farms of eight landowners outside Koster in North West.

It was found that relocating the community is not feasible, because, among other reasons, the land has high agricultural potential and the farms are intensively cultivated.

Furthermore, E.I. Moosa, acting on behalf of the Land Affairs Department, said in his closing argument, it is not within the government’s financial means to successfully relocate the community.

It would have cost the state more than R70 million to buy the farms from the landowners.

It would have cost a further estimated R210 million to relocate the community’s 400 families and provide equipment and other resources for them to continue cultivating the land.

The court was told that it is pointless handing cash over to communities to develop land on which they are relocated since they don’t have the ability to ensure that the money is used for that purpose.

An official of the local land claims commissioner testified that not one of the 330 relocation projects he currently manages in the North West is successful.

Some of the greatest obstacles these communities face are lack of funding and skills to maintain agricultural production.

Transfer of the land would have a negative impact on the “food production and economic activities” of these highly productive farms.

Furthermore, there is no national budget available specifically for the relocation of the community in the North West. Each of the 400 families would only receive R6 595 from the government for relocation.

The current annual production total on these farms is 1 800 calves, 5 900 tons of maize, 400 tons of beans, 470 tons of sunflower seed and 1 080 000 litres of milk.

It was also taken into consideration that the community was compensated when they were relocated 80 km from the farms in the 1960s.

At the time, the farms were not yet commercially developed.

Peet Grobbelaar, the farm owners’ legal representative, said yesterday that the verdict will have a major impact on other pending land claims, because this is the first time that a court has found that the relocation involved in the claim is not feasible due to the land’s current use and production.

“The verdict has created a precedent because the current use and production of the land will have to be taken into account in future when it is decided whether relocation is feasible.”

According to Grobbelaar, the verdict also points to the total absence of effective support from the government for relocation programmes.

“In short, the entire land claims plan is a failure, especially in the North West,” he said.

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