Block lived free on state farm

2010-11-20 00:00

ANC leader John Block, accused of corruption, had the use of a multi-million-rand state farm for four years without paying a cent for it.

In this time the state even renovated the farmhouse and erected a pricey 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. He pays about R10 430 per month for the farm that was meant to benefit emerging farmers.

The community of Petrusville is still wondering how the businessman-politician who became Finance MEC in 2009 got the lease for the 4 045 hectare farm.

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 he served as the ANC’s deputy leader in the province.

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

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

“He was just there looking after the farm on behalf of the department,” Galane said.

But in 2004 a notice had been published in respect of Taaiboschdraai, a game farm, to invite “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. Theyreacted to the notice and submitted their application.

“Later I spoke to another farmer who had also applied,” said Rossouw “and he told me he went for an interview with government representatives in De Aar, but apparently Block arrived and said ‘go home’ the farm is already his.”

Dissie Kruger from the 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.

“I never even kept my sheep there. For me it’s about the welfare of the game. When Block came in 2004 there were five working windmills, four 10 000-litre water tanks and a zinc dam that kept enough water. In dry months water was trucked in with great effort,” 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 R3 million in the farm. All they got back was a letter to say they had been unsuccessful.

Next thing they knew Block took over. Not much seems to be going on at the farm today — two workers apparently look after it for Block.

Galane confirmed that infrastructural improvements were carried out in terms of the Comprehensive Agriculture Support Programme before the lease was signed.

An estimated R5 million was spent erecting a game fence, providing soil conservation and improving the house. The house alone apparently cost about R1,6 million.

According to Kruger, a power line has also been erected — something landowners 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. A dam is apparently needed to provide more sustainable water.

Kruger said he proposed a dam as early as 2004.

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

Democratic Alliance agriculture spokesperson Gerda Moolman said the Northern Cape Land Administration Act and Executive Members Ethics Act specifies that 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?”

Block is suspected of receiving R772 000 for using his influence to sell medical equipment to hospitals and municpalities.





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