KZN land claim deadlock

2019-06-18 15:32
FROM LEFT: Eqhudeni area chief Stevenson Sithole, Sithole Tribal Authority spokesperson Phumlani Sithole and Mhlumayo chief Ngqayizivele Sithole say there is no turning back on their 50 000 hectares land claim. PHOTO: CLIVE NDOU

FROM LEFT: Eqhudeni area chief Stevenson Sithole, Sithole Tribal Authority spokesperson Phumlani Sithole and Mhlumayo chief Ngqayizivele Sithole say there is no turning back on their 50 000 hectares land claim. PHOTO: CLIVE NDOU

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Delays in the processing of land claims have plunged more than 300 commercial farmers around Dundee and Ladysmith into deeper financial trouble, with some being forced to abandon their properties.

The farmers’ woes started in 1998 when the local Chief, Ntsikayezwe Winston Sithole — who has since died — lodged a claim on more than 50 000 hectares of agricultural land around Ladysmith, Dundee and other small rural towns stretching from the midlands to northern KwaZulu-Natal.

According to the local farmers’ union, the more than 300 farmers whose properties have been cited in the claim have not been able to either sell their farms or obtain bank loans.

“If you try to sell the first thing a potential buyer asks is whether there is a claim against the farm. The bank does not want to do any business with a farmer whose property has become subject to a claim — we have been in this situation for more 20 years, it’s unbearable,” said Herman de Wet, the chairperson of the union.

When Sithole died in 2000, two other chiefs affiliated to the Kwa-Sithole Tribal Authority, Ngqayizivele Sithole of the Enhlumayo clan in Ladysmith and Stevenson Sithole of Eqhudeni in Nquthu, continued with the claim.

Herman de Wet, the chairperson of the local farmers’ union, says farmers are going out of business because of the massive land claim. 

Over the last 20 years the farmers have had little success in trying to strike a deal with the traditional leaders.

The proposed deal, that would have seen most of the farms falling under the authority of the Sithole chiefs, was an attempt to minimise the colossal financial losses associated with the land claim.

De Wet said the farmers have now run out of options.

“We have tried everything, including engaging officials from the Land Affairs Department. We also engaged the services of a lawyer — that too did not work and in the end we decided to stop the legal process as it was costing the cash-strapped farmers a fortune.

“Our only hope is for the chiefs to withdraw the claim and look at other options that could create a win-win situation,” he said.

However, the traditional leaders are not budging, saying all they wanted was the return of land that was taken away from their forefathers.

Phumlani Sithole, who is the spokesperson of the Kwa-Sithole Tribal Authority, said the chiefs have already made a number of concessions.

“The land that was taken away from the Sithole clan includes towns such as Ladysmith, Dundee and Pomeroy.

“Even though the right thing would have to include these towns in the claim, it was felt that we should respect government’s position that only land taken away after 1913 should be claims.

“The land which we are claiming back is agricultural land that was taken away from us in the 1940s to reward white South Africans who participated in World War 2.

“The Sithole people were actually driven out to make way for the white people. How can it be that when we claim that which is rightfully ours some people turn around and accuse us of inconveniencing them?” he asked.

The Sithole claim was gazetted in 2015, meaning it is now on the verge of being finalised.

On what the chiefs and their subjects were planning to use the more than 50 000 hectares of land for, Sithole said there were consulting various government departments and commercial banks.

“We want the farms to continue being productive, we are currently finalising a business plan. The farms will not be turned into residential areas; we will make them even more productive to create jobs and grow the economy of the area,” he said.

Initially, the Sitholes wanted the claim to be registered under the traditional authority but had to register it under a community trust in compliance with the law.

“We are currently busy compiling a register of all the families that resided on the land that was presided over by the Sithole traditional leaders before the land was taken away. Some of the people are labourers on these very same farms, while others have moved to urban areas,” Sithole said.

Should the Sithole land claim go through, government will have to compensate the current farm owners.

However, should Parliament amend Section 25 of the Constitution, a process currently underway, the government will not be under any obligation to compensate farmers who lose their properties through land claims such as the one lodged by the Sitholes.

The Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs did not respond to e-mail edquestions about delays in processing the Sithole land claim.

AREAS THAT WILL BE AFFECTED INCLUDE:

• Ladysmith

• Dundee

• Pomeroy

• Dannhauser

• Hattingspruit

• Tugela Ferry


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