Land reform dreams lying fallow for Ebenhaeser farmers

2017-06-29 11:11
Gugile Nkwinti. (File, Beeld)

Gugile Nkwinti. (File, Beeld)

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Cape Town - The dreams of finally getting back land that was lost to missionaries almost a century ago are lying fallow for the Ebenhaeser community in the Western Cape.

This as 22 land owners challenge the validity of their claim.

The claim for the return of the land the Ebenhaeser community was removed from in 1926 was lodged on 22 May 1996, and it has been approved by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.

However, the 22 land owners intend challenging the validity of the claim in court at a later date, possibly at the end of 2017 - dragging out the finalisation of their claim even longer.

The land claim is regarded as one of the biggest in South Africa, with the government allocating R300m for the purchase of the farms, which include vineyards.

However, until the issue of the 22 land owners who are holding out is resolved, the transfer to the community cannot be completed.

Also read: District Six claimants demand answers from government

Chief Land Claims Commissioner Nomfundo Gobodo explained that the government has moved from the ''willing buyer, willing seller'' principle to one of ''just and equitable compensation''.

This takes into account how the land was acquired. Given that the land owners are disputing how the Ebenhaeser claimants lost their land, the commission has to wait for their challenge at the Land Claims Court to be finalised. After that, it might also go up to the Constitutional Court, prolonging the wait even more.

''The commission cannot force,'' she said.

An added complication is that the recapitalisation and development of claimed land are moving to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and until everything is finalised, the claimants are in limbo regarding the handover support they need.

The Ebenhaeser dispute has its roots in the removal of the community, classified as ''coloured'' in 1926 in a land swop to make way for a white Dutch Reformed Church mission station. The original community was relocated to land nearby, but the soil quality was not as good, and it was not as close to the Olifants River as their previous land had been.

Last August, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti officiated at a ceremony formalising the agreement to hand the land back to the original occupants. The Ebenhaeser claimants were excited, but the process cannot be finalised until the dispute with the other farmers is resolved.

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Ebenhaeser Community Property Association Chairperson, Willem Fortuin, said they feel the government has left them out in the cold, with very little recapitalisation or mentoring support to get planned businesses underway.

They do not even have money for an office or a telephone to run the agri businesses that they have in mind, he said, adding that they are tired of meetings that do not translate into action.

''Our community over the past 20 years have been subjected to so many meetings, so many consultative processes. So basically, they have meeting fatigue,'' he said.

At the meeting, also attended by the Deputy Rural Development Minister Mcebisi Skwatsha, the CPA said they were kept so far out of the loop, that they were not even told about a previous site visit by the committee, in May.

The underproductivity of grapes with the last harvest has already set off warning bells, with committee chairperson Beverley Schafer wanting to know why grape production dropped to 1 334 tons out of an expected 2 266 tons.

Committee members heard that when a land claim is finalised, the outgoing farmers often stop working and do not prepare for the next season. Some even strip assets, and leave the incoming farmers on the back foot, with not enough equipment. Agreements with buyers who usually take their produce are also in the balance when the land changes hands via the state.

This means they sometimes get a farm that is not in the same state as it was when it was valued for purchase by the government.

Economic Freedom Fighters committee member Bernard Joseph said farmers whose land has been earmarked for a land claim are known to cut production by at least 30% before handover.

African National Congress committee chairperson Siyazi Tyatyam said the committee must help resolve the problems that the new farm owners are facing.

''We don't want to set people up for failure,'' said Tyatyam. 



Read more on:    cape town  |  land reform

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