Land reform model fizzles

2016-09-25 08:24
Trinity Mondlane Chairperson, Cynthia Zitha Administrative Clerk and Wandile Ndlovu Secretary three of five youngsters who are Pillars of the cooperative Insimu Yami Youth a farming project. They deserted the stylish life to venture into a macadamia nuts farming business in Schagen near Nelspruit. (City Press)

Trinity Mondlane Chairperson, Cynthia Zitha Administrative Clerk and Wandile Ndlovu Secretary three of five youngsters who are Pillars of the cooperative Insimu Yami Youth a farming project. They deserted the stylish life to venture into a macadamia nuts farming business in Schagen near Nelspruit. (City Press)

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Mbombela - A macadamia farming project by young farmers, which has been hailed by government as a model for land reform projects, is on the verge of collapse.

In 2011 five aspirant Mpumalanga farmers acquired the 65-hectare farm worth R5.35 million.

But five years on, the business situated in Schagen, 30km from Mbombela, is collapsing – with the young farmers accusing provincial rural development and land reform officials of sabotaging their project by starving it of resources and support services.

The Insimu Yami Cooperative comprised of Julius Sibiya (34), Trinity Mondlane (31), Phindile Mondlane (27), Cynthia Zitha (21) and Wandile Ndlovu (25) now faces liquidation by debtors. The electricity is already switched off due to non-payment of a whopping R2.8 million bill, and criminals are stealing from the property piece by piece.

The hip, trendy group of youngsters who would otherwise have pursued sexier jobs, had been identified by the department of rural development and land reform and were given a grant of R2.7 million under the land distribution for agricultural development programme. They then topped up the grant with a loan of R2.65 million from a commercial bank.

Now, the five young entrepreneurs are blaming the Mpumalanga department of rural development and land reform for failing to provide the crucial after-sale support necessary to have helped them implement the business plan successfully over the past four years. They claim the province has instead offered to buy back the land from their cooperative for R6.1 million.

“We were tempted to sell,” said Trinity Mondlane, the cooperative’s chairperson, “but we thought that if the department has the money to buy back the farm, surely it should have the money to fund our business plan as per the signed contract.

“The department’s officials have been visiting the farm with certain people interested in leasing the farm and that is where we suspect there is corruption. They want us out to benefit themselves,” Mondlane said. He added that the department kept on saying their business venture was not earmarked in the department’s financial year’s register for business support grants.

Meanwhile, Mpumalanga rural development and land reform spokesperson Zithini Dlamini has not responded to written questions or SMS messages.

Mondlane is now concerned that the bank may soon attach the farm because of the outstanding loan repayments. He did admit some other setbacks, though – that the farm had lost an export contract for their macadamia nuts, and that they have not been able to branch out into agritourism or kick-start broiler business units as originally planned.

“The value of the farm is depreciating. The trees are dry … Workers refuse to work without pay. We signed a contract with Spar to supply them with chicken, but all of that is gone,” Mondlane lamented.

Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti is now investigating the Mpumalanga department after 80 communal property associations, comprising more than 10 000 beneficiaries, complained that officials were withholding grants promised under section 42 of the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act.

The grants amount to 25% of the purchase price of land, and is meant for land reform beneficiaries to develop their businesses. However, officials now seem to be starving the cooperatives to force the communal property associations to sell.


Read more on:    mbombela  |  land reform  |  agriculture  |  land

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