A farmer's 15-year wait for land justice

David Rakgase and his five children have been farm on these 3 000 hectares of land leased from the government since 1991.Picture: Deon Raath
David Rakgase and his five children have been farm on these 3 000 hectares of land leased from the government since 1991.Picture: Deon Raath

The government offered the farm to Rakgase in 2002 and accepted the offer he made, but nothing has come of the agreement, writes Jeanne-Marié Versluis

An elderly cattle farmer from Limpopo has been struggling to buy his farm from the government for the past 15 years.

Now David Rakgase (77) is asking the court to compel government to sell him Nooitgedacht, the 3 179 hectare farm that he leases from the state, outside Northam.

He has been farming 300 Brahman and Nguni cattle, sheep and goats on the farm for almost 28 years.

The farm once belonged to the government of Bophuthatswana and subsequently became the property of the South African government.

The government had already offered the farm for sale to Rakgase in 2002 and accepted the offer he made in 2003, but, since then, nothing has come of the promised transaction.

David Rakgase’s wife, Rosemary, did the bookkeeping for the farm. Her grave is on the right. On the left is the grave of one of their grandchildren, Andreas. Picture: Deon Raath

“Fifteen years later the farm still has not been sold and transferred to me. I have now been told that the minister and the department have changed their policy, and will no longer sell the farm to me.

“According to their new policy, I will have to sign a new lease agreement for a further 30 years in order to stay on the farm.”

Actually, said Rakgase, he has technically already paid the farm off, if his monthly rental payments during the time government has been dragging its feet are taken into account.

That’s why Rakgase and his son, Mmofo, who is busy with his doctorate in agriculture and animal production, have now decided to take the minister of rural development and land reform, as well as the MEC for agriculture and rural development in Limpopo, to court.

The situation became intolerable for him when intruders began grazing their cattle on his land. His land is now so overgrazed that Rakgase has to go and cut grass along the side of the road for feed for his own animals.

He said the intruder herdsmen were aggressive and had even put locks on some of the gates on his farm to stop people removing their livestock.

David Rakgase shows some of the bags of grass that he cuts along the tar road and then grinds up to feel his cattle. Picture: Deon Raath

“The locks sit there like ticks on an egg,” Rakgase told City Press’s sister publication, Rapport.

Since intruders have taken over his farm, said Rakgase, 82 of his 90 goats have disappeared. Some of his cattle and sheep have also been stolen, as well as some of his plows.

In the meantime, his hands are tied because he does not own the property.

Rakgase’s three sons and two daughters said they have been training students on the farm for years.

Rakgase previously employed 30 farmworkers but has had to let some of them go because of the uncertainty of his present position.

He and his son are asking the court to order the minister to, within 30 days, do everything required to sell the farm to Rakgase on the same terms and conditions that would have been applied in January 2003.

David Rakgase and his five children have been farm on these 3 000 hectares of land leased from the government since 1991.Picture: Deon Raath

He said there were other farmers who were in a similar quandary. “I am not the only farmer who was given an undertaking that the state farm that he or she was renting would be sold to them.”

Rakgase said that the farmhouse was on the property when he started to lease it. Since then he has built storage rooms, made roads and firebreaks, sunk boreholes, installed an irrigation system, put up game fencing on between 35% and 40% of the farm, and recouped about 70ha of veld for grazing purposes, thus adding value to the property.

He used to pay rent of R4 400 per year and still pays an amount of R3 410 every month.

“We keep paying the rent because we want to show government that we’re interested in the farm.”

The previous offer of sale that he was given, was that he would have to pay R800 000 and would receive a R400 000 allowance under the land redistribution programme.

That was after the Land Bank valued the farm at about R1.2 million.

David Rakgase and his five children have been farm on these 3 000 hectares of land leased from the government since 1991.Picture: Deon Raath

Rakgase’s deceased wife, Rosemary, did the books for the farm. She and two of her grandchildren, Andreas and Mary, are buried near the farmhouse.

“We thought we were going to live here forever.”

Mmofo said the family felt “neglected and threatened”.

“The system [for land reform] is not working. It doesn’t help people.”

Elzanne Jonker, the attorney who is representing the Rakgases, said that they had received notice that the MEC would abide by the court’s decision, while the minister would oppose it.

This feature is part of a journalism partnership called Our Land between City Press, Rapport, Landbouweekblad and Code for Africa to find the untold stories, air the debates, amplify the muted voices, do the research and, along the way, find equitable solutions to SA’s all-important land issue. Grab your copy of City Press on Sunday for more stories about Our Land, an ongoing editorial project

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