After a long battle, the farmers of Tafelkop in Limpopo have finally been given their title deeds. Patricia de Lille writes that the plight of the Tafelkop farmers is proof that land is a critical asset.
"Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting," said author Joyce Meyer in an inspirational description which may resonate with 30 farmers.
The farmers have been successfully farming for the past 25 years in Limpopo's Sekhukhune district and received title deeds to the land earlier this month.
Ahead of the title deed handover ceremony in Limpopo on 22 May, I was given the name "Mahlako" by the traditional leaders in the region, which they tell me means to "build the nation" in Sepedi. I was deeply honoured by this gesture, but in all honesty, these farmers have been pillars in their community for many years even though they did not have ownership status or title to the land they have been farming on for more than two decades.
That has now changed. The work to achieve land reform is moving forward, and the 30 farmers of the Tafelkop Farmers' Association and their spouses now have the title deeds registered in their names.
The problem of land ownership has been central to the struggle against apartheid. Today, generations after the systematic dispossession, our nation is still struggling to bring about balance and undo the effects of unjust land distribution.
Here is the history of the long wait, patience and good attitude:
The previous government gave these farms to white soldiers who participated in World War II as a reward, while people of colour who also took part in the war only received bicycles. A disgrace.
When the farms were abandoned in the mid 1980s, the municipality wanted to allocate the farms to four white farmers. In the interim, there was a caretaker, but the caretaker also abandoned the farm.
Patience of Tafelkop farmers
In 1994, the Tafelkop Farmers Association was born and began to engage government looking for the correct custodian which was the Department of Public Works.
In 2000, the then Department of Agriculture entered into lease agreements with the Tafelkop Farmers Association in terms of Land Redistribution through the Agricultural Development programme.
Nine years later, the former Limpopo Department of Agriculture recommended that the Department of Public Works, as the custodian of the land, be transferred to the farmers. The process started, and the Department of Public Works signed off the land transfer on a gratis basis in terms of the Land Redistribution through the Agricultural Development programme.
When I became Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) and saw the history of this case, I immediately instructed my colleagues to work harder to finalise the title deed registrations for the farmers who had waited too long for this matter to be completed.
In October 2019, the DPWI engaged with the State Attorney's office to speed up the transfer of the farms to the beneficiaries.
In May 2021, the deeds were registered in the names of the farmers who officially became the beneficiaries of the land.
For 25 years, the farmers employed 128 permanent workers and about 320 seasonal workers who have successfully farmed various agricultural produce, including maize, onions, cabbages, spinach, soya beans and other vegetables, and cotton and tobacco.
The value of the 189 hectares of land now officially registered in the names of the farmers is worth more than R25.5 million.
Joy of title deeds
It brought me great joy and a great sense of relief when we finally received the title deeds and handed them over to the farmers.
The history of this land redistribution case is long, and the farmers' journey to become the successful farmers they are today was not easy.
The marquee in which we hosted the handover event on the farm, now officially owned by the farmers, overflowed with emotion as we all felt the pride and joy as we saw the vast amount of crops the farmers have been farming for years. They could finally fully taste the fruits of our democracy and of their years of labour.
President Cyril Ramaphosa was right when he commended the farmers for their resilience and determination, which is "an inspiration to us all".
"You have reminded us indeed that nothing is as full of victory as patience and that where there is unity, there is always victory. This land is this community's most valuable asset, and now it is officially yours. You will now be able to use it as security to secure loans to expand, to secure long-term supply contracts and to form partnerships with bigger commercial farmers," President Ramaphosa said.
That the president said this was his "best day in the office" brought a great sense of pride as the past year for us as a nation has been difficult as we navigated the Covid-19 pandemic and tried to save as many lives as possible while still keeping the economy and the work of land reform moving.
Policies that alleviate farmers' suffering
The land crisis is a phenomenon that has in recent years become a source of worry to agricultural productivity in our country. Since the land crisis can and in fact, aggravate poverty in our society, it is only reasonable that policymakers and administrators make policies that alleviate the suffering of farmers.
The plight of the Tafelkop farmers is proof that land is a critical asset. Without it, there can be no houses, food and other essentials. In short, without land, there is no life at all. The whole of existence is predicated upon the land.
The economies of all countries, no matter their level of development, depend on land.
No economies exist without the exploitation of land directly or indirectly in one form or another.
The Tafelkop farmers are an example that the path to food security leads from growth in agricultural production. More fully, the path is from agricultural production to increased farm incomes to reduced poverty to food security. It is the sequence that breaks the back of poverty and provides food security for most of the population, as seen in employing 128 permanent workers and about 320 seasonal workers and the supply of food products to markets across the country.
It is gratifying that the Tafelkop farmers intend to form partnerships with investors to expand market access and expand their output and offers.
This will enable them to make a more significant economic contribution to the region while expanding operations will also allow them to create more jobs in the region.
- Patricia de Lille is the Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure.
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