Thursday, February 4, 2010

Squandering productive farmland

The South African land redistribution programme, developed in 1994, is part of a government plan to hand 30 percent of all agricultural land to the black majority by the year 2014.

Apart from redistribution, which enables blacks to secure loans to buy or lease land from the government, the land reform programme also includes restitution (state sanctioned theft), by which black communities recover ancestral land.

Critics say the government has dragged its feet on giving land back to blacks, while others say the programme has been poorly implemented, with the government failing to provide adequate support to new farmers once they are allocated land.

Since implementation of the land redistribution programme, thousands of previously well-managed farms have been transformed into unproductive, squatter camps. An additional source of distress is the fact that farm attacks in South Africa are 7 times higher than any other country in the world. This fact classifies ‘farming’ in South Africa as one of the most dangerous professions in the world.

Goodbye Mogalakwena!

As previously reported on this blog, I was deeply saddened to hear that the land of my ancestors had also become the subject of an ‘ancestral’ land claim dispute. My white ancestors, who have been living on a farm bordering the Mogalakwena river in the Mogalakwena district of the Limpopo Province for approximately 78 years, arrived there when the land was uncultivated and uninhabited (deserted).

My mother, the oldest of five children, was born on the farm in the year 1935, during a period when the country was experiencing much hardship, political upheavals, and severe drought, --- but despite all this, she can still recall vague memories of a black family who lived in mud huts on a plot of land near the farmhouse. She cannot recall whether they, or any of their ancestors had any claim to the land, or not, because such matters were never an issue in her lifetime, and neither could she foresee that it would ever become one. She can clearly recall how she and all the other people (black and white) living on the farm, worked together to keep the pot cooking, while her father (the owner of the farm and head of the family) was spending time in prison.

Back then my granddad (born in March 1910), was a young commander in the Ossewa-brandwag (The Ox-wagon Sentinels), an organization who firmly believed that a victorious Germany would assist in the establishment of an Afrikaner republic. He was arrested in 1942 with hundreds of other members. One of his fellow prisoners was Mr. B.J. Vorster, who later became Prime Minister and then State President of South Africa. I never had the honour of meeting my granddad, as he passed away on 14 February 1960, at the young age of 49, two months before I was born.

(According to modern-day standards and values, the Ossewa-brandwag would have been classified as a typical terrorist organization. They manufactured hand grenades from water pipes, and accumulated arms and ammunition; committed acts of sabotage and arson in the name of a National Socialist South Africa.)

After my granddad’s death, ownership and responsibility of the farm automatically went to his eldest son (my uncle), who became a great and wonderful mentor in my life. I can recall many adventures from my early days on that serene bushveld-farm, where I learned the fine art of shooting, hunting, fishing, and gazing at the awesome beauty of the night sky, miles away from city lights.

As the farm slowly developed over the years into a thriving business, the number of blacks in the area progressively increased. Where these people came from remains a mystery to this day, --- but it was obvious that the flourishing farm was attracting them like a magnet. My uncle could only help an x amount of people at a time with work, but their continues harassment and begging for work, food, financial loans to support a new baby, help the sick, bury their dead and so forth, --- coupled with increasing incidents of stock-theft, burglary, and game-poaching on the farm, eventually took its toil on his health.

His eldest son (my cousin) was tasked with the responsibility of managing the farm, but the young chap, who had just arrived from a 2-year stint on the border, fighting black terrorists and other Marxist-Communists, took the stance of zero tolerance when it came to squatters, thieves, and lazy people.

Then one day out of the blue yonder, two elderly black folk arrived on the farm, accompanied by a black chap wearing a tie and suit. “The land belonged to our ancestors,” they claimed. Old Phinias, who had been living in the area for more than 80 years, was just as stunned as the rest of us. To date, the dispute has not been resolved yet. Only time will tell what will finally happen.

In January 2004, Dr Philip Du Toit, an attorney and specialist on land reform and labour law, published a book “The Great South African Land Scandal,” (see extracts from this book further down in this posting).

Dr Du Toit’s excellent book deals with a number of issues regarding land reform in South Africa. Real live examples of government prejudice, and the narrow-mindedness of government officials while dealing with land claim transactions are examined. Some of the details are truly shocking!


By Dr. Philip Du Toit


Chapter 1: The Letsitele Valley

Everything which could be stolen has already been taken, and nothing is going on. There seems little concern by the powers that be about the waste of taxpayers’ money for this purchase. The only move the government has apparently made is to employ security guards to protect what remains from further vandalization.

Chapter 2: Botshabelo

Just 12 kilometres north of the Mpumalanga town of Middelburg is an historical gem which appears to be little known to many South Africans. It is now the subject of a land claim, a claim by people whose forefathers were given succour by missionaries in the nineteenth century and who are now demanding the very land to which their ancestors fled and which fostered them in their time of need.

Chapter 3: Vryheid, KZN

In the context of South African history, land and its possession gave rise to the ebb and flow of power, struggle and victory. But today’s battle is about food, its production and the ultimate survival of 45 million South African people. These people depend on South Africa’s commercial farmers for their daily bread. We are talking about an assault on South African agriculture, where the number of commercial farmers has decreased from 70,000 to less than 35,000 over the past thirty years. We are talking about future famine in South Africa if this assault on agricultural stability is not stopped in its tracks.

Chapter 4: The Eastern Cape

As in the rest of South Africa, there is no end of examples of farm handovers in this province which have failed. We need only mention a few. Farms Deeside, Drummond, Spes Bona, Ensam, Kanuna, Mt. Hopley and Poplar Grove were all sheep and cattle farms in the Queenstown area. They have now become squatter camps. Some pit toilets have been built. The residents overgraze the land, and their cattle are dying because of this and the drought.

Chapter 5: Kranskop

Kranskop farmer Günther Gathmann has lost a total of four members of his family to farm murders. His brother Walter was killed three years ago, a second attempt on his life. His aunt, his cousin and his uncle were all victims of a pandemic which places South African farmers as the world’s most murdered group, outside of a war.

Chapter 6: The Dunns of Natal

Of all the provinces in South Africa, KwaZulu/Natal is the most shocking in the ferocity of its antagonisms. The evil which now permeates the rural areas is pernicious and seemingly inexorable. Land invasions, intimidation, murder, theft, arson, rape and assaults – these are the hallmarks of a province which seems to be out of control. Ms. Pat Dunn, descendant of nineteenth century British settler John Dunn (who married several Zulu wives) is a victim of just about every “gross violation of human rights” which Amnesty International defines. She told our researcher she had written to Chief Gatsha Buthelezi to complain about the behaviour of his people, where youngsters are adrift in a sea of disrespect for life and property, and where tribal warlords kill and intimidate at will, with little chance of conviction and incarceration.

Chapter 7: Levubu, Limpopo

On September 27 2003, Levubu farmer Piet de Jager (65) was gunned down in front of his house, within earshot of his wife and two grandchildren. As he stumbled towards his front door, wounded and trying to warn his wife, she managed to lock the doors and press the panic button. His is not the first farm murder in the area. While de Jager’s son tried to revive his father with mouth to mouth resuscitation, the police stood around asking him for a statement. He suggested to them they close off farm roads to catch the killers, but they simply walked away.

This killing sent a shock wave through the community. In 2003, seven farmers in the area were murdered, while crime increased 400% in one year. To her credit, the MEC for Safety and Security Ms. Dikaledi Magadzi quickly ordered the removal of the officer commanding the local police station.

Chapter 8: Eastern Transvaal (Mpumalanga)

Of all the provinces, Mpumalanga on the eastern side of South Africa, is the subject of the greatest number of land claims. Since 1994, it has become a place of friction and antagonism, perhaps exacerbated by an earlier struggle for land than in other areas of the country.

Chapter 9: Limpopo

It didn’t take long for the corruption, theft and maladministration to set in. By 2001, the estate (Zebediela Citrus Estate) was in ruins. The original 2 260 hectares planted had been reduced to 800 hectares. Because no fertilizers and pesticides were used, more than half the trees died as a result of the Department of Agriculture’s failure to grant funds for the survival of the project. Only ten per cent of yields could be marketed.

Chapter 10: Western Cape

The story of these failed farms is beginning to sound like a scratched and annoying ancient record. As with so many other failed projects, a combination of poor management, ludicrous expectations and the Department of Land Affairs’ lack of serious follow up has resulted in an expensive failure for the taxpayers, loss of agricultural production and export currency, loss of taxation to the South African fiscus and a ruined farm which may never be resuscitated.

Chapter 11: Northern Cape

The Khomani San people of the Northern Cape are stumbling under the complexities of owning thousands of hectares of land they cannot manage. Their current travails are about land they received under a claim they made for six farms totaling 36 000 ha in 1999 near the Kgalagadi National Park in the Northern Cape. In addition to this, they were given another 25 000 ha of the park itself in 2002. During the handing over ceremony, Minister of Land Affairs Ms. Thoko Didiza hailed the second handover of land to the Khomani San people as an example of how a community “can claim its heritage”.

Chapter 12: The North West

The land reform and restitution process plays out in North West as it does in the other South African provinces. We were regaled with the same tales of stock and crop theft, intimidation, vandalism and even murder.

Chapter 13: Gauteng

Farming with Squatters
An interesting phenomenon has manifested itself east of Pretoria. The farm Kleinsonderhout between Bapsfontein and Bronkhorstspruit was sold by a white farmer to a black gentleman who now “farms” squatters. There are now more than 2 000 people on this once-productive farm, each paying rent to the new owner. There is no sewage, no potable water, no electricity. Naturally, the residents are stealing from the neighbouring farms. Now the squatters are demanding “services”, although they are 28 km from Bronkhorstspruit.

Chapter 14: KwaZulu-Natal

We have dealt with Vryheid and Kranskop and the Dunns of Northern Natal as separate chapters, which says much for the province of KwaZulu/Natal as a contentious region where four of South Africa’s peoples – the Zulus, the whites, the coloureds and the Indians live side by side in the cities, but share an uneasy truce in the rural countryside.

As with the other provinces, we have collected scores of stories and anecdotes and have made so many personal connections with people involved in a thwarted and skewed land restitution and handover process that this book could go on forever.

Chapter 15: The Road To Poverty

Many aspects of life in South Africa have a direct bearing on successful agricultural production. Some are out of our hands – the weather, world commodity prices and falling and ascending markets of particular products, to name a few. In our previous chapters we have brought to the reader’s attention the patent failure of some of the most crucial aspects of the South African government’s land reform program. In this chapter we focus on further alarming trends which could have a serious effect on the continuation of productive farming in this country, given that farming is currently successful under the most trying of circumstances.

Chapter 16: Slaughter: The Farm Murder Plague

Clearly, robbery is not the main motive for farm attacks, and our research shows that farmers feel this to be so. “They want to drive us from our land” we heard continuously. The additional problems of intimidation, crop and stock theft, illegal squatting and expropriation legislation all point to this being a fact.

Chapter 17 – Conclusion

Black workers on white-owned farms are worried that farm take-overs will threaten their livelihoods. Among white farmers, there is a growing feeling the government has finally decided to run roughshod over their interests. In terms of the latest amendments to the country’s constitution, the state can legally take over any property at a compensation to be determined by itself and at a price that cannot be challenged by arbitration or in court.

The print version of this excellent book, which was first published in January 2004, seems to be in short supply, but a free online version is available for viewing at the following blog site:

Dr. Philip Du Toit

Published by Legacy Publications
Private Bag X 122

ISBN NO. 0-620-31684-5

Related Posts:

25 Jan 2009 -
Wanted in the Congo – South African Farmers

23 Feb 2009 -
Beware of the Congo

21 April 2009 - The irresistible urge to go farming

17 July 2009 -
Hunter kills 3 buck with 1 shot

12 Aug 2009 - Limpopo Province – A heritage under siege

20 Oct 2009 -
South Africa farmers sign Congo farmland deal

4 Nov 2009 - Adam the farmer


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