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‘Political will’, not ‘corruption will’, can accelerate land reform to benefit South Africa’s landless poor

Recent corruption reports (28/09/2015) against the Department of Rural Development & Land Reform in KwaZulu-Natal may be great news for land claimants with outstanding land claims, as it could explain the long delays in land transfer to claimants, and the department’s "lost file" rhetoric. Could we see accelerated land redistribution to the landless poor as a result of this uncovered corruption? Will those farms fraudulently transferred to certain people and recently seized by the Special Investigation Unit be immediately redistributed to the landless poor? What is going to happen to the recovered money from corrupt state officials in KZN? Will it be used to purchase more farms for the landless masses?

 

Corruption in the Department of Rural Development & Land Reform is not something new in KwaZulu-Natal: the Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA) has been documenting corruption in land reform for the past 10 years. It is always good news when corruption gets exposed, and some heads in the KwaZulu-Natal department (DRDLR) have rolled. Without naming and shaming particular individuals and districts, we are propelled to highlight the unintended outcomes of corruption in the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform in KwaZulu-Natal.

 

It is widely known that the DRDLR, due to various technical reasons, has been dragging its feet in settling outstanding land claims, lodged by 1998. It is unfortunate to learn that existing challenges within DRDLR are aggravated by fraudulent pecuniary actions on the part of corrupt officials who abuse their positions for self-enrichment.

 

In the spirit of redistributive land reform, an important pillar in South Africa’s liberation struggle, it is disheartening to witness fraudulent land ownership patterns emerging in South Africa’s rural areas, prompting us to ask: Who should be the beneficiaries of land reform in South Africa: the elite or poor landless people?

 

New24 has reported that R536 500 000 was fraudulently transferred as cash transfers and farm purchases from the KZN government provincial coffers, mainly handled by  DRDLR. It seems there has been a lot of energy invested in ensuring that these fraudulent activities take place as swiftly as possible, and this may have diverted the attention of involved officials from doing their job of redistributing land to the landless with extra care and sense of duty. More recently the DRDLR, with regards to KZN in particular, has admitted that some of the land claimant documentation has been lost or misplaced by officials at DRLR, in their response to a court order to produce a work-plan regarding outstanding labour tenant claims. Against this backdrop, the DRDLR must clean its reputation, to regain the trust of land claimants. The DRDLR can cleanse its name by applying the same energy in an accelerated land reform for the benefit of poor landless people in a short timeframe.

 

While some of the land has been (legitimately) purchased by highly politically connected individuals in KwaZulu-Natal and elsewhere, two farms owned by highly-connected individuals deserve attention, given the social relations these landowners have with former labour tenants (i.e. mainly blacks living on private farms they do not own). For example, Annidale farm outside Pietermaritzburg, owned by one Kevin Naicker, CEO of Aqua Transport and Plant Hire (Pty) Ltd recently (in February 2015) illegally evicted the former labour tenants whom he found on the property, as explained in an AFRA blog:

(Picture left: Raised houses on Annidale farm - picture courtesy of Afra)

 

When Naicker bought Annidale farm and illegally evicted the 55 families living there, demolishing their homes so that he could park his transport business vehicles, he erased generations of history. The families had been labour tenants, providing free labour to white farmers in return for land to live on and farm. Like so many vestiges of labour tenancy around the province, these families mark their place and their history by indicating ancient graves. All that now remains is the graves.

 

 

AFRA was approached by the people evicted from Annidale farm and tried to assist, and whilst doing so, one of the community activists there was shot dead on 25 August 2015 for reasons unknown to date. However, for now lets leave this matter of the assassination of a land activist, in our democracy, to ongoing police investigations. By invoking the fact that Annidale farm is owned by highly politically connected entrepreneurs, I am drawing the attention of the reader to missed opportunities by highly politically connected individuals to do their part in an accelerated land reform for poor landless people, instead of buying up farms for private use and self-enrichment. It seems money is there, but not put in progressive use in light of redistributive land reform by highly politically connected entrepreneurs owning farms privately.

 

On another farm owned by another highly politically-connected business tycoon, Roy Moodley, outside Mooi River, KZN Midlands, protest action by the Landless Peoples Movement (see photo right, courtesy of Tsihintsha Amakhaya) has recently been making headlines, due to farm workers’ grievances about ill-treatment and the illegal impounding of livestock belonging to neighbouring communities. Since these issues have still not been resolved, a further march is scheduled for 7 October 2015 in Mooi River. Again, the highly politically-connected have missed a great opportunity to accelerate land reform for landless people. Given the resources that the mentioned highly politically connected individuals have at their disposal, it is highly possible that they can make a swift turnaround in an accelerated land reform for the poor rural masses in light of appalling poverty rates for many municipalities in KZN itself.

 

Much the same can be said about DRDLR officials who have already been found guilty of corruption and fraud – they have missed a great opportunity to be in service for the landless poor. But that can change, immediately, if the DRDLR is serious about regaining its trust from land claimants. With political will the DRDLR, and highly politically connected entrepreneurs can make a swift turnaround, and do what they can for an accelerated land reform for the benefit of the landless poor in a shorter time-frame than perceived. Across the country, the same principles can be applied. In much broader political terms there is an open challenge to the likes of Cyril Ramaphosa who owns private farms to redistribute those private properties to the landless masses. Much the same can be said about government officials, not limited to the DRDLR, and corruption for that matter, to let go of the land for the benefit of the landless poor, who can be identified based on certain criteria.

 

The DRDLR has lost a great deal of reputation more recently, including at the Communal Land Tenure Indaba held in Johannesburg on 29-30 May 2015. The recent corruption exposé further withers away the reputation of the DRDLR amongst the landless masses. A clear radical, long overdue, strategy in accelerating land reform for the benefit of the landless poor by the same department will perhaps rescue it from itself. Perhaps the best way to do this at this stage could be to redistribute the confiscated farms to rightful beneficiaries, the landless poor. Furthermore it is advisable that the recovered money from corrupted officials to be used immediately to purchase farms for the landless poor.

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