Why claimants should opt for land, not cash

Large tracts of land still remain in the hands of very few people.
Large tracts of land still remain in the hands of very few people.

Land ownership. A thorny subject that still divides South Africa, more than 22 years after the 1994 democratic dispensation. While government’s land reform and redistribution programmes had yielded some successes since 1994, large tracts of land still remain in the hands of very few people.

In his State Of the Nation Address earlier this month, President Jacob Zuma observed this phenomenon and moved to urge land claimants in South Africa to rather opt for land over financial compensation. SAnews reporter Bathandwa Mbola looks at the advantages of owning land as seen through a Limpopo community.

Hezekiel Nkosi was not born yet when the apartheid government forcibly removed his community from  78 000 hectares of land in  Marulaneng, just outside the tourism town of Hoedspruit in Limpopo.

From 1931, with a stroke of a pen, millions of South Africans lost their land including the Marulaneng community, when the then government introduced the Land Act.  The move led to dispossessions and loss of land, a trauma many South Africans are still battling with to this day.   

At the turn of democracy, government promised that these injustices would be addressed and had introduced land restitution programmes which saw thousands of land claims lodged.

For the Marulaneng community, their claims were gazetted in 2004 and the community has since to date reclaimed 7000 hectares, about 10 % of their land.

The farms are in the Central Lowveld nestled between the Kruger National Park and the Blyde River Canyon.

This made Nkosi’s community, which consists of 2017 households, the biggest owner of prime agricultural and eco-tourism land in this area with 27 farms.

Instead of opting for cash, the community kept the land and formed the Moletele Communal Property Association (CPA) which holds and manages the land on behalf of and for the benefit of its members.

Introduced in 1996, the Communal Property Associations Act 28 provides members with a simplified form of legal entity.  Their primary objective is to acquire, hold and manage land on behalf of and for the benefit of its members.

A total of 1483 CPAs have been registered since the passing of this Act, according to the Department of Land Reform.

However, the sad  part is that while most of the land that has been returned to the rightful owners, most prime agricultural land lies untilled across the country and in ruin, dead along with the jobs they once sustained.

Others who have formed CPA have been at loggerheads with  community members and traditional authorities.

But the Moletele CPA is different. Claimants and farmers are teaming up and the results are proof that they are flourishing. In fact, the CPA is shaping up as a model the rest of the country could learn from.

Making land work for them

Through the CPA, the community is making their land work for them.

The community has two joint ventures namely Dinaledi Farming Enterprise (Pty) Ltd and New Dawn Farming Enterprise (Pty) Ltd which produces and exports citrus like mangoes.

The turnover on all the farms is currently in the region of over R160 million per annum with 300 people permanently employed and 600 employed during seasonal harvesting and packaging periods. 

“This land feeds the community and is creating jobs,” said Nkosi, who juggles  his professional teaching job, together with his role as chairman for the CPA.

Nkosi says their success lies in teamwork, good planning, good communication as well as adherence to their five year plan which provides them with direction.

These are also complimented by the CPA’s management and council structure which he described as “complete community.”

It represents all the demographics of the community with 20 members of the council being elders while 17 executive members are youth. They also have representatives from the traditional council as well as those directly elected by the community.

“We are trying by all means to be inclusive and to cater for the different needs of the community. For example we have a segment that does livestock farming. We are also developing our youth through educating and training them in cash crop production.

“We also empower our women though our Tsoga Marulaneng (Raise up Marulaneng) were women were farming green papers.”

The association has generated interest from women and youth in the community who are keen to learn farming and agriculture.

Learning hub to transfer skills

As such, the CPA has introduced a learning hub were they will be providing people with the necessary skills.

“We are skilling them in agro-ecology were they will be producing organic foods which we have a huge market for. “

But Moletele CPA is not immune to challenges. Nkosi mentions traditional authority as the key challenge facing the association as he alleges that it “wants to destabilise, control and locate the land to their relatives and friends.”

Another challenge facing the community is the generational gap in the community.

“The older generation in the community wants to go and resettle in the land even though the land is not feasible as it hosts one of the CPA commercial farms… but we have been able to talk them out of it and show them the benefits of owning a commercial farm in terms of job creation.

Despite the challenges, the CPA is clear with its future plans.

 “If the traditional leadership doesn’t destabilise the community we will be one of the most successful and self-efficient communities.  For example we have plans to be major exporters of mango and citrus fruits in Hoedspruit.

“We have also started to venture into eco-tourism in some of our farms where we have built luxury tourist lodges. In addition to this, we have also identified a market in logistics - we cannot continue to rely on others to take our fruits to the harbour. Hence we want to be involved in the trucking business to save costs.”

The CPA’s future plans include being in charge of the whole value chain from the production to marketing.

“We have started giving learners from the community bursaries to go and further their education for the benefit of the CPA and its business ventures. We hope that as we grow as a company we will be able to pay them market related salaries to retain their skills so that we advance.”

During the State of the Nation Address, President Zuma said government would take an aggressive approach on land reform.

For the period 1994 to date, 4 850 100 hectares have been acquired through the land redistribution programme.

According to the Department of Land and Rural Development Minister Gugile Nkwinti, 1743 farms have benefited from the Recapitalisation and Development Programme from 2009 to date.

With respect to  the restitution programme, 3 389 727 hectares were restored from 1994 to end January 2017. Over 90% of the claimants settled for financial compensation.

Financial compensation amounting to R11.6 billion was paid out to land claimants who opted for this alternative for the same period.

Had these claimants opted for land to be restored, a further 2 772 457 hectares would have been restored.

Government is of the view that financial compensation does not help the process at all as it perpetuates dispossession and also undermines economic empowerment.-SAnews.gov.za