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‘13 years after first expropriation case, NC dept has still not transferred the land’

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NC dept ‘has doggedly refused to transfer’ expropriated land.

File image. Picture: Bongani Mbatha/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

THE NORTHERN Cape Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, Rural Development, Environment and Nature Conservation has declined to comment on allegations that 13 years after the country’s first case of land expropriation for restitution, the Pniel farm has still not been transferred to the “rightful beneficiaries”.

Provincial DA spokesperson on Agriculture, Land Reform, Rural Development, Environment and Nature Conservation, Reinette Liebenberg, pointed out in a statement this week that the debate on land expropriation without compensation continued.

“It has come to light that almost 13 years after the country’s first case of land expropriation for restitution purposes took place, the department has failed to transfer the Pniel farm, situated between Kimberley and Barkly West, to the rightful beneficiaries thereof, namely the Pniel land claimants for whose benefit the government said, at the time, it was being expropriated for.”

The land claim was first instituted under the Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994 in 1997 by more than 100 people who themselves, or whose parents and grandparents, had been forcefully removed from Pniel between 1944 and 1970 under spacial apartheid legislation.

“The claim was gazetted as a valid claim by the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights in 2002 and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Africa, to whom it belonged, intimated they were prepared to sell the farm to government for the benefit of the Pniel Claimant Community. Disagreement over the price at the time, however, resulted in government flexing its muscles and expropriating the farm, which then became the first expropriation of land for restitution and redistribution in South Africa.”

Liebenberg stated that an amount of more than R64 million was paid to the church for the land which the government at the time said was to be transferred to the Pniel Claimant Community.

“Contrary to this, the department has doggedly refused to transfer the land and has gone to great lengths to place restrictions on the economic activities that the CPA (communal property association) can conduct on the farm. 

“The department has also harassed them with a court case which has as yet not been resolved despite the department, through its representatives, having indicated more than a year ago that settlement proposals put forward by the CPA were provisionally acceptable. 

“The farm has also been packed with people who do not qualify to be claimants under the Land Rights Act, resulting in tension and litigation between these people and the legitimate landowners.”

Liebenberg added that the department had gone so far as to advise the CPA in writing “that it considers the land to be state land and that the CPA has no right to let out portions thereof and arrogates to itself the right to rent and does not account to for, or share, the rentals received with the CPA”.

“Even with all the restrictions, the CPA has tackled and successfully carried out commercial activities on the property in the face of fierce opposition from the department and has managed to pay out dividends to the beneficiaries whereas the department has given the claimants little financial assistance,” Liebenberg said.

“This unjustifiable delay in passing ownership has been devastating for the CPA and its 100 beneficiaries and the DA considers it a scandal that makes a mockery of the land restitution process and the government’s commitment to the redistribution of land.”

She pointed out that currently the rightful beneficiaries of Pniel could only dream of becoming the proud owners of the land, with all its financial benefits and obligations.

“The DA submitted a letter to the department earlier this year to enquire, inter alia, on the way forward regarding the transfer of Pniel farm to its claimants but to date, just like with all other enquiries sent to them, the DA has received no reply, which indicates that the department has no intention of transferring the property any time soon. In the meantime, those members of the claimant community, who were there when the removals took place in the mid 1940s and 1960s, are passing away and their great dream of returning to and owning their own land remains just that – an unfulfilled dream.”

The party indicated that it would again address a letter to the premier and MEC Mase Manopole requesting their intervention.

“We cannot allow the department to continue dragging their feet. The land was expropriated for the people not the departmental officials.

“The Pniel scenario provides a glimpse of what is in store for the country if the ANC succeeds in amending Section 25 of the Constitution – millions of hectares of currently productive land lying fallow and those to whom it is supposed to go being forgotten for another generation or two.”

The spokesperson for the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, Rural Development, Environment and Nature Conservation, Luphahla Zandisile, said the department had “no comment” on the statement by the DA.