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Communities stuck in land ownership battle with govt

The communities locked in a stalemate with government over the transfer of title deeds and whose land comprises almost 12 000 hectares, fall under the Certain Rural Areas Act of 1998. This means their land is held in trust by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti.

None of the 4 000 residents in these areas hold individual title deeds for their residential plots. 

The Enon and Bersheba community forms one of 23 such rural areas spread across four provinces where land is held on a communal basis by that area’s residents. These areas were also called “coloured rural areas”. After going through a land claim process, a referendum conducted by the Independent Electoral Commission took place in Bersheba in 2011 to establish the form of ownership that the community preferred out of three options; namely a trust, a communal property association or a municipality.

“People chose the communal property association [CPA],” says community member Mxolisi Matomela. “The process that was supposed to follow after that was the registration of the CPA and the transfer of the land. The CPA has been registered but the department of rural development and land reform is ducking and diving when the land is supposed to be transferred.”

Community members say they last met the department of rural development on August 6 and the department was insisting on the community’s acceptance of its development proposal. The proposal aims to have the Shamwari Game Reserve, the Sundays River Citrus Corporation and the Habata Boerdery (a mixed farming entity) come in as strategic partners on the land.  The department could not be reached for comment. “We want to do business on our own terms, not have the government come in and dictate business on our land,” says Matomela. “This is where the stalemate is.”

In terms of agricultural production and business output, Matomela says the land is lying dormant at this stage. “They don’t want to give us a title deed, so it becomes impossible for us to make any plans without a title deed. The way they have been insisting on bringing these partners suggests that there could be a vested interest. For one, it’s not clear to us in the proposals that they gave to us how the profits will be shared. We’ve told the minister that we want title deeds before any development takes place, but they are refusing to give any time frames on the transfer.”

A draft development plan presented by Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom in August 2013 proposes the establishment of an Enon – Bersheba development forum, a commercial arm of the CPA. This is to drive a six-pronged development plan including livestock farming, a food security programme and a community learning centre. In the national land summit of 2005, the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy was one of the measures touted as being able to ensure that “land and agrarian reform moves to the new trajectory that will contribute to the higher path of growth, employment and equity by 2014”. 

According to department of land reform and rural development, then called the department of land affairs, documents outlining its implementation framework, its focus was to be on the state as the “lead driver in land redistribution rather than the current beneficiary-driven redistribution”. Among its aims were “to ensure that the DLA [department of land reform] can acquire land in the nodal areas and in the identified agricultural corridors and other areas of high agricultural potential”. It targets “groups that live in communal areas”.

Ruth Hall of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies writes that since 2011, the “Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy has become the only route through which the state is redistributing land. This is now based on the state’s buying up land and retaining ownership of it, leasing rather than transferring it to beneficiaries”. 

According to the paper, “Eligibility is broad and unclear, yet new insistence on ‘production discipline’ suggests that those with the resources to continue commercial farming operations will be prioritised, and that the state will evict its beneficiary tenants unable to do so.”

The Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy, it states, “gives far-reaching discretionary powers to officials of the renamed and redefined department to purchase land directly, rather than disburse grants to enable beneficiaries to buy land for themselves.

“Officials may determine which land should be acquired by the state, whether it should be transferred or leased, and if so, to whom and on what terms. A key feature of the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy is the provision of state land on leasehold, ostensibly on a trial basis pending an assessment that could pave the way towards a later “second” transfer of ownership to beneficiaries.”

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform did not respond to written questions on this issue.

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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