The Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development and the Ministry met in a virtual setting for a briefing by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) on the release and allocation of state land to applicants. The Committee heard that instructions were issued to the team to establish vacant and underutilised farms so the Department adopted a five-step approach: 1. desktop spatial analysis; 2. outsourced physical verification; 3. desktop agricultural potential analysis; 4. verification of land restitution claims; and 5. final verification utilising local departmental knowledge.
The Department reported that teams had been established to see the project to completion and currently the DALRRD was capturing applicant forms into online sources recording that 135 117 hectares of state-owned land was released. The Committee heard that there were various changes and challenges to the project such as; timeframes for completion being postponed, capacity constraints in verification processes, duplicate applications processed across departments and failing to meet targets for equitable access for people with disabilities. The Department acknowledged these constraints and informed the Committee that it was planning to find ways to offer support to counter these challenges. The Committee was pleased to hear that national, provincial and district departments, the premier, municipalities and members of society were all included in collaborative meetings and structures used to process applications. Members asked how the Department conceptualised the project, how many jobs were created and whether the Department felt it had met the project goals. They asked further what indicators the Committee should be aware of to mark progress towards these goals going forward.
Members noted that the State Land Allocation Project, while progressing, was failing to meet and had postponed some of their project goals. Members asked for definitions of the terms ‘vacant’ and ‘underutilised’. It was explained to the Committee that to define vacant and underutilised land the DALRRD gathered data from officials in Agriculture. If a farm was situated on suitable terrain, though no farming occurred, based on a satellite analysis, then the land would be regarded as underutilised. ‘Vacant’ refers to a farm where the terrain is unusable and consequently no farming takes place. The Department explained further that underutilised land occurs when the land exceeds the capacity or the owners do not know how to tend to the land. In instances of the former, the Department will subdivide the land where possible.
Concerns were raised about outsourcing contractors while Departments were understaffed, the exclusion of certain provinces from allocations and provincial department’s incapacity to provide leases. On farmers without leases since 2016, Members heard that this was due to part of the allocated land falling under occupation by other farmers. Leases signed in 2016 were based on the 2013 policy which carried over the problems from the previous policy. Leases were now at 1% of the value of the property in 2019 to allow greater freehold tenure for farmers. This has created a backlog in allocations as well as mismanagement. The process of signing leases for farmers was under way. In terms of the exclusion of certain provinces Members heard that the Western Cape Provinces were excluded from the data set due to the Eastern Cape not having done allocations at the pre-advertisement stage, the Western Cape did not fall under the previous homelands and the Northern Cape was omitted as land allocations did not occur within the original timeframe. Applications within the Northern Cape have reopened, hence the deferred closing date.
The Minister clarified that the 700 000 hectares of state-owned land that government availed formed part of the money in the South African Development Trust prior to 1994 for homeland redistribution. Many other plots of land have been made available by the President for projects in other departments or not concerning restitution of productive agricultural land. The Department informed Members that they have been working with the provinces to ensure alignment in administering projects and to support beneficiaries, especially the target groups.
Opening remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson welcomed the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to a meeting on the release and allocation of state land to applicants. Due to it being World AIDS Day, he urged South African activists and members of the public with HIV/AIDS to persist to fight the stigma and promote access to treatment. He wished that the souls of the deceased due to HIV/AIDS and the COVID-19 pandemic rest in peace.
Ms Thoko Didiza, Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, thanked the Committee for the opportunity for a progress update by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD). The President previously announced that government would release 700 000 hectares of state-owned land as a contribution towards land reform. In February, the Department released some of the land to beneficiaries. In October, the DALRRD opened applications for candidates who were interested and met the requirements.
The meeting concerned the number of digital and in-person applications received and plans for processes of land allocation going forward. She highlighted that the land in question constituted land from the South African Development Trust (SADT). Some of the land was earmarked for release by previous ‘homelands’ and other plots that were allocated to people but was not supported by administrative processes after leases had lapsed.
The Minister explained that the processes regarded regulating and allocating occupied land. The Department plans to conduct a land enquiry to assess locating people, the terms of occupation and utilisation of the land to allow the allocation to occur. This will provide beneficiaries with a form of tenure that will allow them to use the land productively. Where applicants have resided on land for up to 30 years, Cabinet will be involved in the regulating procedures.
The Department decided to delegate a team of officials to drive the processes to complete allocations and training for potential beneficiaries. The DALRRD plans to begin the process with allocating unencumbered land then concerns expressed in the Land Enquiry report. The Department created structures to deal with the appeals processes.
Agricultural State Land Allocation Project
Mr Terries Ndove, Deputy Director General (DDG): Land Distribution and Development, DALRRD, presented on areas requiring focus during the allocation processes. The State Land Lease and Disposal Policy is the key policy that underpins the release and disposal of the state land, and later elements of the draft National Policy on Beneficiary Selection and Land Allocation were incorporated. The policy functions to protect and provide equitable access to land for qualifying previously disadvantaged citizens, particularly women, youth and persons with disabilities.
Timeframes for Completion of State Allocation
The application process began on 15 October and was extended to 20 November 2020 after a drastic increase in applications and the need to provide fair procedures to all applicants. The Application system used was both electronic and manual, however all manual forms must ultimately be captured into the same system so that there is only one database. This new method was inspired by previous challenges in data management that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted which hindered credibility.
Forms are currently being captured by the team and the Department aims to complete this process by 7 December 2020. 16005 manual submissions were made while 20 848 applications were made digitally. The Department then plans to start the validation and confirmation of applications received on 9 December. The District Beneficiary Screening Committees (DBSC) will convene to validate the applications. The DBSC will screen beneficiaries against mandatory and eligibility criteria, including valid ID and PERSAL documents.
On 4 January 2021, asset verification procedures at a district level were done where shortlisted applicants will be assessed. Interviews will occur on 14 January by the DBSC. The Provincial Technical Committees (PTC) will handle matters concerning quality assurance, compliance and recommendation. Where the PTC supports the recommendation, it will be referred to the National Selection and Approval Committee (NSAC). In other circumstances it will be returned to the DBSC for review.
The structures responsible for these procedures will consist of committees, officials and relevant stakeholders. Stakeholders will contribute as observers or be directly involved in processes to ensure fairness, credibility and transparency. The Dispute Resolution Committee (DRC) has begun with mitigating and mediating disputes concerning land and land invasions. The Land Rights Enquiry Committee functions to record publicize and protect the rights of beneficiaries. The Land Allocation Appeals Committee will be a completely independent process that handles referred appeals of land allocation.
Approach and Methods Used to Identify Farms
Adv Vela Mngwengwe, Acting DDG: Land Tenure and Administration, DALRRD, explained that in August 2018, instructions were issued to the team to establish vacant and underutilised farms. The Department adopted a five-step approach: 1. desktop spatial analysis; 2. outsourced physical verification; 3. desktop agricultural potential analysis; 4. verification of land restitution claims; and 5. final verification utilising local departmental knowledge
1. Desktop Spatial Analysis
The spatial analysis included rural agricultural land administered by national and provincial government, municipalities and state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Spatial data sets were identified and sourced to define vacant and underutilised land. Data sets were also used to map out agricultural state land and a GIS analysis. Mr Ndove detailed the parameters established by the Department to determine vacant and underutilized land based on issues surrounding ownership, conservation and arability of the farm. The DALRRD decided to only consider farmlands 50 hectares or bigger.
The team encountered challenges such as properties where the deeds and surveyor general data are not linked causing issues regarding registration. Properties that did not display a link between deeds and surveyor general data were excluded from consideration during the desktop spatial analysis. Municipal and SOE properties that required extensive physical verification were excluded from this analysis. Properties utilised by the South African National Defence Force were also later identified and excluded.
2. Physical Verification
Physical verification required the outsourcing of contractors to determine the authenticable physical circumstances of the farms. Contractors conducted field visits took place from 11 February – 31 May 2019.
3. Desktop Agricultural Potential Analysis
The team sought to determine the capability and potential of farms through mapping with help from officials in agriculture. This analysis was used to make recommendations on whether the farm can be used for agricultural purposes and if so, would it be commercial or subsistence.
4. Verification of Land Distribution Claims
The DALRRD used this verification to exclude claimed properties from those available for land distribution. Availability for redistribution was determined through land claim lists. Land available for redistribution had no claim or was settled claims that had been dismissed or requested funding.
5. Final Verification Utilising Local Department Knowledge
The Department approached provincial departments to verified property lists based on local knowledge and circumstances. Properties with existing leases or leases being processed on them were identified as well as farms with existing agricultural activities occurring. Many farms were identified as “occupied” which reinforced the need for a Land Rights Enquiry process.
The Committee previously asked the Department for a report on ownership, land acquisition and land-use which Adv Mgwengwe presented on. The farms considered were administered by former homelands or from transit from the SADT to the former homelands. On account of this, registration dates ranged from 1925-2019. Registrations under the latter date were due to the registration of unalienated state land, subdivisions and consolidations in recent times found in surveys.
Capacity Requirements to Administer Leases
The DALRRD does not have the capacity to administer leases due to the substantial growth since 2009 after the abolition of grants of freehold tenure to beneficiaries. The economic status of the country does not support the Department in increasing capacity. The Department anticipates the reintroduction of freehold tenure grants to mitigate this problem. Land will be prioritised to beneficiaries who have freehold tenure and the capacity to utilise the land.
135 117 hectares of farmlands were released across the provinces and allocated to women, youth and people with disabilities who were already in occupation. The Department is working towards availing more land for allocation to these target groups, especially people with disabilities.
The Department has sent agricultural engineers to farms to assess infrastructure and development to determine their productivity or the financial support required. These assessment values will determine the required budget that must be worked into the 2021/22 financial year.
Ms M Tlhape (ANC) thanked the Department for the presentation, though she said it was just the start of many necessary progress briefings to come. On digital and manual applications, she asked whether the Department oversubscribed the amount of applications compared to the available hectares of land. ‘What does the Department plan to do in this event’?
On vacant and underutilised farmlands, Ms Tlhape said if the Department should consider the reasons for underutilisation. Where grants have been revoked, often people who have been resituated or reallocated land are without assistance that would allow them to recapitalise. She asked the Department for their input on situations like the one she exemplified.
She asked what it would take to give provinces and Communal Property Associations (CPAs) to have the capacity to monitor and provide leases. She questioned whether this could be due to staff shortages or Information and Technology Services (ICTS) inaccessibility.
Mr N Capa (ANC) asked for clarity on what the Department plans to do where a person in the rural communities, with large herds of livestock that feed from scarce communal grazing farms. He further asked for clarity on the terms ‘vacant’ and ‘underutilised’. ‘Are there any indications that progress is happening to optimise the utilisation of this land which is a longstanding problem’?
Mr Capa felt it important that the DALRRD find a way to prioritise the specific target groups. He said farmworkers, farm dwellers and labour tenants are the most vulnerable targets who may be exploited by farmers through a master/slave relationship. On the interview process, he asked when it would be concluded as it was omitted from the timeframes.
He asked the Department what their reason was for excluding the Western Cape, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape from the approach and methods of identifying farms.
Ms A Steyn (DA) thanked the Department for the presentations on the progress of State Land Allocation. She expressed that farmers in the Western Cape, Gauteng and Mpumalanga have been on the land for years, though have received letters to vacate in the past year. She indicated that some farmers received leases already. This is a problem as other farmers have not received new or valid leases since 2016. ‘What is the progress on issuing and renewing of leases for these farmers’?
On the reintroduction of freehold, Ms Steyn requested a specific framework of the processes of managing and issuing leases. She felt concern due to the Department expressing its lack of capacity in this regard. Circumstances such as these, feed back into the problem of certain farmers having leases that are no longer valid. She asked if farmers would be able to purchase the farm during freehold and if the price would correlate with the area prices or a reduced price for farmers.
She asked for a definition for vacant or partially-vacant land from the DALRRD. She expressed concern regarding outsourcing workers, while some officials opted to not work during the COVID-19 period. She asked to whom the work was outsourced.
Ms Steyn asked who the screening committees are made up of as it was reported to her that there were not standardised criteria for applicants, even in similar circumstances. She further requested to find out who sits on the Appeal Committee. On issues of budget allocation, she asked if there are any indicators of the budget required to ensure that it can be made available for farmers in 2021/22.
Ms N Mahlo (ANC) asked questions regarding applications received for verification on 9 December 2020 and the interviews conducted on 14 January 2021. She felt that many South Africans will not meet the requirements for applicants. She asked what the Department is doing for black South Africans who do not have the required documents to be successful in their applications. Certain required certificates are unfeasible for people in rural communities.
Ms Mahlo experienced connectivity issues before expressing her second concern.
Ms T Breedt (FF+) asked, regarding the digital data-base, who implemented the programme and whether it was outsourced. She also asked what the costs were and whether it could be applicable to other data-bases. Where data-bases are linked, it could help to mitigate administrative confusion that spreadsheets created loopholes for and to monitor that the beneficiaries receive their land. She asked whether there were figures available to indicate the number of repeated applications processed, comparing online to manual.
Ms Breedt expressed concern about what would happen in instances where the requests exceed the available farms. She asked if the Department had plans to acquire more land. She also reiterated Ms Steyn’s concern regarding the lease structure, stating that it should move towards providing title deeds and ownership rights. On appeals, she asked when the opening dates are, how the processes would work and the timeframes that the DALRRD plans to work within.
On staff shortages, Ms Breedt said this created room for bribes and corruption at lower levels of office. She asked how the Department aims to deal with these situations to ensure they do not create irregularities or bias during application processes. She suggested that the different structures should have means to consolidate with one another to get more departmental staff involved. ‘Why has the Department not allocated any State land to the Western Cape and Gauteng for redistribution’?
Ms T Mbabama (DA) said that farms have been duplicated in the allocation process across different programs. She asked for an explanation for this. On a ground level, this creates anxiety around the future of the farms for farm workers. She also requested a definition of ‘vacant’ and ‘partially-vacant’. In the future, she hopes for periodical reports to learn from previous programmes and training. ‘How will the DALRRD ensure that previous challenges do not recur, namely issues such as corruption’?
Ms K Mahlatsi (ANC) asked whether the new or national beneficiary selection policy reflects both policies or will they run concurrently. She appreciated that 58% of the farms were allocated to women, though she felt concerned for people with disabilities not receiving their target allocations. She asked the DALRRD what type of support will be offered to beneficiaries, in light of the government’s financial constraints. She asked if it would consist of accredited training.
On selection processes, she asked if the Department at a national and district level could handle the capacity of applications coming in. She further asked why the Western Cape and Gauteng provinces are not having work done within them currently. On desktop special analysis, she asked how accurate these processes were and what the consultation processes were with provinces and districts for farm assistance. ‘How does the Department plan to run these programmes if there is no capacity in provinces to distribute leases’? She felt concerned that a monopoly could arise where only the privileged or wealthy could have access to these farms.
Mr N Masipa (DA) asked, concerning capacity constraints, why the DALRRD has not used the available resources in provincial departments to enhance or speed up these processes. Land Reform and Agriculture Departments must work together to ensure the smooth functioning of the DALRRD. He asked what is the function of the previous Land Reform and Rural Development structures within the Department after providing farms to applicants in need. The previous structures are often unaware of issues of infrastructure and productivity surrounding these farms when confronted by the current Committee.
The Chairperson asked for clarity as to whether the 400 000 hectares of land that the President disposed of formed part of the overall 700 000 hectares of land for the Agricultural State Land Allocation project. He also asked if the 546 000 hectares of land that the Minister proclaimed to the public as open for application constituted part of the 700 000 hectares of land. ‘Out of the 14 000 hectares encumbered farm units, how many of these are farms and where are they located’? The Chairperson asked the Department to define ‘encumbered farms’ in the context of the State Owned Land Allocation Project.
The Project’s goals are to create economic growth through producing jobs and reducing poverty and inequality. The Chairperson asked how the Department conceptualised the project, how many jobs were created and whether the Department felt it had met the project goals. He asked what indicators the Committee should be aware of to mark progress towards these goals going forward.
The Chairperson asked the Department for a timeframe that the 16 005 received applications would take to complete the screening process. The Committee hoped that the Department, working with the Deeds Registries, would be able to provide more details on when the farms were acquired. The Chairperson felt that the four target categories were not represented in the State Land Lease and Disposal Policy (SLLDP). He requested an explanation as to who the target groups are and how they can be located within these four categories of farmers.
Minister Didiza thanked the DALRRD and the Committee for their presentations and inputs, respectively. She said, with respect to the 14 000 hectares announcement by the President last year, that the land is currently working with the Department of Public Works to develop some properties into houses. This land was not made available for agricultural purposes. 300 000 hectares of land were made available for restitution purposes outside of the 700 000 hectares provided by the State. She explained that allocations began in February, which has been reported on and the Committee’s response helps the way forward.
The Minister said, regarding land acquisition, that all farmlands were bought prior to 1994 by the previous government and placed into the SADT for consolidation of homelands. The State Land Allocation Project is a programme to fulfil the completion and regulation of this redistribution project. The Department reported that they have been working with the provinces to ensure alignment in administrating projects and to support beneficiaries. The DALRRD is also investigating possibilities of increasing budget allocations to support state farmers and beneficiaries of restitution programmes.
The Minister indicated further that the Department wants to extend its target groups to include farmers in communal areas. Farmers in these circumstances are often limited in the ways that they can grow their enterprise.
Deputy Minister’s Response
Mr Mcebisi Skwatsha, Deputy Minister ofAgriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, said that the DALRRD indicated upon announcement on 1 October 2020 that some of the applications would be within occupied farms that have not been regulated. He said that this project will also help to regulate existing farms, considering who works on the farm and the activities that occur on it. This information will then be uploaded to the data-base. The Department does not intend to randomly evict farmers from farms, rather this is an attempt to regulate and investigate the productivity within these farms.
Mr Mgwengwe, responding to Ms Tlhape, said that the DALRRD did not consider the reasons for underutilization. The Department will report back to the Committee on this at a later point. He said that the Department received the entire land accumulation during the transition from the Minister of Homelands to the Minister of Land Affairs in 1995. The Department did not have the capacity to manage this situation. Many previous homeland managers work within provincial governments of the Department.
This incapacity was compounded by the incompletion of the 1998 Upgrading of Tenure Land Rights Act (ULTRA), which resulted in mismanagement of land. Part of the inherited ULTRA land was productive agricultural land which was managed by provinces. Issues of mismanagement in land administration in provinces resulted in the termination of the power of attorney that gave provincial governments this authority. This problem was then transferred to the DALRRD, in spite of the existing capacity constraints.
On ICTS services, officials have access to a land-based website for monitoring and mapping farms. The Department acknowledges mismanagement of land due to the lack of physical oversight of these measures. The Department aims to reach a point where this is regulated and allows future freehold tenure. He indicated to Ms Steyn, that currently there is an option for the purchase of farms rather than to lease farms.
Mr Mgwengwe said that farm dwellers form part of the target group, as per the policy currently under consideration by government. He explained that the Cape provinces were excluded from the data set due to the Eastern Cape not having done allocations at the pre-advertisement stage, the Western Cape did not fall under the previous homelands and the Northern Cape was omitted as land allocations did not occur within the original timeframe. Applications within the Northern Cape have reopened, hence the deferred closing date.
On farmers without leases since 2016, he accounted this due to part of the allocated land falling under occupation by other farmers. Leases signed in 2016 were based on the 2013 policy which carried over the problems from the previous policy. Leases are now at 1% of the value of the property in 2019 to allow greater freehold tenure for farmers. This created a backlog in allocations as well as mismanagement. The process of signing leases for farmers is under way.
The Department outsourced Enspiga (?) Consulting for contractors to conduct physical verification. The International Marketing Council (IMC) required applicable farmers to allocate vacant and underutilised land before the closure of the financial year at the end of August. This required speedy performance from the Department, which was not possible due to capacity issues. A scope was established for these outsourced contractors based on the one applicable to ‘plaas’ farms.
Mr Mgwengwe said that the Department does not have a figure of the support budget provided to ensure the completion of this project. However, the DALRRD has established a start-up support package based on figures provided by livestock and crop farmers. Agricultural engineers have also conducted assessments to get a rough figure on how much support is required. Responding to Ms Mahlo, he said that the farm she named has been to assess the infrastructural needs.
The Department said that the small portion of vacant and underutilised land in Gauteng has already been allocated. He said that to define vacant and underutilised land the DALRRD gathered data from officials in Agriculture. If a farm was situated on a suitable terrain, though no farming occurs, based on a satellite analysis, then the land will be regarded as underutilised. ‘Vacant’ refers to a farm where the terrain is unusable and consequently no farming takes place.
The Department indicated that the IMC developed criteria to allocate identified land. The National Land Beneficiary-selection and Land Allocation policy was drafted as a response to concerns of who would acquire land. Aspects of land allocation are found in the SLLDP. Once the policy comes into operation, aspects of the SLLDP concerning land allocation will be repealed.
Regarding the desktop spatial analysis, consulted was not done with the provinces. Rather, agricultural officials as well as pre-existing information were used during this data collection. Mr Mgwengwe said that part of this project includes developing a training programme for farmers. This will support farmers during their decision to purchase the land, irrespective of resources. Rather, trained farmers who can use the land productively will be afforded the opportunity to purchase.
Mr Ndove said that the development of these policies provinces, non-governmental organisations, the IMC and stakeholders were consulted during the numerous drafting processes of the plan. The Department tried to make improvements to the programme before its finalisation based on lessons learnt from other programmes.
On applications, Mr Ndove said that the Department received over 36 000, which far exceeds the amount of land available to the province. He agreed that the applications have been oversubscribed. However, the Department is working to ensure that applicants who cannot receive from this project may fall within the scope of another.
He said that underutilised land occurs when the land exceeds the capacity or the owners do not know how to tend to the land. In instances of the former, the Department will subdivide the land where possible.
National, provincial and district departments, the premier, municipalities and members of society were all included in collaborative meetings and structures used to process applications. The Appeal Committee, however, is a completely independent structure. Academics, legal teams and officials informed on mediation and restitution will be nominated in order to supplement the Department and alleviate capacity constraints. He felt this would also aid the problem of duplicate applications. He felt it was important that the Department prioritise fairness, credibility and transparency while offering support.
The Chairperson thanked the Ministry, DDG and Department for their presentations and efforts to make land accessible to people, especially those in need of food security.
Adoption of Committee minutes
Minutes dated 13 November 2020
Ms Steyn moved for the adoption of the minutes.
Ms Mahlo seconded the adoption of the minutes.
Ms Mbabama pointed out that a correction needed to be made as she was listed as under the ANC instead of the DA.
The Chairperson asked the Committee Secretary to look into that and correct it.
The minutes were adopted with amendments.
Minutes dated 17 November 2020
Ms Mahlo moved for the adoption of the minutes.
Ms Breedt seconded the adoption of the minutes.
The minutes were adopted without amendment.
Minutes dated 20 November 2020
Ms Mbabama moved for the adoption of the minutes.
Ms Mahlatsi seconded the adoption of the minutes.
Ms Mahlatsi requested that the minutes reflect that the audit committee brief the DALRRD in issue 4.1.17. She also asked for the risk register to reflect this in the report.
Ms Steyn requested that the Department go through these reports to compile a list of outstanding issues to be prioritised in 2021.
Mr Capa indicated that in 4.1.16, the Committee was never informed on when a follow-up meeting and information would be provided.
The Chairperson asked the Committee Secretary to look into that and correct it.
The minutes were adopted with amendments.
Minutes dated 24 November 2020
Mr Capa moved for the adoption of the minutes.
Ms Steyn seconded the adoption of the minutes.
The minutes were adopted without amendment.
Minutes dated 27 November 2020
Ms Breedt moved for the adoption of the minutes.
Mr Masipa seconded the adoption of the minutes.
Ms Mahlatsi corrected 4.1.4 that the Committee deliberations are made available to Members of the Committee.
The Chairperson asked the Committee Secretary to look into that and correct it.
The minutes were adopted with amendments.
The meeting was adjourned.
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