Implementation of plan to revitalise Gwatyu farms and Committee recommendations: DALRRD briefing; with Deputy Minister

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

30 August 2022
Chairperson: Nkosi Z Mandela (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

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Video (Part 2)

ATC220407: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development on an Oversight visit to Gwatyu Farms in the Eastern Cape Province from 31 January To 04 February 2022, dated 22 March 2022

The conflict between the amaTshashu Traditional Authority Council and various residents and leaseholders in the Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality in the Eastern Cape over ownership and other rights to Gwatyu farmland, had been a matter of concern to the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development for some time. In response to a request from the Portfolio Committee for an update on the situation, the Department reported back in a virtual meeting on its plans to address the challenges.

The Chairperson of the Committee said the issues arose from the communities' hunger for land restitution in South Africa. There was concern that the South African police had to accompany the Department when it tried to seek solutions through engagement with the community. Questions were asked about whether the amaTshatsu Traditional Council was a legitimate entity, and this concern was clarified in the meeting. Youth development was also briefly discussed, and recommendations were put forward. Overall, Members indicated they were not impressed with the progress made by the Department, and called on it to take action to address their concerns.

Meeting report

Chairperson's introduction

The Chairperson acknowledged that South Africa was 28 years into democracy, and it could confidently be said that land reform was irreversible. The late President Nelson Mandela reminded everyone that "our land reform programme helps redress the injustices of apartheid." The land reform project reminded everyone that the long walk to freedom was far from over. This reminded individuals of a dreadful period in the history of South Africa, when the South African Native Land Act was passed in 1913. In the words of Sol Plaatjie, "Awakening on Friday morning, 20 June 1913, the South African native found himself, not a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth." Land alienation, land hunger, and the need to advance land reform and land restoration remained with the people of South Africa.

The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) had had a week-long visit to Gwatyu in the Eastern Cape (EC), as they were currently facing issues on land ownership. The Department had first met with the King and the royal family, where they heard about the historical displacement of the community of Gwatyu. The work of the Department had been disturbed by violent threats against the officials by some members of the communities when the Department wanted to do research and gather information in the communities.

The Committee had also heard that there was no legitimate communal property association (CPA) in Gwatyu. The Department had tried to intervene and meet with the community members, but it was unsuccessful. When the Department visited Gwatyu to determine the rightful owners of the land, the people of the community had their agenda to own land for their benefit. The Commission on Restitution of Land Rights had informed the Committee that there were land claims for Gwatyu from the Amatshashu Traditional Council, but the Commission had discovered that the land claims had not met the 1913 cutoff date.

The former farm workers and labour tenants also had beneficial occupation rights to the land. The status quo in Gwatyu was complex, but with the assistance of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), it was said that the land had belonged to the Amatshashu Traditional Council since the coronation of the Chief in 1982. The rejection of land claims by any communities throughout South Africa of their ancestral land because of the 1913 cutoff date was a gross injustice to the people of Gwatyu and rural communities. The 1913 cutoff date should also be reviewed for the benefit of the people and the communities.

Oversight visit to Gwatyu Farms

Mr Mooketsa Ramasodi, Director-General (DG), DALRRD, presented the report on the oversight visit to Gwatyu Farms in the Eastern Cape conducted by the Portfolio Committee from 31 January to 4 February. Several recommendations had been made, and the Department was expected to implement them. The report provided feedback and status on progress towards implementation of these recommendations. A narrative report was also attached as Annexure A of the presentation.

The recommendation of the Portfolio Committee was discussed and included in the presentation, followed by the response from the Department. The Department was in the process of finalising the land rights enquiry, but the above-mentioned acts of intimidation were delaying the process. DALRRD had since reached an agreement with the South African Police Service (SAPS) for them to escort officials when finalising this process, which was expected to resume in the first week of September.

(Further detail on the responses and recommendations from the Department can be viewed in the presentation attached.)


Ms M Tlhape (ANC) welcomed the progress made so far. It gave comfort to know that the Department could take the recommendations of the Portfolio Committee and provide a progress report. There were still matters that needed clarity on the recommendation for collaboration with COGTA to deal with the traditional council of Amatshashu and their recognition by the EC government.

The presentation stated that the recognition of the Traditional Council of the Western Cape government should begin with finalising the land rights of the different people living on the land. She wanted clarity on that part of the presentation. Did it mean that the Council was not recognised? The presentation also mentions that such recognition would be given when the information on Gwatyu land was completed. Was there no land that the Traditional Council was currently in charge of?

Ms Tlhape recalled the cry of the youth who did not know how to work with technology, and learnt how to use a laptop only when they got to university. The Department had said that the recruitment for learning programmes would take place only next year. She needed understanding from the Department on their needs and analysis profiling. How many people would they be recruiting from Gwatyu? Besides the National Rural Youth Service Corps (NARYSEC), what other youth programmes was the Department going to create? The youth could not be waiting on the recruitment of just one programme. Other departments should also be involved in the development of the youth.

On the issue of policy discussion, what was the logic behind the claims which did not meet the 1998 cutoff date, in line with the interdict on all new claims? What were the policy discussions in the ministry and the Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights? Would there be another opening? If not, what would the Minister do with all the claims at the Commission that could not be dealt with because of the interdict? What were the outcomes of the recent conference in which the Committee could not participate? How was the ministry going to deal with the claims that could not be attended to?

Ms T Mbabama (DA) disagreed with Ms Tlhape on the progress that had been made, as she was not impressed with the progress. Progress had started only after the intervention of the Portfolio Committee. This should have happened a long time ago. The DG had spoken about a land audit report in his presentation, which dated back to 2015. The land rights action plan was done four years ago, but nothing had come from the programmes. Intimidation should not be used as an excuse. It was a one-time thing, and it could be solved.

The DG had mentioned many departments, but most had not yet submitted anything. There was no sense of urgency when it came to Gwatyu. The DALRRD should ensure that the other departments were involved in delivering their plans. The Department could also analyse the crucial departments that should be involved and not have to wait on other departments. For example, because there was no road in Gwatyu, it was obvious that the Department of Transport would play an important role in the development.

Ms Mbabama was not sure what Mr Ramsodi meant when he mentioned a moratorium on leases in Gwatyu, as she was unaware of new leases in Gwatyu. The moratorium needed explanation. He had also mentioned a recording system -- what would this system be based on? Had research been done on the recordal system of informal rights to the people of Gwatyu, and that it was a priority given that most of Gwatyu's property was already at the Deeds Office? It was not communal land -- it was farms. The communal land, if any, was very little. The farms must be identified, and the land must be given back to the people of Gwatyu, because it was already recorded at the Deeds Office.

She agreed with Ms Tlhape on NARYSEC and added that other programmes should have been created long ago. Other departments should also be involved in creating immediate opportunities for the youth. In collaboration with other departments, a solution must be found immediately, not in 2025.

All the dates in the task plan had passed. Had the tasks been completed, because it did not state so in the reports? In the development plan, what were the budgets based on? Justification was needed for the budgets, to establish whether the figures were correct.

Ms B Tshwete (ANC) was not satisfied with the pace the Department was moving. The Land Rights enquiry had been done in 2017 -- it was 2022 now, and it was still not completed. The Department could not say that they had faced intimidation and there were still outstanding meetings. Not a lot of progress had been made since 2017, and it could not be further delayed. What progress had been made after that?

Youth development was worrying. Many governmental institutions were willing to assist, and the Department was advised to approach the training institutions for youth development. Deputy Minister Zoleka Capa had committed to going back to Gwatyu to see where the Department could assist. What progress had been made when she went there? Were there any interventions and if yes, what progress had been made?

Mr S Matiase (EFF) said the report was very vague and shallow, and it was not right that people were being misled. No work had been done on stakeholder engagement with the people on the ground. The people needed to be heard, but that process had not started because the Department did not want to engage with the other stakeholders involved. As stated in the Freedom Charter "No government could justly claim authority unless it was based on the will of the people." The Department had had to reach out to the SAPS to escort them to the communities where they had to go to work, which was a sign of a lack of legitimacy within the Department. Stakeholder engagement was also not clear. He called for rejection of the report of the Department, as no work had been done for six months. The Department had to be held accountable for not doing its work and falsely reporting to the Committee.

Ms T Breedt (FF+) agreed with all the previous comments. The Department had been lacking, and should have involved more departments in bettering the lives of the people of Gwatyu. She sought clarity on the recognition of the Traditional Council. When the Department was in Gwatyu, a COGTA official had a document of the EC government in his possession, proving that amaTshashu was a traditional council. Was the traditional council recognised yet? What would the processes be if it was recognised as a traditional council? There was paperwork from the province, but the Department had said that amaTshatsu was not recognised, which had led to nothing being done.

The Department had been withholding the truth. The feedback report from Gwatyu said that SAPs had been involved. The DALRRD was continuously working with the SAPS. The report that was received says that things were finalised only recently, and the work would begin in September. She was confused, as she heard contradicting stories about whether the Department was working or not. The budget had also not been covered entirely.

Ms Breedt was very worried about youth and youth development. A multi-departmental approach was needed, and the Department could not be fixated on one programme alone. Students were struggling to find jobs, and NARYSEC was not enough. The Department of Education and the Department of Higher Education should also be involved to attend other programmes, such as access to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and colleges. Did the Department engage with the Department of Education to assess where young people could be assisted with opportunities in the future?

Ms N Mahlo (ANC) sought clarity on the national and provincial issues of COGTA. Could the official of the municipal office tell the Committee if there had been any proposal from the communal land tenure summit that the Deputy President hosted? Did it impact the Gwatyu farm, and what did it entail?

Ms Mahlo said an exclusive meeting involving the community members with beneficial occupational rights was held. Was a lasting resolution found by the Department on how they could shift the land dispute, or was there any evidence to support the Department's claims?

Mr N Masipa (DA) believed that no progress had been made. A lot of feedback had been given on the land rights enquiry. There was a report that although the land rights enquiry had been done, the issues had not been reduced. The message given was that the recognition of the traditional council by the EC government should be done by finalising the land rights of the different people on the land. How far was the land rights enquiry? Seven months had passed and according to the report, no progress had been made. Did COGTA recognise the amaTshatsu? The report did not clarify how far the Department had gotten on the issue with COGTA.

There was still a long way to go, and the Department must be held accountable for its role in rural development. It must provide coordination in rural areas by providing things such as infrastructure. There should also be proper coordination between the DALRRD and other departments so that they could deliver their projects.

Was the Chief Director here today to provide the relevant answers and explanations on what was happening on the ground? Setbacks should be managed properly -- they must not be an excuse and should not stop others from doing their jobs. The Deputy Minister had promised the people boreholes. Had this project made any progress, as it was a big concern for the people living on the farms? What had happened with the requests for electricity, water, and shearing equipment? He worried that no progress had been made and the people were struggling.

The Chairperson raised his concern about the amaTshatsu Traditional Council. It was a traditional council that existed, the Chief was fully recognised, and he was earning a salary from the Department like all other traditional leaders in the country. People were working under him, all recognised by the Department and earned a salary. It could not be that seven months later, there was still no clarity on the land of the amaTshatsu. It involved 77 farms and one village. Could the Department be clear in answering the issues, and could they respond directly to their findings? What was it doing about the land tenure rights of the farmers and farm workers? If it was the traditional council's land, what was the Department's role in a traditional council's space? The Deputy Minister had made many commitments to the community of Gwatyu. Had she been able to visit Gwatyu since the Portfolio Committee's oversight visit? If so, what had been delivered to the people, and what were the Deputy Minister's solutions?

DALRRD's response

Deputy Minister Capa admitted that the recommendations had not been effectively managed. The Minister had not been in that area once because they had to go back to the kingdom to understand what was happening there. She accepted all the criticisms that had been given.

Instead of dealing with the community, the Department had gone to the traditional leadership. From the experience of being among the Members during the visit, it was clear that there was a gazetted certificate indicating the area of the amaTshatsu Traditional Authority. The people were committed to their traditional authority.

The issue was that the farms were created on amaTshatsu land. There was no difference between the farms and the amaTshatsu traditional land. AmaTshatshu traditional land was also instructed by law to give back the land to the people and not to hold it back in terms of the processes in place. To ensure that the Minister held the land in the custody of traditional communities, including the land demarcated as the traditional authority and amaTshatsu land, the Department was dealing with the amaTshatsu and the customary land that was in the hands of the traditional authority.

The Department was dealing with these issues in collaboration, through engagement and intervention, with kings and traditional authorities. This matter was between COGTA and the DALRRD - an inter-administerial process.

No one doubted that the traditional authority existed, because there was evidence that had been publicly presented, and the Department also had records.

No separate claim on the land was created after the amaTshatsu were chased away. The land had been turned into commercial farms. The traditional authority instruction and agreement were clear, and stated that these farms were subdivided because many other people had become involved. Some people were doing what they were told, but then there were people doing what they wanted, forcing themselves into the limited space. The only way to properly attend to these land issues was to have an inter-administerial committee.

The Department was in a state of readiness and had addressed the fencing issues with the EC. The issue that the Department now faced was how they would implement it, because it was not a Departmental project; it was a community project. Farmers were also ready, but other farmers existed on the same land.

Mr Ramasodi fully understood the impatience of the Portfolio Committee with the progress made so far. The Department's job was to be change agents and deliver services to people in need.

When the Department looked at the land, they also looked at the land enquiry, the audit of 2015, and the enquiry of 2017. It was an issue that the Department had to pause and reflect on. 77 claims had to be claimed from the amaTshatsu. The Deputy Minister indicated the roles and responsibilities of the Ministers, and checked where other interventions could take place.

Ms Nomfundo Ntloko-Gobodo, Chief Land Claims Commissioner, had been with the Portfolio Committee and indicated all the work that had been done. There was a court order that included the claims after 1913. The work had been done according to the court order, and would be done accordingly in the future. This issue must be raised in Gwatyu. There was a court order around claims made after 1913 and on the Department's engagement. The claims had become much broader, and there was a debate going around in the communal land space. The outcomes of the land administration and tenure summit were ready. It was going through to Cabinet, and after that, the Department would be able to share the outcomes with the Portfolio Committee.

The progress was not what the Committee had wanted to see, but work was being done and engagements were taking place. The multi-stakeholder team progress was shared in Annexure A. There were meetings held immediately after the engagement with the other stakeholders, and there was work agreed upon to be done. This work was categorised on a municipal, provincial and national level, and the solution to this was a discussion that needed to be held with the community. The Department also wanted to draw up a needs analysis for the people. The community had needs and they must be satisfied. The government must be involved to ensure this.

Other departments, such as Education, Health, Human Settlements and Transport, were still busy with the issues of Gwatyu, and still must finalise a few things before submitting them to the Department. The DALRRD had also been busy in Gwatyu.

The issue of youth development was a big requirement for the Department. It needed an engagement that would align with the needs of the people. It would engage with the community and develop a skill and gap analysis. This would highlight the needs of Gwatyu, and then the Department could work accordingly. For now, the Department was working with NARYSEC and was also awarding bursaries. Many agriculture programmes were being offered, other than those of NARYSEC.

The Minister recognised the Committee's impatience, but the safety issue included the involvement of the SAPs. The Department was facing a problem: they could not move freely in the communities where they had to work.

The amaTshatsu Traditional Council was a recognised council. The issues that were brought up were in line with the land. The presentation was confusing, but the main issue remained the land. Multi-departmental meeting interventions had been held, but they now needed to do a groundwork assessment in Gwatyu. The issue of the land tenure administration would also be in the outcomes.

The Department had looked at matters from the view of supply chain management. Once the needs analysis was done, it would be easier to get the boreholes and fencing done.

The work was taking very long, but the main point of this engagement was about validation and for the communities to all agree. All stakeholders had to agree to the land rights enquiry before finalisation. All issues were currently being administered, including the ones on water and electricity.

Follow-up questions

Ms Tlhape raised concern that there were no dates linked to the plans of the Department. It would be prudent to put a time framework into their plans to ensure proper oversight.

Ms Mbabama said farms had been created on black-owned land across South Africa, but none of them had been given back to the traditional authorities. These farms in Gwatyu were not communal land -- it was farmland. No chief took over farmland in South Africa, so why should Gwatyu be different? The land must be given back to the amaTshatsu. It was black-owned land that had been converted into farmland.

Ms Tshwete pointed out that Gwatyu was identified as an economic activity, and she hoped the Department would make a clear adjustment in their progress report.

Ms Mahlo said that where she was from, in Limpopo, it was never experienced that chiefs owned farms. The community got funds to invest in their area and created jobs for their people.

Ms Breedt needed more clarity on why the SAPs were involved in the duties of the DALRRD. This was seen continually through the joint oversight visits and other oversights, specifically in Gwatyu. Why were the SAPs involved? Was it because of institutional issues, or was it leadership?

The Chairperson acknowledged that the traditional council was recognised, but wanted clarity on what Mr Ramasodi had said when he commented that the issue was about the "land." Was the land under the amaTshatsu Traditional Council, or was it under the state? If the amaTshatsu Traditional Council existed, it must have its land, which was clearly defined as the 77 farms and the village. What was the issue involving the land?

DALRRD's response

Mr Ramasodi explained that the land issue specifically involved the land audit and the land rights enquiry which had to be concluded with all the other stakeholders involved. It was state land. With the involvement of the traditional council, the community and other stakeholders, the land enquiry could be concluded.

The Portfolio Committee employed the Department to be detailed in looking at the issue of Gwatyu, and not to be simplistic. The engagement between the different stakeholders would ensure that the matter was resolved, and the processes would soon unfold. Dates would also be given. The DG recalled that there had been dates previously, but the Department was advised to focus on the plans rather than the dates. He would personally attend to the issues in Gwatyu so that they could be presented properly to the Committee.

The issue of how the Department reflected on the people was very important, and it would be dealt with. Engagement should also be done without the involvement of the police. All inputs were welcomed, and they would be discussed with the Deputy Minister. In the first week of September, the Department would report back on the engagement and the issues in the progress report.

The meeting was adjourned.

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