Ongeluksnek Farmers Association of Matatiele: briefing

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Meeting report

AGRICULTURE AND LAND AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE


15 February 2005
ONGELUKSNEK FARMERS ASSOCIATION OF MATATIELE: BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Mr N Masithela (ANC)

Documents handed out:

Ongeluksnek Farmers Association briefing

SUMMARY
The Ongeluksnek Farmers Association (OFA), made up of the occupants of 35 farms in the Matatiele district, approached the Committee for assistance in reducing the price they were being asked to pay for the farms they had lived on and worked for about twenty years. The farms were currently subject to a land claim. The OFA also requested the Committee’s assistance in determining why they had not been part of the land claim process that affected "their" farms.

During discussion, it became clear that a number of misunderstandings had occurred between the farmers and the Department of Land Affairs and the Land Claims Commission (LCC). The Committee felt government should apologise to the farmers for poor communication and that the LCC had to properly inform the community of land claims laws and processes. The Committee also resolved that it would revisit the issue in future.

MINUTES

Ongeluksnek Farmers Association briefing
Mr V Haviside from S’dumo Trust, a consultant assisting the OFA, briefed the Members. Mr Haviside apologised for the absence of some association members because they could not afford air tickets. He started by presenting the geographical background of the Matatiele region where the Ongeluksnek farms are situated. He also provided the history of the Ongeluksnek farms. The original inhabitants of the farms were KhoiSan people. European farmers bought the farms in 1887. The apartheid government bought all the farms between 1978 and 1979. The farms were handed over to the then Transkei Government. The farms were made available to various applicants on a leasehold basis in 1980. In 2001, the farmers association approached the Minister of Land Affairs requesting ownership of the land as they had occupied and worked it for many years. The Department of Land Affairs in East London had to work jointly with the same Department in Umtata in handling the matter.

The presenter made it clear that there were two main issues that informed their approach to the Committee. These were that the farmers were not informed of the land claim and the price at which the farmers who occupied the farms had to pay to obtain ownership.

Land claim and price of the farms
The land claimants went to evaluate the Ongeluksnek farms without prior arrangements with the farmers. The farms were evaluated at R700.00 per hectare. The farmers approached the Land Affairs Department to request a reduction in the price. The Department gave the farmers two options. First, they could buy the farms at R700.00 per hectare and receive assistance from the Department. The second option was to buy the farms at R400.00 per hectare without assistance. The farmers complained that they had to buy their farms at R700.00 per hectare while nearby farms were sold at R100.00 to R150.00 per hectare. The farmers indicated that they could afford R150.00 per hectare.

Discussion
The Chairperson asked if Mr Haviside was a farmer. Mr Haviside explained that he was not a farmer but a consultant working for the S’dumo Trust which was an organisation assisting the Ongeluksnek farmers in dealing with their problems. The S’dumo Trust was a facilitation and development organisation which dealt with disadvantaged communities. The Trust had projects such as building sports fields and Redistribution Development Programme (RDP) houses. Mr Haviside noted that the Trust had been assisting the farmers at no cost, until such time certain objectives had been achieved in accordance wit the agreement.

The farmers were asked to clarify their request. Mr J Bici (UDP) asked them to clearly state the nature of their unhappiness with the evaluation process and how they had wanted it done. Mr Bici further asked what price the farmers could pay. He also asked why it had taken so long to finalise the sale of the farms.

Mr O Ramotsamayi, OFA Secretary, made it clear that they were requesting the Committee to assist them in getting the farms at R150.00 per hectare. Secondly, the farmers were asking the Committee to establish why the government had not included them in the evaluation process. Their exclusion from government meetings concerning evaluation and land claims made them unhappy. Land claimants would come to their farms without informing them of anything. This exclusion caused misunderstanding. For instance, the Department would be at the furthest point of discussion whilst the farmers were at the beginning of it. Subject to being informed of the merits of the "Lebenya claim" by the Land Claims Commission, the farmers reserved the right to oppose such claim.

The Chairperson suggested that Mr Bici’s last question be directed at the Department.

Dr E Schoeman (ANC) wanted to know the amount of the annual lease per year and performance of the farmers since 1980 up to date. He stated that there should be a reason why the farmers could not afford R400.00 per hectare.

The farmers indicated that they were paying R2 000.00 per year and this amount escalated by 20% every year. They also explained that when they got the farms, they were vandalised and the whole infrastructure had collapsed. Further, the farmers stated that they were querying the R400.00 per hectare because they wanted uniformity with the other farms.

The Chairperson reminded the Members that there were two fundamental issues to be dealt with, i.e. the land claim and the price of the farms. The Chairperson asked if the farmers were opposing the land claims.

The farmers made it clear that they were not against the land claim but would like to be part of the discussions concerning "their" farms.

Mr G Doidge (ANC) said that the lack of recognition of the Ongeluksnek representatives was the crux of the matter. The Department had not recognised Mr Haviside who was the representative of the farmers. The Department would go directly to the farmers on certain issues and avoid Mr Haviside. Mr Doidge stated that there was a serious problem with communication between the farmers and the Department. He requested the Committee to investigate the agreement about farm rentals that was taken during the Heath investigation.

Mr Doidge suggested that the eight farms that had agreed to pay R400.00 per hectare were forced to do so because they were threatened that if they did not, they would lose the land. He also pointed out that the farmers had given reasons why they could not afford R400.00 per hectare. Some of the reasons were the lack of infrastructure and that they could not invest as they did not have security of tenure. He recommended that the asking price be reduced because the farmers had occupied the farms for more than twenty years and because there had been a discrepancy in evaluation.

The Chairperson indicated that he had a letter from the Department of Land Affairs which indicated that it had accepted an offer of R400 per hectare from the OFA and that it was aware that the land was subject to a land claim. Mr Masithela asked the farmers if they were placed under pressure when they signed the letter.

Mr Lihlehle, OFA Chairperson, said that he had signed the letter under pressure from Mr Mayekiso who was an official of the Department. He further said he had not in his capacity as chairperson signed the agreement but other Members of the association had signed.

The Chairperson indicated that the farmers and the Department had a meeting on 14 June in East London at which the Deputy Director-General: Land Affairs had been present. In this meeting, a proposal was forwarded to the farmers that they should buy the farms at R750.00 per hectare with Department support or at R400 without the support. On 5 July, the farmers went back to the Department to discuss the matter and agreed on R400.00.

The Chairperson asked if that was the meeting where the farmers were pressurised. Mr Lihlehle indicated that he signed under pressure on two options, R750 and R400. On behalf of the Association, he opted for R400.

The Chairperson gave the Commissioner of Land Claims an opportunity to explain why the farmers were not consulted about the claim process.

The Commissioner stated that on 13 March 2002, a community meeting was held at Ncedisizwe Development Center to discuss the land claim issue. The meeting was open to everyone in the community because the Commission wanted to establish the actual claimants because the Bakwena tribe was claiming that the land was theirs. In July 2002, the land claim was gazetted. On 23 April 2003, a second community meeting was held to inform them how the claim would unfold. The latest meeting that was championed by the Department of Land Affairs was held in January 2004. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the restitution claim with the farmers. The Commissioner also stated that there had been correspondence with the farmers informing them about the evaluation. The Commissioner received a letter from Chief Moeshweshwe who opposed the evaluation to be conducted on particular farms. The Commissioner also promised to make the attendance register of the meetings available to the Committee.

The Chairperson asked the farmers if they were invited to the meeting with the Department and Land Claims Commission (LCC). Mr Lihlehle replied that to date, there had never been a meeting between the farmers and the Department and the LCC.

The Chairperson asked if the farmers had attended the community meetings as individuals or as OFA members. Mr Lihlehle replied that he had never attended the community meetings as an OFA member, but he suspected that other OFA members might have done so.

The Chairperson gave the Department of Land Affairs an opportunity to respond to the allegations that had been made. He asked Mr Mayekiso to explain the prices, the processes and the position of the Department in relation to the restitution claims.

Mr Mayekiso stated that the process of disposing of the farms was an open process and consultative. He indicated that he had not been an official of the Department during the disposal of the Ongeluksnek farms but the relevant officials had consulted the farmers. The Minister of Land Affairs had approved the disposal in 2000. He stated that he was only involved in the process of transferring the properties and that he assumed that the issue of restitution had already been addressed.

Mr Mayekiso stated that he was informed that the farmers had an agreement that they would be represented during evaluation but that had not been honoured. He further stated that the presence of the farmers in the evaluation process would not have influenced the price decision because there were numerous elements that were considered in determining the price of the farms. Mr Mayekiso said that on 14 June 2002 there was a meeting between the Department and the farmers. The farmers were requesting the reduction of the price. He also indicated that the R750 that they wanted reduced was the negotiated price as the original price was R1 100.00. He also said the farmers were not forced to buy the farms at R400 but it was proved that buying them at R750 would be disadvantageous for the farmers.

A meeting was held between the farmers and the Department to discuss the price issue. It was after that meeting that the letter that was read by the Chairperson was written. The farmers were not forced to sign the letter. My Mayekiso also indicated that he was not present when the letter was written. However, he presented the deed of sale to the farmers in a meeting at Maluti. He said that he explained it page by page and requested those who not sure of signing the deed of sale to consult their lawyers. Mr Ramotsamayi and other farmers decided to consult their lawyers first. However, Mr Ramotsamayi later came to him wanting to sign the deed of sale without being forced.

The Chairperson asked about the duration of the land claim. The Commissioner replied that it started on 24 December 1998 and lasted until 2002 when it was discovered that some of the criteria had not been met.

The Chairperson also wanted to know when the Minister approved the disposal of land. The response by the Commissioner was that it was in 2000.

The Chairperson stated that the Committee could in the future make a recommendation to the Department to revisit the matter. The Committee could not be part of the evaluation because they were not qualified as evaluators.

Mr B Radebe suggested that an apology should be made to the farmers that they were not informed that the land was under claim. He also said that there was nothing that could be done by the Committee until the claim issue had been sorted out.

A Member disagreed with Mr Mayekiso that the farmers could not have influenced the pricing of the farms. He argued that the farmers had a better understanding of the land. He said the Department needed to be more careful in dealing with the matter. The Member concluded that most rural people had no understanding of their rights and he congratulated those who were fighting for their rights.

The Department appealed to the Committee to consider the discrepancies that occurred in the whole process before making a final decision. The Department also recommended that a fair and equitable solution should be proposed by the Committee.

The Chairperson ended the meeting by stating that the miscommunication between the Department and the farmers was regrettable. He stated that the government should apologise to the farmers. He recommended that the LCC should hold a meeting with the farmers to explain the claim laws to prevent future misunderstanding between the farmers and the Department. He thanked the Matatiele farmers for bringing the failures of the land claims process to the Committee’s attention.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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