Department of Land Affairs Annual Report 2004/2005: hearing

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Meeting report

AGRICULTURE AND LAND AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
18 October 2005
DEPARTMENT OF LAND AFFAIRS ANNUAL REPORT 2004/2005: HEARING

Chairperson:

Ms D Hlengethwa (ANC)

Documents handed out:

Department Presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture and Land Affairs
Overview and Analysis of the PAETA Annual Report, 2004/05
Department of Land Affairs: Analysis of Annual Report (200412005)

SUMMARY
The Department of Land Affairs presented their Annual Report 2004/2005 to the Committee. A total of 10 520 land restitution claims had been settled in the financial year, amounting to 207 527 hectares of land, while Land Redistribution allowed 72 687 hectares of land to be transferred to 5 109 beneficiaries The Department had taken a positive step towards fulfilling the requirements of Section 25(6) of the Constitution. The Department’s Audit Report had been unqualified, with few matters of emphasis. They had also spent 98% of their budget.

The Committee discussed issues such as monitoring of spending patterns in the provinces, conditions relevant to grants, problems in rural areas regarding land restitution, racially skewed performance bonuses, issues surrounding land tenure and farm dwellers, the subdivision of land, high land prices and why the Department did not acquire land made available by white landowners.

MINUTES
Department of Land Affairs: Annual Report
Mr G Thomas, Director General of the Department of Land Affairs, presented their Annual Report of 2004/2005 to the Committee. Regarding Land Restitution, Mr Thomas said the Department had achieved 74% of the overall target, insofar as 59 345 claims had been settled, while 20 351 claims were still outstanding. The Land Restitution Commission was certain to meet their target of settling all claims by 2008. A total of 10 520 land claims had been settled in the financial year, amounting to 207 527 hectares of land. The finalisation of complex and time consuming rural claims and the movement away from financial compensation remained challenges.

Land Redistribution in the financial year allowed 72 687 hectares of land to be transferred to 5 109 beneficiaries against the targets of 120 128 hectares to 8 418 beneficiaries. The budget for the sub-programme had been spent at 98%. Cumulatively, 23 520 individuals had benefited from the 436 537 hectares the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) programme had yielded. Nineteen percent of all LRAD projects were made up of youth and 34,7 % of women. Challenges faced in terms of LRAD were: high land prices, integrated delivery not realised, inadequate support by provincial Departments of Agriculture and restrictions on sub-division.

The Department had taken a positive step towards fulfilling the requirements of Section 25(6) of the Constitution, which prescribed the provision of legally secure tenure, by promulgating the Communal Land Rights Act (Act 11 of 2004) in July 2004. An extensive implementation strategy had been developed and would be presented to the Cabinet in November 2005. The majority of Tenure Reform targets had been adequately met. However, the impact of the interventions made through the Labour Tenants Act and the Extension of Security of Tenure Act was found to be wanting.

The representative Council for South African Planners had been appointed in July 2004 to contribute to the transformation of the planning profession. Agreements had also been reached for the free distribution of remote sensing data to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. A Surveyor General’s Office had been established in Nelspruit to service Mpumalanga.

The objectives of the Employment Equity plan had been met within the specified timeframe and an Employee Wellness Programme had been established.

The Department’s Audit Report was unqualified, with few matters of emphasis. They also spent 98% of their budget.

Discussion
Ms E Ngaleka (ANC) asked if the Department monitored the spending patterns of the Provincial departments throughout the year, as it looked if Provincial Departments initiated projects towards the end of the financial year to spend their budgets and the communities therefore did not take ownership of the projects. Mr Thomas said it was the Department of Agriculture’s responsibility to monitor the spending, but he knew that they had discovered that there was underspending.

Ms Ngaleka asked if there were conditions attached to the grants transferred to the provinces. Mr Thomas said it was the area of the Department of Agriculture. LRAD was a joint venture between the Department of Land Affairs and the Department of Agriculture. Mr Thomas knew that the grants were ringfenced. It was a conditional grant, but some provinces were not adhering to the conditions.

Mr J Bici (UDP) asked what the problems were that the Department anticipated in the rural areas. Mr T Gwanya (Chief Land Claims Commissioner) said the problems in the rural areas were that the boundaries had to be physically determined and that there were boundary disputes. The latter took a long time to resolve.

Mr Bici asked how they planned to steer away from monetary compensation for restitution beneficiaries. Mr Gwanya said urban restitution claimants opted for financial compensation, because of factors such as old age, and used the compensation for other things as relocation would not be easy. The Department expected to finish all urban claims by 2006. The rural claims entailed vast tracks of land, which would help the Department reach the land reform target.

Mr Bici asked if they had strategies in place to monitor the municipalities, as it seemed that some municipalities did not have the will to implement the Department’s programmes. Mr Thomas said they engaged municipalities through provincial departments. It was a challenge for municipalities to understand land reform. They needed to educate them. The Intergovernmental Relations Act had not been sufficiently implemented. The issue was largely out of the control of the Department.

Mr B Radebe (ANC) said on the issue of equity plans that there still persisted a problem of racially skewed performance bonuses. He asked what the Department was going to do to raise the percentage of Africans receiving these bonuses. Ms S Choane (Deputy Director General: Financial Management and Corporate Services) said they still had to deal with transformation in the middle levels of their organisation. She said they took note of Mr Radebe’s concern and would ensure proper monitoring. Mr Thomas said there were sections of the Department where they were still facing transformation issues. This was not because of resistance, but because of a lack of skills in certain departments. Some skills were very scarce and only available to whites in the past, like land surveying. The Department had trouble recruiting land surveyors. Therefore they only had white land surveyors, which were reflected in the performance bonuses.

Mr Radebe said that Land Tenure still faced enormous challenges, and 99% of evictees did not obtain legal support. He thought there was an element of underperformance, as many people were left out of the net. He asked what the Department was going to do to ensure that those people would get support. He also asked how they would ensure that the people would be informed and how the districts would be monitored. Dr Schoeman asked how active they were with the establishment of agri-villages and if they cooperated with the Department of Housing.

Mr Thomas said they would consolidate the Extension of Security of Tenure Act and the Labour Tenants Act. They proposed to create a class of non-evictable people and had sent the proposal to the Minister of Land Affairs and Agriculture, Ms Thoko Didiza. She was not happy with the proposal and sent it back. The Department’s latest thinking was that it was clearly not going to help to tinker with the legislation, as the legislation was not about attaining tenure security, but the management of evictions. They thought a new mechanism had to be created, possibly in an Act, to ensure that farm dwellers had security of tenure. The Government had to look at the conditions of farm dwellers and then find land for them. Farm dwellers were put into a poverty trap and needed basic services. The cost would be very high.

Mr Thomas did not like to talk about agri-villages, but rather sustainable settlements. After the Land Summit it became clear that this would be the best way forward. Farm dwellers were very important in the economy. They had come forward with the concept of agricultural development. They had to bring people who worked on farms closer to towns, using smallholdings, to allow them to have job opportunities other than farm work. It would revitalise the economies of these towns. They had to find sustainable solutions rather than tinker with legislation.

Mr Thomas said that the Department did not have the capacity to monitor evictions. They wanted to understand what was happening. Most cases came to the attention of municipalities. The evicted people had nowhere other than the municipalities to go. The Department provided legal support. They also used the Legal Aid Board. According to lawyers, the money paid for these cases were a pittance, and therefore they were reluctant to do them. They had to rely on NGOs.

Mr S Abram (ANC) said one of the challenges facing LRAD were high land prices and that there had been a notable increase in land prices. He asked what the Department’s thoughts were on how to address this challenge. Mr Thomas said the state had to become involved. If they only relied on the market for land redistribution, it would not succeed. They would have to make a strong intervention. Possible interventions included a land tax, subdivision, expropriation, and a number of other interventions. Mr Thomas wanted the state to be a key market player, as it was its role as a development state. It would not be easy. There would be much resistance, but that did not mean that they should not do it.

Mr Abram invited a member of the NCOP to attend the meeting and asked if the Department could reiterate the basic problems they had with the provinces. He said some other mechanism had to be created to monitor what the provinces were doing in certain programmes. Mr Thomas said LRAD had been designed in such a manner that provinces and municipalities were empowered to provide support. They still wanted to understand why the provinces were not using the money allocated to them. Therefore it would be useful if members of the NCOP would assist in finding out what the challenges faced by the provinces were.

Mr Abram did not agree with the subdivision of land, proosed by the Department, as small pieces of land would taint the viability of farming ventures on the land. Commercial farming needed to be viable. People would be led into death traps if the pieces of land were too small. It was a route only to be taken in the most extreme cases where irrigation could be used. In dry land situations they should be very careful. Dr E Schoeman (ANC) also said they had to be very careful with subdivisions of land.

Mr Thomas said the subdivision of land would not be done "willy-nilly". There would be certain conditions for consideration, such as climatic zones, irrigation and the norm of the size of small farms in the area that would determine the size. Subdivision was a very important principle to increase the availability of land.

Mr Gwanya said the subdivision of land had to be seen in context. There were instances were a few people had too much land which they did not put to optimal use, as in the case of absentee landlords. Such owners also tended to make their land available for game farms, which increased the land prices.

Mr Abram said there was a problem when a private person negotiated for a farm; the process was tedious and lengthy. Mr Abram asked if there was a way to execute the process in a short time. Dr Schoeman was also concerned about the period of time the process of redistribution took. It was really frustrating. He asked what the Department was doing to accelerate the process so that the infrastructure on farms did not deteriorate. Mr Thomas said they had to interact with the provinces to see why the delays occurred. They had identified the negotiation process and the capacity of applicants as time constraints. The cycle was six months, but it often took much longer. Mr Gwanya said high land prices meant that negotiations took a long time.

Mr Abram paid tribute to white farmers, the Greyling family, who were willing to make their land available for land reform. But in certain instances farmers like these had to wait for years before the Department acknowledged them. This led to a bad relationship between the Department and the farmers.

Mr Thomas said in cases such as these they did not accept the offers because the people would offer land to the Department, but they would not indicate who the beneficiaries would be. This made it difficult to accept the offer because the redistribution programme was application and demand driven. Beneficiaries had to be identified beforehand. Sometimes the land offered was not of good quality or well located. Mr Thomas had been encouraged after the Land Summit that there seemed to be a common voice calling on the state to be a proactive acquirer of land. The Department had a strategy and identified needs. There had been good work done in this regard in the Free State. Mr Gwanya said white owners were only willing to sell their land if the Department would accept high land prices. People pushed up the price of land if they knew the Government would buy the land.

Dr Schoeman thought it disturbed the Committee that problems that had been identified in the past seemed to be repeating. He was especially concerned about a lack of integration between different government departments. Mr Thomas agreed with Dr Schoeman. The capacity of departments was the issue. There was a high level task team looking at the capacity of the state. It remained a challenge. Integration was going to be difficult.

Dr Schoeman said if the Department just aimed at redistributing hectares of land, they would reach their targets, but they would not achieve viable enterprises. Mr Thomas said that up to now they had measured performance in hectares. The question of sustainability was dependent on the support of other departments. The Department had decided to measure itself on the sustainability of projects through monitoring other departments. They would need an integrated budget and joint planning.

Ms Choane said they had the 2% unspent funds because some activities had "leaped" time. They were working on a cash account basis and made advances which they could only dispense once they had the benefits. If they showed their accrued expenses, they would have had 100% spending; therefore the 98% was commendable.

Ms B Ntuli (ANC) said she was happy to see an Annual Report that could be read by normal people.

Ms Ntuli asked why the provision in the Extension of Security of Tenure Act that alternative land had to be found for evictees was not used. Mr Holomisa said they wanted to reduce the situation of people living on other people’s land. When the Extension of Security of Tenure Act was passed it was about preventing unlawful evictions, provided that people would not be evicted before alternative land had been allocated. They had expected cooperation between the Department and the farmers and other role players. A provision for monitoring had been supplied. Mr Holomisa was disappointed that monitoring did not take place.

Mr Thomas said one of the requirements for evictions was alternative accommodation. Land owners should be part of the process. This still applied to evictions and it should always be sought to get alternative land. It had happened that when evictions had taken place, landowners would approach the magistrate to give an eviction order, and the magistrates would not take the conditions of the Act into account. In some areas bloody conflicts had erupted over this matter. The Department had to take hands with the South African Police Service. Collusions occurred through violations of the law by the police, magistrates and prosecutors. All policemen in affected areas had been moved elsewhere to resolve the matter. The sad thing was that these instances were always discovered after they had occurred.

Ms Ntuli said the appalling conditions people were living in had to be looked at. She did not support the idea of agri-villages. People should live on farms. Mr Thomas said the problem of appalling conditions on farms would still exist if a more developmental approach to ensure sustainable livelihoods was not taken. That was why they believed in the idea of economic hubs for people. They would expropriate if it was necessary, as it would be for the common good. This was brought about by the impetus given by the Land Summit.

Ms Ntuli asked if the planning to settle people in an area was done with other departments and municipalities. Mr Holomisa was disappointed about the lack of coordination around land reform. They had been talking about various departments working together since 1994. It had to be a national project. Mr Thomas said they did not plan together. There were only a few instances. It was a challenge they still had to deal with.

Mr Holomisa thought it was the responsibility of the Department to acquire as much land as possible. He did not think the Department would not buy land made available by white farmers, but welcomed it. Mr Thomas said the offers of land posed the challenge of huge capacity requirements and implications. They went to the National Treasury to ask for funds. Where land was offered by owners without beneficiaries, it meant that the state would have to look after the land until beneficiaries could be found. They were hoping to acquire land proactively, and were dependent on municipalities to gauge the needs.

Mr Holomisa said despite the availability of a support programme, the provinces continued to give poor support. This support was supposed to benefit the people on communal and tribal land, but they did not have resources. Mr Holomisa asked if the Department ever considered making money available to tribal authorities. Mr Thomas said the support programme was also supposed to benefit land reform beneficiaries, as well as communal land. Seventy percent of the money for support would go to land reform beneficiaries.

Mr Holomisa asked what the tenure problems in the Wild Coast area were.

Mr Holomisa asked what role the Department played in eco-tourism projects. Mr Thomas answered that they also provided land to people who did not plan to use it for agricultural purposes.

Ms Ntuli said there were municipalities and Amakhosi (tribal chiefs) who sold land to foreigners. She asked how the Department was dealing with this issue. Mr Thomas said the Minister had a meeting with a panel to discuss this issue and work on it continued.

A Member asked how the Department evaluated their successes. He asked if they had done an audit of these achievements. Mr Thomas said they had taken take stock of their achievements. They had a monitoring component and would look at land reform projects. The report would come out in March 2006.

The Member also asked how the Department assisted farmers in droughts. Mr Thomas said drought relief fell outside the work of the Department. It was handled by the Department of Agriculture.

The Member also asked if they could give the Committee a scenario on the land issue, emanating from the land summit. Mr Thomas said the Minister had briefed the Committee on the Land Summit outcomes. The Department thought that the Land Summit did not yield any surprises; most things had been confirmed. The Summit gave impetus to their programmes.

Mr Radebe said the first expropriation case had met with some resistance. Mr Radebe asked how far the Department had come with that case. Mr Gwanya said there had been an amendment to legislation to give the Minister the power to make use of expropriation. Notice had been given to the farmer concerned, who had thirty days to respond. The Minister would give him a hearing. They had four further cases in line for expropriation. In Mpumalanga there could be two cases if the farmers did not comply.

During a visit to Mpumalanga, Mr Radebe had found that restitution beneficiaries had been overwhelmed by their strategic partners. He asked what was being done in this regard. Mr Gwanya said strategic partnerships had been proposed out of desperation. Most beneficiaries did not have farming skills. Strategic partners brought skills to operate and the beneficiaries brought the land. The land belonged completely to the beneficiaries. The business venture was shared. The Department would like more development models from the Committee.

Adoption of Minutes
The minutes of 13 September 2005 was adopted.

Adoption of Oversight Report
The Committee undertook an oversight visit to the Northern Cape, Free State and Eastern Cape from 9 to 19 August 2005. The purpose of the visit was to oversee projects funded by the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs, particularly on Landcare and restitution programmes. The multi-party delegation consisted of ten Members from the ANC, IFP, UDM and UCDP. The visit highlighted some of the shortcomings of provincial departments. The fundamental challenges were a communication gap between the provincial departments and the beneficiaries of the programmes, and a lack of coordination and integration by departmental units in dealing with projects and related policy issues. The Committee was of the opinion that provincial departments had to establish strong mechanisms for monitoring, evaluation and regular interaction with beneficiaries.

The Committee adopted the report with corrections to grammatical errors.

Advertisements for submissions on GMO Bill
The Chairperson said the Committee should place an advertisement for submissions on the Genetically Modified Organisms Bill. She suggested that the closing date for submissions should be 17 November 2005. The Committee agreed.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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