Corrupt government officials are increasingly expecting farmers on state land to pay so-called “administration fees” of as much as R250 000 to have their leases extended.
This is not only the case in Mpumalanga, where concerned farmers recently met with agriculture minister Thoko Didiza, but also in other provinces.
Free State Agriculture president Francois Wilken says they had already written to Didiza in July 2020 about some provincial state officials’ demand for “administration fees”.
He warns that this is indicative of “a worrying lack of accountability of local government, and a lack of effective management of state land”.
Didiza halted eviction letters
Last week, Didiza met with 37 farmers who belong to the Mkhuli-AfriForum Association about their concerns about corrupt Mpumalanga officials. The minister intervened and made a number of commitments, including that all eviction letters that were served to farmers be withdrawn.
Wilken says it appears that farmers have lost their leases despite adhering to the demand that they pay R250 000 each in “administration fees”.
Didiza acknowledged that some of the eviction orders were clearly criminal, and that there was a lack of communication between her department and farmers’ associations. She further acknowledged that eviction orders could only be issued with ministerial approval – worryingly absent in the case of the 39 farmers.
“It is clear that government is incompetent and out of a position of very poor governance proposes radical legislation that centralises land and other property in the same weak government,” Wilken says.
‘My life hangs in the balance’
Mpumalanga farmer Thabani Nxumalo earlier told Food For Mzansi that the Mpumalanga provincial government was denying him the opportunity to thrive as a black commercial farmer with extensive experience.
“Currently, the big issue I have with the department is the renewal of the lease agreement. In late 2019, I received word that my contract would not be renewed. I am just here – I do not know what is going to happen to me next.
“I have invested so much on this farm; you can imagine it is so stressful to be in this position. Your life hangs in the balance, where do I go with my livestock?”
Meanwhile, Free State Agriculture (FSA) describes the case of the 39 Mpumalanga farmers as a call to take action against expropriation without compensation.
“This case should show the state’s inability to hold its local representatives accountable and prevent corrupt practices. In addition, the potential upheaval of farmers’ production has significant implications for the whole country, as such upheavals will inevitably be reflected in the market. It is therefore essential to stand firm against expropriation without compensation,” says Wilken.
With the looming expropriation without compensation bill now before parliament, the case of these 39 farmers raises serious questions, believes Wilken.
“Given existing corruption and incompetence in the management of state land, what are the implications once expropriation without compensation is set in motion? The possibilities for further corruption and mismanagement seem clear, with extremely disruptive consequences for the lives of all emerging and new farmers.”
‘The worst enemy to farmers’
DA MP Annette Steyn has played an instrumental role in raising awareness about the fate of the Mpumalanga farmers in question.
She says, “All these farmers have every right to be treated fairly and with dignity in the administration of their lease agreements. The department of agriculture, land reform and rural development has obviously failed to do this and has, instead, become the worst enemy to farmers who are trying to build successful farming enterprises.
“The DA has told farmers, who are still on their farms, to ignore the eviction orders and continue farming. The department has to get its house in order first and deal with errant officials before harassing farmers with dubious eviction orders.”
Free State Agriculture’s warning follows a recent announcement by Senzo Mchunu, minister of public service and administration, that 35% of the senior civil servants do not have the necessary qualifications.
The farmers’ organisation last week expressed its concern about the state’s perceived inability to govern the country properly in terms of service delivery.
“In this climate, the government wants to create radical economic legislation and amend the constitution. Agriculture will not allow the injustice to continue untested and without resistance,” says Wilken.