For 80-year-old farmer David Rakgase government’s decision to include his farm on a widely publicised list of 896 state farms that are up for grabs, feels like a “knock in the teeth”.
He has been toiling the land on the Nooitgedacht farm in Northam in Limpopo for 28 years. In May this year, after a six-year legal battle, government agreed to transfer full ownership of the farm to Rakgase at the original price agreed in 2002.
Now – six months later – Rakgase, once again, finds himself at loggerheads with the state after the very farm is being advertised on a list of nearly 700 000 hectares of state land availed for agricultural purposes. The release of state land was first announced in pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address in February.
A heartbroken Rakgase tells Food For Mzansi, “They (the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development) sold the farm to me at the end of June this year, I paid the balance and now I am still waiting for the transfer of title deeds in my name.”
Despite this he is still waiting to realise his dream of owning Nooitgedacht. Rakgase first signed a 30-year lease agreement in 1991 in the former Bophutatswana. In 2002, he qualified to buy the farm for R621 000 and signed all the necessary documents. A lengthy battle over the ownership of the farm, however, ensued.
‘It is no longer about feelings’
The recent news of his father’s farm being advertised is shocking, says Mmofu Rakgase (47). He tells Food For Mzansi that his elderly father is clear, “We will not even entertain the matter in the courts of public opinion. It is no longer about feelings. It is about doing what is right and people doing as they please.”
DA MP Annette Steyn, who was instrumental in Rakgase’s earlier court victory, says the criteria used by minister Thoko Didiza’s department to identify so-called “underutilised or vacant state land” may have been subjectively applied by officials who also included productive farms.
In a media release Steyn says, “Despite agreeing earlier this year to transfer full ownership of the farm to Mr Rakgase, the sudden U-turn by the government to list his farm under the latest land reform programme is not only puzzling, but now borders on vindictive victimisation of this elderly farmer.”
Noluthando Ngcakani: Ntate Rakgase, you have waited nearly a lifetime to become a landowner. What went through your mind when you found out that your dream could possibly be taken from you?
David Rakgase: I wonder how. How can they advertise a portion of my farm when they know very well that I got the farm from them? I am wondering what the role of government really is. How does this administration function because they know very well that I bought the farm and that I am waiting for the transfer of land in my name.
You have been farming since before the dawn of democracy amid many battles with the state. What keeps you going?
I do not have the option or freedom to even think about giving up. My legacy depends on this business. My children are also involved in the farming enterprise. If I die, it means they will carry on the family legacy – just like my father did when my grandfather passed on, and like I did when I took over from him.
I am building a family business. My passions for this industry were transferred through my bloodline and I intend to keep it going. My father was a farmer. His father was farmer.
I was supposed to be an example for future black farmers. It seems as if government is not prepared to take black farmers seriously and watch them move mountains in this industry.
Besides your battles with government, what other hurdles have you overcome?
In all my years of farming the most underrated and threatening challenge has been stock theft. And of course, climate change.
Stock thieves have no idea how much you pour into a farming enterprise. To them your stock is just easy pickings. You put your blood sweat and tears into this business and it is a debilitating experience to be a victim of such a crime, or any crime for that matter. Stock theft requires urgent intervention.
The state is not doing enough to protect farmers. We are on our own. There needs to be some drastic changes to policy that protects farmers. Even if it means reinstating curfew laws and restricting the movement of people.
I don’t think government is at all worried about the issue of stock theft in South Africa otherwise it would intervene and help us who are struggling to keep afloat.
How do you rate government’s efforts to transform agriculture?
I would give its efforts a rate of 50%. They have yet to reach the remainder. Farming, on an enterprise level, is a very difficult business that needs active support from support from government.
Do you have any advice for future farmers?
It takes hard work to succeed in this business. Farming is a full-time gig. You need to be present in all aspects. If you are not a full-time farmer and depend on other people to be present for you, you are not going to make it.
Be prepared to work hard. Do not think when you are in agriculture you will become rich overnight. This is a long-term business to build for yourself and the generation that will come after you.