Scammers in litigation, public service, and beneficiary communities are preying and scavenging on the government’s good intentions on land reform, says Sifiso Mnguni, head of grower development at the South African Farmers Development Association (Safda).
The Restitution of Land Rights Act 22 of 1994 provides for the restoration of rights in land in respect of which persons or communities were dispossessed for the purpose of furthering racism in South Africa. On its implementation, the act provides for various forms of settlement options upon confirmation of due land rights.
These scammers feed on the government’s good intentions of restoring land rights, only to make a killing from transactions.
Beneficiaries have to either have their land restored to them or receive cash compensation, or alternative state-owned land where original land cannot be restored or a combination of some or all of these options.
While cash compensation and alternative land options are easy to settle, restoration of productive land is one that many willing sellers are not really willing to sell. They would have used its value to bargain for a high selling price and would have taken the money by pretending to sell.
Scammers stalk their prey
The willing buyer-willing seller arrangement creates some fertile ground for scammers to prey on and feed on the government’s good intentions of restoring land rights to the dispossessed.
Such scammers come in the disguise of state-appointed transaction lawyers representing beneficiary communities, lawyers representing outgoing landowners who are selling the land to the state as willing sellers, and public officials who appoint and collaborate with communities’ transaction lawyers and even with willing sellers to create their own interest in the transaction.
In my eleven years of working in the land reform space, I have seen the worst of scams in land restitution settlement transactions. I am currently involved with restitution transactions with communities of KwaZulu-Natal’s Umthonjaneni in Melmoth, Amahlubi in Estcourt, KwaMgodi in Howick, and Ncorha in the Eastern Cape, to mention a few.
Bribery rife during transactions
In the guise of willing sellers, outgoing landowners want government money by pretending to be selling when there is no intention whatsoever to sell. They want to get government money and continue to work the land and profit from it.
All they are willing to give to beneficiary communities is a small change called lease rental, determined by them alongside all other terms including conditions of lease termination to guarantee perpetual lease renewal at their discretion – tantamount to the second round of land dispossession.
I have seen some of the weakest attorneys in the practice being appointed for this serious task of litigating through land transfer. Since they cannot make as much money in their own practice, they easily fall to bribery by outgoing landowners.
Playing with prices
They act dishonestly against their own client communities in return for bigger and better pay from the bribe. Some lawyers representing outgoing landowners often secretly build their fees as a percentage of the land settlement price.
And one wonders why the price of the land is often so heavily inflated from that which was determined by the land valuer as part of the legislated settlement process.
Some public officials who operate in the line of processing land claims are corrupt. They work with transacting attorneys to process the terms of the claims and to influence and determine when the claim is ready to go to court for final settlement. Together with attorneys, they are tempted with bribes. Their job becomes one of delivering the community’s signature by all means possible.
The chain of scammers cannot be complete without one or two key community members whose job is to fight any dissenting community voice and opinion.
Unlike the others, these ones are not necessarily professionals and often not the smartest, but they are so dangerous they can literally silence dissenting voices or even start violence in the community to advance the interest of the outgoing landowner. Their share of the bribe is often the smallest in the web of scammers.
In the end, it’s a wide web of players in the scam, with the ultimate objective of ensuring that the supposedly outgoing landowner ends up with both the land and the money, while these other hyenas are scavenging on the crumbs of the bribe. When the scam is done, poor community beneficiaries are left with nothing, and no one cares.
To solve this problem, I suggest that we amend the Restitution of Land Rights Act once again. This time, we should insert a restraint of trade clause preventing the seller to have any further business interest to benefit in the same land he sold. We do this for a defined period of at least 10 years before they could express any business interest on the land.
- Sifiso Mnguni is the head of grower development at the South African Farmers Development Association (Safda). The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Food For Mzansi.
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