State will no longer fight black farmer on right to land

Minister Thoko Didiza apologizes on behalf of government to winner of landmark court case on farm ownership.

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Thoko Didiza, the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, has on behalf of government issued an apology to Limpopo farmer David Rakgase, who struggled for more than 17 years to buy leased land from the state.

Didiza, who was the keynote speaker at the AFASA Agri-business Transformation Conference currently underway in Bloemfontein, told Food For Mzansi: “We already withdrew (our application for leave to appeal) because there was no consultation with the political authority, meaning myself, in that matter.”

“When we saw it on the Business Day (reporting that the state would appeal the precedent-setting judgement) we then got to understand that they were doing some stop-gap, in case. So we told them that, no, we are not appealing.”

“We actually have to extend our apologies to farmer Rakgase. Indeed, his matter should have been resolved long ago,” she said.

Rakgase leased his farm from government for nearly 30 years and eventually dragged the state to court in an effort to buy the land. Rakgase signed a 30-year lease to a 179-hectare farm with the previous regime in 1991.

As recently as three days ago, the DA had accused the ANC of playing legal games following the North Gauteng High Court’s decision on 4 September 2019 in favour of Rakgase and his son, Mmofa. The verdict meant that the Rakgase’s could finally gain ownership of their land. This after Rakgase took the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development to court in a desperate attempt to force the state to sell him the land his family was promised in 2002.

DA shadow minister of rural development and land reform, Annette Steyn.
DA shadow minister of rural development and land reform, Annette Steyn.

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Food For Mzansi informed DA MP Anette Steyn about Didiza’s announcement and apology. The DA’s shadow minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, who had taken up Rakgase’s cause, described the news as “wonderful”. She said: “The announcement is really special as Mr Rakgase celebrates his 80th birthday this week.”

Steyn confirmed that Rakgase’s lawyers received confirmation of the withdrawal and urged government to urgently speed up the process to assist hundreds of other farmers in similar situations throughout the country.

The DA had taken the department to task for their intention to appeal the landmark decision. The verdict of the court is considered a great win for farmers who were the beneficiaries of land reform, but who now find themselves unable to secure ownership of the land they lease from the state.

The Rakgase’s have been farming with cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and game on their Nooitgedacht farm in Northam in the Waterberg district for 28 years. All they wanted was to own the land that they’ve been working, fair and square.

A delighted Rakgase earlier told Food For Mzansi, “I feel very happy, and I’m so relieved after fighting for all these years. This judgment means we can progress because my children were born into agriculture and now we can keep the family legacy going.”

He added that he hopes that winning this case is also a win to the many other farmers in similar situations in Limpopo and the rest of South Africa.

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