Analysis: Black farmer sues govt for land it promised him
He trains up and coming black farmers but red tape has prevented him from buying land he has leased for 27 years
In a potentially landmark matter, an elderly black farmer from Limpopo has launched a court bid to force the state to sell him the land he has leased since 1991.
David Rakgase, 77, says in papers before the Pretoria High Court he has been leasing the farm from the South African government since 1991. He says he was first offered ownership but later denied it.
He and his family have been working on the 1,560-hectare farm Nooitgedacht in the Waterberg for the past 27 years and he says he has letters proving that the government offered to sell him the farm under a programme meant to help developing black farmers.
Rakgase says he is not the only black farmer who has been affected by the failed programme.
He and his son are believed to be the first to take on the provincial and national departments of rural development and land reform to court over the state’s alleged failure to follow through on a commitment to sell them the leased farm.
The state is opposing the matter.Rakgase has produced letters showing he was offered – and accepted – the opportunity to purchase the land he had been leasing from the government in November 2002 for R1.2m, under the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) programme.
That programme was specifically aimed at helping people from black communities to aquire land. The problem seems to be that this programme has, since 2002, been discontinued and replaced by a new government programme, the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy.
Rakgase says his 2002 agreement with the government was that it would give him a R400,000 grant and he would pay a further R800,000 to acquire the land.
A letter, dated April 16 2003 and signed by a senior manager, states: “This is to confirm that Mr MD Rakgase is the legitimate lessee of the farm Nooitgedacht 11 JQ and that he also bought it through LRAD.”
The letter further states that the process is being handled by state lawyers.
Another letter, dated July 13 2004, says Rakgase had already purchased the farm, “but the title deed has not been registered yet”.
Rakgase was kept in the dark about the process until he was approached by the government and was offered a 30-year lease instead.
Now he wants a court to order Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane to sell the farm Nooitgedacht to him within 30 days. Crucially, he wants to pay the price he was first offered by the state: R1,2m, with the same conditions proposed under the LRAD programme.He says he and his family have invested heavily in the farm, which became a training ground for aspirant young black farmers. They currently have 500 cattle, 30 pigs, 80 sheep and 130 goats.
“I respectfully submit that it is inexplicable that at a time when there is quite rightly national concern about the relatively limited amount of agricultural land which is owned by black South Africans, the minister should have a policy that requires that an experienced black farmer, who has successfully farmed state-owned land for 27 years, and who has at all times made payment of rent which is due, who has been training young black would-be farmers, who wishes to buy the farm that he has leased for 27 years, whom the Land Bank was willing to support with a loan, and whose business plan has been approved by the department, should be required to enter into a lease for a further 30 years in order to obtain any assistance from government’s land redistribution programme, and in order to be able to remain on the farm,” Rakgase says in court papers.Rakgase further argues that the minister’s failure to sell the farm to him amounts to a violation of the Constitution, and says her conduct and that of her officials is “inconsistent with the obligations to take reasonable legislative and other measures to foster conditions which enable citizens to gain access to land on an equitable basis”.
His problems have since multiplied. Rakgase’s land has been the target of land grabbers since May 2016.
“When I approached them and told them they must leave the farm, they responded that I have no authority to evict them, because I am not the owner of the farm. That case has not been finalised,” Rakgase states in court documents.
He later adds that government inspectors found that the unlawful occupation resulted in significant overgrazing, since the occupiers owned 300 cattle.
The government is still in the process of trying to evict them.
When Rakgase first went public with his story last year, Limpopo department of rural development and land reform spokesperson Avhashoni Magada said the LRAD programme was discontinued before Rakgase’s application to buy the land was approved.
“As such he did not get the opportunity to finally own the property. It is important to note that discontinuation of LRAD did not only affect Mr Rakgase alone or only the farmers in Northam, as alleged. It affected all farmers who were in a similar position as Mr Rakgase,” Magada said.
That point is crucial.
Rakgase’s case, if successful, could affect unknown numbers of farmers in the same position. Despite the importance of this case, which was launched in May, the minister has yet to file a substantial response to it. She has simply filed a notice of opposition.