By Colleta Dewa
Johannesburg - South Africa’s Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has confirmed that it confiscated 58 farms following damning findings of fraudulent land deals.
According to the department, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) was tasked to uncover the dodgy land reform activities between 2011 and 2018.
In its findings, SIU noted that its investigations not only revealed major systemic weaknesses in the department’s land redistribution and agricultural development sub-programme, but also in systems, controls and mechanisms of the land reform programme itself.
“The irregularities exposed during the course of this investigation largely related to the award and administration of land redistribution and agricultural development grants with a few exceptions. These grants were made available to beneficiaries with a view to cover the costs of the acquisition of agricultural land and/or interest in such land,” read the SIU report.
In reaction, the department of land last week revealed that it had retained 58 farms which were implicated in the fraudulent activities.
“In relation to the farms forfeited through the fraud and corruption activities, 58 farms worth R150 million have been returned to the state and a further 37 are under curatorship awaiting investigations to be concluded. Upon conclusion of this process, the 37 farms will be returned to the state as well,” said the department in a statement.
The department also dismissed media reports that little has been done by way of corrective action since the report was handed over saying it had moved to nullify bad deals and had acted against staff under its jurisdiction.
“The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has adhered to the recommendations of the Special Investigations Unit and we have since 2012 instituted disciplinary actions. These disciplinary processes are at various stages with most of them concluded and sanctions made against the officials.
"Eight officials were dismissed, five officials could not be disciplined because the department did not have jurisdiction over them; two officials retired and one resigned, five were awarded sanctions of final written warnings,one was medically unfit to go through the process and six cases are still pending. One official is serving 10 years in prison for fraud and corruption,” said the department.
The SIU also exposed how, in many instances, thousands of alleged beneficiaries were not aware of the project, had never been to the farm, had never lived or worked on a farm and did not qualify for grants.
Due to these findings, the land redistribution and agricultural development programme has since been suspended and replaced by the proactive land acquisition strategy sub-programme, which instead of using grants to enable black people to own land, entailed the government taking ownership, and then leasing it to beneficiaries, with the eventual goal of them buying it themselves.
According to research done by The Southern Times, though the department has assured the public that it is fairly equipped to legally and fairly deal with all land reform processes now and in the future, the SIU findings report opened a can of worms and largely stained public trust.