Zondo report is only the tip of the iceberg

The way in which the state has dealt with land reform and agricultural development since the early 2000s calls for an investigation into state capture and corruption similar to that of the Zondo Commission.

While South Africa is reeling from the first Zondo Commission report’s revelations of fraud, nepotism, self-enrichment, cadre favouritism and dishonesty under ANC rule and governance, there are extensive irregularities in the land reform process that the commission did not even look at. Saai as a network for family farmers hopes that one day a similar investigation will be launched into the departments responsible for land reform and farmer development.

Former President Kgalema Motlanthe had already handed over a damning report on irregularities in land reform to President Ramaphosa in 2018 after a high-level investigation, but nothing came of it. No one was held responsible or liable.

Such an investigation should focus on the validity and legality of land claims that have given rise to transactions worth billions of rands. It should also put the favouritism of lists of people who benefit from those transactions and agricultural enterprises under a magnifying glass. Funds budgeted for farmer development and start-up capital to land reform beneficiaries hardly ever reaches them, and controversial community property associations are mostly loaded with cadres who have no interest in successful agricultural development or poverty alleviation. They mostly lie in wait with the people who are supposed to benefit from land reform and walk away with the money.

The manipulation of farm prices to cater for undisclosed “commissions” and bribery has made headlines in transactions such as Badplaas and Mala-Mala, where a billion rand was paid for a game farm, but after more than a decade there also came nothing of this revelation.

The redistribution program where beneficiaries do not get ownership of the land but are doomed to permanent sharefarmer status with leases, is also hampered by nepotism and corruption. The incidents where Ivan Cloete in the Western Cape, Vuyani Zigana in the Eastern Cape and 39 black farmers in Ermelo were kicked off their rental farms to cater for wealthy tenderpreneurs with influential friends are just a few examples that received media exposure. The ANC leadership’s excuse throughout remains that they were unware of it, but there no action has been taken against corrupt lower-level officials.

The high turnover of director-generals in the relevant departments is an indication of the chaos and deficient leadership in land reform. Every time a minister or black agricultural leaders say that more than 90% of all land reform projects have failed, the farmers wonder where the other 10% are.

The unfortunate situation and poor management of land reform in South Africa comes up during every meeting that Saai has with embassies in Pretoria, or with foreign governments elsewhere in the world, and it is clear that South Africa will have to do something imaginative to restore legitimacy and confidence in the land reform idea.

Taking the Motlanthe report out from under the rug and launching a Zondo-type investigation could go a long way in putting land reform on a meaningful trajectory and creating a class of profitable black farmers.