Expropriation of land with no compensation is an ongoing issue in South Africa, which requests all black citizens to have equal access to land ownership.
Standing on what used to be the entrance to her farm in Doornkop outside Soweto, Vonani Bila sobbingly reminisces about what would have been a ticket to a better life.
It has been a shattering journey for Bila and other Doornkop plot 239 IQ farmers after their silver spoon was forcefully snatched from their mouths.
The Doornkop farmers claim they have been defrauded of their land by the man who was appointed to carry out a housing project on their land, now known as Lufhereng.
These are the land farmers from Lufhereng residential area who claim that the Doornkop 239 IQ land plot was illegally compensated by Charles Davids who the project manager. Picture: Mpumelelo Buthelezi
It was in 2007 when the farmers were approached by the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) housing department under the Lufhereng Housing Project to vacate their farms and make way for the project.
They alleged the department assured them there would be compensation equal to what they owned. The department also assured a transparent process of compensation. Compensation included the market value of farms they owned according to their hectares, compensation for projects that were carried on respective farms and RDP houses allocated to their children.
Part of the deal was also to create job opportunities to allow farmers to participate in the building project. Upon the assurance, farmers agreed to make way for the housing project.
However, promises were never kept.
“We trusted the municipality because we had voted to put those people in power, so we entirely trusted them to keep the process transparent,” said Benny Tsambo.
Then all hell broke loose when the farmers were robustly ordered to vacate their land by the housing department project manager Charles Davis.
Farmers claim they were also intimidated to sign over their farms.
“[Davis] invited me to his office in the presence of a lot of white adjudicators and one black lady. He instructed me to sign over documents and said: ‘Sign here, this land does not belong to you!’
“From there he instructed me not to disclose what had happened in his office. Then it became an ongoing process, other farmers were also called after me,” said Tsambo.
Bila added that she was given a written order to vacate her farm within a certain time frame.
He instructed me to sign over documents and said: ‘Sign here, this land does not belong to you!’
“Charles took advantage that my farm was private and threatened me with his lawyer who then issued me a letter stating I should vacate my farm within 15 days. I tried to fight him with my lawyers, but it was not successful. In 2015, Charles then sent a tractor in my absence to demolish everything – two houses and all outside rooms I owned,” said Bila.
Davis is also accused of carrying out the housing project on top of the community’s graveyards without consulting the community.
The farmers said they have tried to engage the council on various occasions without success.
“We approached the council and they denied knowing these issues, yet it is the one that made money available to other farmers. So I feel like the council, too, robbed us along with this Charles,” said one the farmers’ grandchildren, Joshua.
The farmers also alleged that they were not compensated equally.
Committee members claimed that one owner with a farm of about 10 hectares was paid about R3m, while another one was offered less for a 20ha farm.
Davis refused to comment as the matter was still under investigation and referred questions to the council.
In its response to the allegations, the CoJ said it was aware of the claims made by farmers and had started an investigation.
Vonani Bila alongside her granddaughter are standing in one of the land plot in Doornkop 239 IQ,Lufhereng, Soweto which belongs to Vonani. Picture: Mpumelelo Buthelezi
CoJ spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane said: “We currently await the conclusion of the investigation into the matter.”
He, however, said the privately owned Doornkop farm portions were acquired from private land owners on a “negotiated” basis, or expropriated where required.
“All other farm portions were owned by the state and/or the CoJ, on which both Gauteng and CoJ earmarked the vast tracts of underutilised agricultural zoned land for the Lufhereng integrated housing development programme.
“It was resolved that all non-CoJ-owned land would be transferred to the CoJ in order for the city to implement the development.
“There were no evictions or forced removals, rather, the city and Gauteng housing elected to enter into ex gratia settlement agreements with the historical state lessees – some in occupation of old farm houses. Their lease agreements had either expired, were no longer valid or deemed cancelled due to nonperformance.
“The ex gratia settlements were reached by a team of officials from the city,” said Modingoane.
He also added that each settlement agreement reached was dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
A case has been opened against the project manager, and the city’s forensic and investigations departments are said to be conducting investigations.
Lucky Sindane, director at the city’s forensic and investigations department, said: “We are currently busy with the investigations. We had a meeting last week discussing the progress of the case. Unfortunately, I am in no position to disclose but we will inform the right parties once the investigations are done.”
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This feature is part of a journalism partnership called Our Land between City Press, Rapport, HuffPost SA, Landbouweekblad and Code for Africa to find the untold stories, air the debates, amplify the muted voices, do the research and, along the way, find equitable solutions to SA’s all-important land issue. Grab your copy of City Press on Sunday June 24 for more stories about Our Land, an ongoing editorial project