A court has ordered Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti to take back land that was given to a controversial trust and review the claim.
The validity of the claim involving 105 farms worth R51 million in Mpumalanga’s Badplaas area has been contested over the past 12 years, and has resulted in a R3.3 million fraud charge being laid against Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza.
The farms were transferred to the Ndwandwa Community Trust in 2003, but the whole process raised a furore because of allegations that the land prices were hugely inflated and the whole claim was a scam because all the beneficiaries were fake.
On November 20, Randburg’s Land Claims Court ordered Nkwinti to reregister the land in the name of the state before January 31 and appoint an independent researcher to properly investigate the claim before May 20.
The court issued the order after six concerned claimants approached it early last year to reverse a decision by the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights to consolidate various overlapping claims that were lodged by different communities under the Ndwandwa Trust.
“It appears beyond contestation that the claimants did not consent to the transfer of the property. In fact, they objected. The provisions of the Restitution Act have accordingly been breached,” ordered acting Judge Tembeka Ngcukaitobi.
“The decision to consolidate the claims had profound consequences for the applicants. The applicants, being claimants, did not receive the benefit of the land … nor did they receive the benefit of the grant payment [of R8.8 million to the trust].”
The court has ordered the review and setting aside of the consolidation of various claims lodged by different communities under the Ndwandwa Community Trust claim because it was invalid, as well as into the registration of land in the name of the Ndwandwa Trust.
Nkwinti’s spokesperson, Linda Page, said: “The department is going to accept and implement the ruling of the Land Claims Court.”
When she was land affairs minister, Thoko Didiza ordered a forensic investigation into the scam, but apparently did not act on recommendations to lay criminal charges and institute civil claims to recover some of the money.
The investigation found that farms were sold to government for R25.8 million – more than double their actual value.
The court order partly concurs with a report compiled by private investigator Paul O’Sullivan, as well as with concerns about the validity of the claim raised by nature conservationist Fred Daniel.
Daniel said: “There is poetic justice, after all. We’ve contended that the Ndwandwa Trust land claim was fake. The implication of this judgment is that the claim was a massive land scam and the whole place is now a mess with farming having collapsed and investors reluctant to come into the area.”
The Economic Freedom Fighters in Mpumalanga used O’Sullivan’s report to lay charges against Mabuza in November. The Hawks have confirmed that a fraud charge was laid.
O’Sullivan’s report points fingers at businessman Pieter Visagie, who allegedly approached farmers and convinced them to sell their farms to him, though he did not have the means to buy them.
Visagie allegedly resold the farms to government at inflated prices for the benefit of the Ndwandwa Community Trust. O’Sullivan claims Visagie formed the trust with bogus claimants.
Visagie did not answer his phone or respond to questions sent to him via SMS. Previously, Visagie denied all the allegations that he formed a fictitious trust, inflated prices and lodged an invalid claim.
“I’ve been busy with this nonsense for 12 years of my life. I paid for every farm and I wasn’t a valuator to inflate prices. Every allegation is false and they fight everyone,” he said.
O’Sullivan said he gave his report to Nkwinti in 2014.
The fraud charge against Mabuza is based on allegations that, while he was Mpumalanga agriculture MEC, Visagie allegedly approached him to complain that the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights had underpaid him by R3.3 million on some properties he sold.
Mabuza appointed a joint task team, which consisted of officials from the commission and his department, to investigate the matter. The team found that Visagie was owed R3.3 million for irrigation infrastructure that was excluded when the valuation of the properties was conducted.
Mabuza, according to documents City Press has seen, persuaded the commission to pay Visagie the amount in 2009. Mabuza’s spokesperson, Zibonele Mncwango, has distanced Mabuza from this issue, saying: “Land claims were not his competence.”