R51m Mpumalanga land claims scandal on hold pending beneficiaries’ appeal

2016-03-17 09:42

A R51 million land claim saga in Mpumalanga is back on hold because the beneficiaries have opposed a court decision for the claim to be reviewed.

In November, the Land Claims Court ordered Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti to take back farms worth R51 million from the Ndwandwa Community Trust and review the claim.

When the department was in the process of complying with the Land Claims Court’s ruling, the trust made the application to oppose the process.

The court ordered Nkwinti to re-register the farms in Mpumalanga’s Badplaas area in the state’s name by January 31 this year and appoint an independent researcher to investigate the validity of the claim following allegations that it was fictitious.

Nkwinti’s spokesperson, Linda Page, said: “When the department was in the process of complying with the court’s ruling, [the] Ndwandwa Trust made an application to oppose the process. However, the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights endorsed a caveat on the title deeds – that properties cannot be transferred to any person until the appeal is heard in the court.”

The Land Claims Court issued the order after six concerned claimants approached it to reverse the commission’s decision to consolidate various overlapping claims that were lodged by different communities under the Ndwandwa Trust.

The Ndwandwa Community Trust land claim has been contested over the past 12 years over its validity, because of lack of evidence that the beneficiaries were initially removed due to discriminatory and racist laws.

Farms were sold at double the price

When the government transferred the land in 2003, it was discovered that the prices of the farms were inflated.

Former land affairs minister Thoko Didiza ordered a forensic investigation into the matter then, but apparently did not act on recommendations to lay criminal charges and institute civil claims to recover some money.

The investigation found that farms, which were sold at R25.8 million to the government, cost more than double their actual price. The ANC subsequently proposed scrapping the willing-seller willing-buyer principle following many discussions after the Badplaas scandal.

President Jacob Zuma replaced the principle with the Property Valuation Act of 2014. Forensic investigator, Paul O’Sullivan, probed the claims in 2014 and found that they were invalid. O’Sullivan claimed he gave his report to Nkwinti in 2014, but Page could not confirm or deny this.

Premier faces a fraud charge

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) took O’Sullivan’s report and laid a fraud charge against Mpumalanga premier, David Mabuza. 

O’Sullivan’s report accuses businessman Pieter Visagie of approaching farmers to sell their farms to him although he did not have the money to buy them.

Visagie, according to the report, resold the farms to the government at exorbitant prices. These farms were then claimed by the Ndwandwa Community Trust. O’Sullivan claims that Visagie formed the trust with bogus claimants.

The fraud charge the EFF laid against Mabuza was based on the allegation that, while he was Mpumalanga agriculture MEC, Visagie approached him to complain that the commission underpaid him by R3.3 million on some properties he sold.

Mabuza appointed a joint task team comprising the commission and his department’s officials to investigate. The task team found that Visagie was owed R3.3 million for irrigation infrastructure that was excluded when valuation of the properties was done.

Mabuza allegedly persuaded the commission to pay Visagie the amount in 2009.

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March 17 2019