May 22, 2003

'Revolutionary' land reform plan proposed to Levubu Farmers

Government has proposed a "revolutionary" land reform plan to a group of farmers from the highly valuable Levubu area in Limpopo, the group's leader said on Thursday, May 22.

Frans Prinsloo said the plan entailed equity sharing between the current owners and communities who were claiming their farms in terms of land reform legislation. According to the plan, proposed by the regional Land Claims Commission, a joint venture was to be set up between the current farmers and the new landowners after transferral of the land to the claimants. Current landowners would be contracted to continue managing the different farming enterprises for an interim period of several years. They would re-invest part of the payment they received from government for their land into the joint venture. Prinsloo, who says he represents 18 of Levubu's around 200 farmers, said the plan was reasonably acceptable to him personally. However, he had not yet consulted the rest of his group. "If any plan should work, it would be this one," Prinsloo said.

Five communities in the far north of Limpopo lodged land claims against Levubu, worth around R700-million. The claimants are the Ravele, Nemadzivhandela, Masakhona, Tshikano and Ratombo communities. According to the Land Claims Commission it is one of the biggest land claims in the country.

Levubu, which produces fruit such as mangoes, avocados, bananas, litchis, guavas and apples under irrigation, is one of the most valuable and productive farming areas in the country. Around 80 percent of its produce is exported, earning large amounts of foreign revenue. The area stretches across about 15,000 hectares and is divided in several highly developed smaller units, employing an estimated 10,000 workers. Farming practices are intensive, requiring considerable expertise.

Government is worried about the risk of losing all this if the land should simply be transferred to the claimants without providing them with the necessary expertise. Prinsloo's group approached government after the claims were lodged as willing sellers. Another group of around 17 Levubu landowners mandated a property agent to negotiate with government the selling price for their farms, Prinsloo said. A third group was challenging the land claims, asking for proof of the claimants' historic rights to the area.

Limpopo land claims commissioner Mashile Mokono said on Thursday government wanted Levubu's horticultural production levels to be sustained after transferral of land ownership. "We don't want a situation where the economy of the area collapses." He said two options were available: either keep current farmers on as partners, or recruiting other knowledgeable farmers from elsewhere. Mokono believes the claimants had sufficient proof of their historical occupation and ownership of the land. "If it should go to court, I believe there is enough evidence for a very strong case," he said. Prinsloo's group would give the commission its view of the proposed equity sharing plan within the next three weeks, Mokono said. (SAPA, Johannesburg)

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