September 27, 2005

Five more farms face seizure by state – Minister: Expropriation "a last resort"

Authorities are on the verge of recommending the expropriation of five North West commercial farms, bringing to six the number of South African properties earmarked for seizure in this manner. Provincial land restitution commissioner Blessing Mphela said that final notices were being prepared to be served on landowners. The notices, to which landowners had a right to respond, would relay the opinion of the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights that further negotiations would be fruitless, Mphela explained. If landowners continued contesting the process after receiving the notice, a recommendation for expropriation would be made to the Minister of Land Affairs. The process was expected to be concluded by the end of the year, he said.

Before, the commission had announced that it had identified the first South African commercial farm for expropriation - the 500ha Leeuwspruit farm in the Lichtenburg district of North West. Farmer Hannes Visser said he intended contesting the move, and would turn to the courts if necessary. That expropriation was recommended to the minister following two-and-a-half years of inconclusive negotiations over the value of the property. Visser wanted R3 million and the government offered R1,75m.

Of the other five farms identified, one was also in the Lichtenburg area, two near Brits, one near Ventersdorp and one in the Groot Marico district, Mphela said. He declined to name the farms for fear of being seen to be intimidating the landowners. The average size of the properties was about 800ha. Two of them were game farms and the rest were used to farm crops and livestock. The communities that had put in claims for the restitution of the affected land comprised about 1200 households. They were in most cases previous title deed holders forced to sell their land to the apartheid government under racial zoning laws. Mphela said negotiations over the five properties had been ongoing for between six and 12 months.
"In some cases it is simply a lack of co-operation; in others it's a dispute around the value of the land and the validity of the (restitution) claim." He alleged that one of the landowners had threatened to assault a commission official at a meeting, while some of them had been "generally abusive". Mphela reiterated that it was the commission's strategy to use land expropriation only as a last resort. "One of the fundamental reasons why we find we have to consider expropriation is either negotiation in bad faith or where the landowner simply does not want to co-operate." Where owners raised legitimate concerns, the commission tried to resolve these through negotiations, Mphela said. "But there has got to be some degree of honesty." He also accused "unscrupulous" lawyers of dragging out the process by promising landowners "things that cannot be achieved". (Sapa)

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