SIU considering criminal charges against “farm flippers”

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) says it hopes to bring civil, and even criminal action, against those found to have abused an agriculture land reform programme, which allegedly benefited political-connected elites.

The Mail & Guardian last week reported how one state-owned farm, Nirwanda in De Doorns in the Western Cape’s Boland region, was falling apart after government funds meant to empower emerging farmers were diverted and squandered.

READ MORE: ‘Farm flipping’: How land reform was broken by the elite

Senior officials in the department of rural development and land reform are alleged to have gotten lucrative contracts from the state to take over land reform farms with subsidies that should have been directed to impoverished rural farm dwellers and emerging commercial farmers. These officials have become known as “Luthuli House comrades-in-farms”. 

Government’s proactive land acquisition strategy (PLAS) was a programme where government bought farms that were distress, and then leased them to emerging black farmers until they became self-sustainable.
PLAS was meant to be a key part of the government’s work to ensure more black farmers are able to grow and sell their produce, on land they have a stake in.

To help them, PLAS was coupled with the recapitalisation and development programme (RADP) where, to make the farms commercially profitable, a strategic partner or agribusiness is brought on board to mentor the emerging farmers.

But several former and current officials in the land department complained of a culture of patronage where favours are meted out to “Luthuli House comrades-in-farms” .

Officials on state-owned farms, in collusion with corporates and ANC party members, allegedly squandered billions of rand meant for land reform.

The SIU said it has been probing allegations for seven years, and has a stack of evidence of wrongdoing.

“A forensic investigation report by two forensic entities found irregularities of a serious and material nature in respect of the processes and prescripts followed by the Department of Land Reform and Rural Development,” the SIU said in a statement.

The SIU said it had already tabled a preliminary report to the Presidency, and that investigations are still on going.

“The information obtained so far during the SIU investigation confirms the irregularities, or non-compliance with policies and prescripts. Therefore the investigation is currently ongoing and crucial evidence is being obtained, with the view to institute civil litigation, criminal and disciplinary action,” the anti-corruption unit said.

Meanwhile, members of the Big Five — a registered farming co-operative which is meant to be the beneficiary of the De Doorns farm that the M&G reported on last week, said they hope there will be action soon.

EDITORIAL: Nail the farm-flippers

They’ve just recently been able to plant a crop which they hope will bring in some income for their business. Their financial manager, Manduleliu Mzayiya, said new Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform Thoko Didiza and President Cyril Ramaphosa will ensure they receive the money to develop their farm.

“Everybody has high expectations that after the cabinet announcement there’ll be some changes. We hope that the new president and the new minister will change things. Everybody is optimistic,” Mzayiya said.

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