Officials allegedly withhold funds in restitution case
Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti has ordered an investigation into complaints that land reform officials in Mpumalanga are trying to swindle land beneficiaries of millions in restitution grants.
Nkwinti ordered the investigation after about 80 communal property associations (CPAs) submitted a report to his office claiming that unscrupulous officials were withholding funds due to them – leading to the collapse of their farming enterprises.
One of the communal property associations, Ndlovini, alleges that provincial land officials are trying to swindle them out of as much as R3 million.
In 2004, 950 Ndlovini beneficiaries successfully reclaimed 235 hectares of land outside Mbombela. The land is fertile and supports gum, macadamia, litchi and pomegranate trees, as well as vegetables. They said they were awarded a R15 million grant by the provincial rural development and land reform department, but now claim this money is being withheld by crooked officials in that department who have tried to get them to verbally accept a reduced payment of R12 million.
The Ndlovini communal property association, however, intends to fight for its full payment.
Ndlovini chairperson Elvis Mgwenya said: “Our business plan clearly indicates that we need R15 million, but the department’s officials have been telling us verbally that we’ll get R12 million. They’ve refused to release the funds, and have been inviting former CPA executive members to disrupt our meetings.”
He said they had received no explanation about why they should be made to settle for R12 million. “They don’t tell us what will happen to the other R3 million. That smells of corruption to us. The new CPA was elected in February, but to date there has been no handover of the farm and the department has ignored our calls for intervention,” he said.
Nkwinti’s spokesperson, Linda Page, confirmed that the minister was investigating Ndlovini’s claims and those of other aggrieved communal property associations.
Ndlovini has had a long-standing battle with government over money issues.
A 2012 investigation by auditing firm KPMG – commissioned by the national rural development and land reform department – found that those who constituted Ndlovini’s previous management committee could not account for R8.3 million, which they said had been spent on infrastructure and other operating costs.
But the old management committee of the association laid fraud charges against departmental officials. Those related to the alleged disappearance of R2.9 million, which was supposed to be start-up capital for the new land owners.
Such grants, provided under section 42 of the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act, are calculated at 25% of the value of the farm in question. The fraud charge is being investigated by the Hawks. Mpumalanga rural development and land reform spokesperson Malema Ntsime has since May failed to respond to written questions about the KPMG report, the fraud charge and the allegations of large-scale corruption in the department.
“I’ve sent your questions to the relevant officials, but so far they’ve not responded,” was all Ntsime would say this week.
The 80 communal property associations that have expressed concerns are from Mpumalanga’s Ehlanzeni region and comprise about 10 000 beneficiaries.