The Lim­popo farmer who’s been wait­ing 16 years for his ti­tle deed

The land de­bate couldn’t have come at a bet­ter time for Lim­popo farmer David Rak­gase – he’s been wait­ing 16 years for his ti­tle deed

DRUM - - Contents - BY KAIZER NGWENYA PIC­TURES: LUBA LESOLLE

HE JUST wants to leave a last­ing legacy. Some­thing his chil­dren, grand­chil­dren and great grand­chil­dren would be proud to call their own. This is why Lim­popo farmer David Rak­gase and his son, Mmofa, are tak­ing the gov­ern­ment to court. He wants to be able to buy the land he’s been leas­ing and farm­ing on since be­fore the dawn of democ­racy in South Africa.

David (77) farms cat­tle, sheep, goats, pigs and game in Northam, Lim­popo. The wid­ower and his four chil­dren have been work­ing the 3 079-hectare Nooitgedac­ht farm in the Water­berg for 27 years and now he wants to own it, fair and square. He’s filed pa­pers with the North Gaut­eng High Court in Pre­to­ria ask­ing them to or­der the min­is­ter of ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and land re­form, Maite Nkoana-Masha­bane, as well as the MEC for agri­cul­ture and ru­ral de­vel­op­ment in Lim­popo, Basikopo Makamu, to sell him the land.

We’re sit­ting on plas­tic chairs in the shade of some trees as the proud farm­ers tell us why they be­lieve they should be able to buy the land.

“We’ve in­vested thou­sands of rands in this farm,” Mmofa (47) says.

His father agrees. “Our roots are deep here. Our loved ones are buried here. My wife, Rose­mary, and I sunk our pen­sion money into the farm. And my chil­dren in­vested all their money in the farm buy­ing Brah­man and Nguni cat­tle, sheep, goats, pigs and game,” David says.

The Rak­gases are be­lieved to be the first to take the pro­vin­cial and na­tional de­part­ments to court to force them to fol­low through on a com­mit­ment to sell them their leased farm.

Go­ing to court was a last re­sort, they say. “It’s hard for me not to fight for some­thing that’s about my rights and dig­nity and the rights and dig­nity of my chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.

“If I don’t fight this I will have no legacy, noth­ing for them to cher­ish and be proud of in the years to come” David says.

The father and son say their liveli­hood and fu­ture is hang­ing in the bal­ance be­cause there’s no se­cu­rity for them with­out a ti­tle deed. They can’t pour any more money into the farm be­cause they don’t know what will hap­pen to­mor­row.

“The gov­ern­ment must do what is right and con­clude the sale of the farm and give us the ti­tle deed,” Mmofa says. “We went to court as the fi­nal course of ac­tion be­cause the gov­ern­ment has not been fair to us.”

IN 2002 the Rak­gases qual­i­fied to buy the farm un­der the Land Re­dis­tri­bu­tion for Agri­cul­tural De­vel­op­ment pro­gramme. The pro­gramme, which was to help black peo­ple ac­quire land, has since been dis­con­tin­ued. “The gov­ern­ment came here to look at the farm and the Land Bank in Modi­molle eval­u­ated it at R1,2 mil­lion. We sent the ap­pli­ca­tion to the then-min­is­ter [Gugile Nk­winti] and have been do­ing fol­low-ups with all the min­is­ters in the depart­ment.

“It has been 16 years and the ap­pli­ca­tion has not yet been fi­nalised,” David says.

When con­tacted for com­ment Phuti Ma­bele­bele, spokesper­son for the depart­ment of ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and land re­form, said they wouldn’t have de­tails of the case avail­able be­fore go­ing to print.

The Rak­gases hope court ac­tion will make things move faster.

As part of his court ap­pli­ca­tion they pro­duced proof that David was of­fered an op­por­tu­nity to buy the land from the gov­ern­ment for R1,2 mil­lion in 2002.

The gov­ern­ment would give him R400 000 as a grant and he would pay the rest. He agreed and has been wait­ing for the wheels to turn.

“We pay a monthly rental of R3 410 to the depart­ment of ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and land re­form,” Mmofa says.

“No one wants to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the years we’ve been wait­ing for gov­ern­ment’s ap­proval and no one wants to give us a straight an­swer.

“We tried to push and push and at last we felt the only so­lu­tion was go­ing to the high court. We want the high court to tell them to give us the ti­tle deed,” the frus­trated farmer says.

The state is op­pos­ing the case – they filed a no­tice to op­pose – but the min­istry hasn’t filed their full pa­pers yet.

It’s clear David and Mmofa feel con­nected to this land as they give us a tour. There was just a farm­house on the prop­erty when they first leased it in 1991 and they’ve since made im­prove­ments.

They’ve built stor­age rooms and roads, have sunk bore­holes, in­stalled an ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem and put up new fenc­ing to pro­tect the game on the farm.

Their farm has be­come a train­ing ground for up-and-com­ing young black farm­ers.

It’s also a source of em­ploy­ment – David em­ployed 30 farm­work­ers at one point but has had to let some go due to the un­cer­tainty.

Farm­ing hasn’t al­ways been easy and they’ve been vic­tims of land in­va­sion.

In 2016 a por­tion of their farm was in­vaded by squat­ters who built shacks.

“I still have to pay the full monthly rent be­cause con­trac­tu­ally we are li­able. I, the per­son who leased the land, must in­ter­vene and try to make the in­vaders pay. And you know they will never do that,” David says, shak­ing his head.

About 1 700 hectares of land was in­vaded and David ap­proached the high court in Polok­wane in April this year to have the squat­ters evicted from his land.

“We are still wait­ing,” he says.

FARM­ING is a fam­ily busi­ness for the Rak­gases. David’s grand­fa­ther and father were cat­tle farm­ers who lived about 12km from Nooitgedac­ht.

“We are a fam­ily of farm­ers. “Even when I was a rev­erend in the Dutch Re­formed Church I knew I was go­ing to be a farmer af­ter re­tire­ment.”

And David’s chil­dren are fol­low­ing in his foot­steps. His son Kgao­gelo (37) and daugh­ter Tsh­waragano (34) have higher diplo­mas in agri­cul­ture from PH Moeketsi Agri­cul­tural School in Taung, North West.

Mmofa has a BSc de­gree in agri­cul­ture and an­i­mal pro­duc­tion from the Univer­sity of the North West, a de­gree in an­i­mal pro­duc­tion and an­other in pas­toral farm­ing from the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria, as well as a mas­ter’s de­gree in risk man­age­ment from the Univer­sity of the Free State.

He’s cur­rently do­ing a PhD in an­i­mal pro­duc­tion at the Univer­sity of Lim­popo.

David’s other son, Mathaithai (42), started work­ing on the farm as a man­ager from an early age.

David’s wife, Rose­mary, was a school prin­ci­pal and died in 2005.

She and two of her grand­chil­dren, An­dreas and Mary, are buried near the farm­house.

This is home, the fam­ily tell us. And farm­ing is their pas­sion. They have 500 cat­tle, 30 pigs, 80 sheep and 130 goats so far.

They want to be part of pro­vid­ing “dev­e­lop­ment, sus­tain­abil­ity and food se­cu­rity”, Mmofa says.

Their case proves the land de­bate is cru­cial in South Africa, they say. And it has to be han­dled prop­erly, or it will fail.

Hav­ing a ti­tle deed pro­vides a level of dig­nity and se­cu­rity, and that’s all David wants for his fam­ily.

Red tape is what’s stand­ing be­tween him and the dig­nity of land own­er­ship, he says.

“I buried my wife and grand­chil­dren here,” he tells DRUM.

“Six­teen years wait­ing is a very long time by any stan­dard of rea­son­ing. This farm is my home.”

‘No one wants to take re­spon­si­bil­ity’

ABOVE LEFT: David Rak­gase has since 2002 been try­ing to buy the land on which he farms with his son, Mmofa (LEFT), and other chil­dren. ABOVE: David’s late wife, Rose­mary, and two of her grand­chil­dren are buried near the farm­house.

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