A story of a land claim benefiting all involved

November 29, 2017

BUSINESS LIVE / 28 NOVEMBER 2017 - 05:59 / JOHN YOUNG

 

In Tsitsikamma, restitution has led to a thriving dairy farm, incorporating wind energy and the former owners
 

Rural land, who should be on it and what to do with it, are hot topics. Black Monday, an attempt to draw attention to rural violence, caused controversy because of the presence of the old South African flag.

 

Picture: ISTOCK

 

 

AgriSA’s land audit found that the open market had successfully transferred land to black farmers but attracted criticism because it conflated black-owned with state-owned land and didn’t bore down into the details of new ownership.

 

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform achieved just 14% of its targets in the first quarter of 2017.

 

After transfer to black ownership, huge tea estates in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape seem perpetually about to be "revived", despite large government investments.

 

Vumelana Advisory Fund says that 90% of the useful farm land that has been transferred, amounting to 5.9-million hectares, has lost productivity.

 

 

A dairy farm in Wittekleibosch, where the land is owned by the community and the cows by the Du Plessis brothers. Picture: SUPPLIED

 

 

And yet, in the Tsitsikamma between the mountains and the sea west of the Kromme River near Humansdorp, a community of black farmers has just commissioned a new 66-point rotary dairy shed.

 

This is in addition to the successful dairy operation they share with brothers Johan and Willie du Plessis. The Wittekleibosch community is benefiting from the presence on their property of a 95MW windfarm, the Tsitsikamma Community Wind Farm.

 

The joint venture between the brothers and the Wittekleibosch Dairy Trust sells more than 6-million litres of milk a year. The land is owned by the black families, and the cows are owned by the Du Plessis brothers.

 

The dairy shed expansion is intended to give the Wittekleibosch community its own herd and dairy.

 

New calves have been allocated alternately for some time between the partners.

 

Funding for the R32m shed and equipment came from the Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform. Finance has also come from commercial banks and the Humansdorp Co-operative.

 

The partnership between the Wittekleibosch families and the Du Plessis brothers began when the Tsitsikamma Mfengu won back their land months before SA’s first democratic elections.

 

They had been forcibly removed by the apartheid government in 1977.

 

The Tsitsikamma Exiles Association, which for years campaigned for restitution, reconstituted itself as the Tsitsikamma Development Trust and channelled money from the government to pay out white farmers on the land.

 

The Wittekleibosch community, one of the four areas that make up the Tsitsikamma Mfengu community, asked Johan du Plessis to stay on and run the dairy farm.

 

The Tsitsikamma Development Trust has representatives from four area management committees and is the democratic voice of the Tsitsikamma Mfengu. The draft bills before Parliament, aiming to give traditional leaders greater sway over mineral rights and deals with outsiders, won’t change anything in the Tsitsikamma.

 

Their land claim was backed by an impressive deed of grant, the first document that registers land (deeds of sale come later).

 

Signed by the lieutenant-governor of the eastern division of the colony of the Cape of Good Hope "in the name of Her Majesty Victoria", it is dated December 15 1841.

 

This document protected the Tsitsikamma Mfengu for many years from apartheid people-movers, but in May 1975, a law was passed to force hundreds of families off nearly 8,000ha of fertile land. No compensation was paid for land lost, only for dwellings. The average payment was R429.33.

 

The families were dumped at Keiskammahoek in the Ciskei. Within a year, 72 infants died because of the lack of milk and proper food.

 

The law forcing them off their land was passed exactly 140 years after May 14 1835, when the Mfengu took a pledge to obey the queen, accept Christianity and to educate their children. Most of the Mfengu originally came from what is now northern KwaZulu-Natal and had been displaced and dispersed by the violence of the Mfecane period.

 

Conditions were incredibly tough for the Xhosa-speaking settlers, but they adapted and eventually thrived.

 

In 1864, a missionary reported on an old man who had 60 head of cattle and other farmers who controlled 4,000 sheep In addition, there were large fields of wheat and maize at Wittekleibosch.

 

The absence of traditional leadership meant the Mfengu were open to new ideas in agriculture, education and commerce. Men broke with traditional patterns by working the fields and adopting the plough.

 

A common factor in failed agricultural projects is a lack of access to funding

 

Many of the earliest black translators, teachers and ministers were Mfengu. Editor and activist John Tengo Jabavu became a powerful political figure in the Cape colony in the late 19th century.

 

A strong wind often blows off the sea from St Francis Bay towards the Tsitsikamma mountains.

 

When the lights went out all over SA in 2007, Michael Mcebisi Msizi remembered that wind from his time as a child at Wittekleibosch. He had been an exiled trade unionist in Denmark, where wind turbines are everywhere.

 

After returning to SA, Msizi worked for Cosatu, served on the Port Elizabeth City Council and became national secretary-general of South African National Civic Organisation. He was a board member of Shatterprufe, started multiple businesses and starred in the Thunderstrike TV wrestling series as the chairman.

 

Tragically, Msizi died in a car crash before the wind farm was built. His son Litha remembers his father saying: "You should never doubt your dreams. If you have dreamt something, then it is like unveiling something that already exists."

 

Msizi’s partner was the very practical Tommy Garner, then CE of clean energy company Cennergi.

 

They persuaded the community that there was no threat to their land ownership; won the bid to build the wind farm; and built trust between big city engineers and the rural community. The Tsitsikamma Community Wind Farm pays dividends to the Tsitsikamma Development Trust as a shareholder. All wind farms in SA are mandated to allocate a certain amount for socioeconomic and enterprise development.

 

For the most part, the majority shareholder decides what projects to support.

 

The Tsitsikamma Development Trust receives 2.1% of the revenue earned by the wind farm every month and decides how to invest it.

 

The trust commissioned an opportunity analysis of the nearest 25 communities, and four core areas have been identified: education, health, job creation and community safety. Proposals received in 2017 will be evaluated and the first funding of projects will begin in January.

 

A common factor in failed agricultural projects is a lack of access to funding. The state’s leasing of land to black farmers is problematic. But organisations like the Tsitsikamma Development Trust are legal entities, making it easier for banks to make loans for equipment than might be the case with traditional leadership structures.

 

When they won back their land, the families of Wittekleibosch had the strategic foresight to enter into a partnership with the Du Plessis brothers. That collaboration has resulted in a significant skills transfer (Zilindile Blaauw is a formidable dairy farmer and manager), ensured access to market and led to the creation of an independent dairy enterprise.

 

Certainty about who owns the land as well as strategic partnerships and democratic structures are delivering results in the Tsitsikamma.

 

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LINK - https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/2017-11-28-a-story-of-a-land-claim-benefiting-all-involved/

 

Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER

 

 
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