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Durban - KwaZulu-Natal’s chief land claims commissioner, Bheki Mbili, received a tongue-lashing by Parliament’s rural and agrarian portfolio committee head at the weekend.
Jerry Thibedi accused him of hiding information, fudging figures and failing to give details of why thousands of land claims projects had collapsed.
The ad hoc committee – comprising representatives of the national departments of rural development and land reform, public works, arts and culture and human settlements – was sent to KZN by Parliament to assess the progress of land reform.
The committee will also visit North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
The committee visited eight KZN projects and is expected to submit a report to Parliament on September 20 on the progress made since 1994 to transfer white-owned land to black owners.
Seven of the projects were bought by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and handed to disadvantaged communities.
The eighth, described by Mbili as a model for land reform, is on tribal land and managed by the community and the Gledhow Sugar Mill.
Despite revenue of R6 million in the 2012/13 financial year, its leaders have applied to the government for a R2m grant for further development and machinery.
Thibedi said the information in reports, submitted to Parliament two weeks ago, was scant and the presentations delivered on Friday failed to give an accurate assessment of the state of KZN land reform.
The committee, which included Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, asked Mbili to give a written report which detailed the cost to the government of the failed farms and what practical programmes were in place to settle challenges facing claimants.
“We want that information today,” Thibedi said.
Mandela called for details on the relations between the department and the Ingonyama Trust Board, which controls 29.6 percent of KZN land.
The committee also wanted to know why a project with an income of R6m was getting grants from the government.
“At what point does (the) government pull out of these things?” they asked.
While Mbili said his department was not responsible for post-settlement support, most of the 12 000 settled claims had collapsed. However, some were in rescue programmes.
But, he added, even these were challenged by a lack of financial support, inadequate skills, competing claims, individual claimants selling off farmland for residential purposes without the knowledge of trustees or the department, infighting, land invasions and massive capital required to get collapsed farms back into production.
Mbili said his department was understaffed and ill-equipped to cope with the workload.
Of the 14 911 land claims in the province, 2 000 had not yet been settled and 1 300 of these were yet to be researched to establish their validity.
Mbili said his department had asked the government for assistance from the Human Sciences Research Council to speed up research.
The seven projects, involving 32 717 hectares, visited by the ad hoc committee were all in various stages of rescue.
The land cost the government R500m to buy, while R30m in grants had been approved under the government’s recapitalisation programme to make the farms productive again.