THE Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is probing more than R100 million worth of land reform deals in KwaZulu-Natal that allegedly benefited crooked officials. File photo: Siphiwe Sibeko

Durban - The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is probing more than R100 million worth of land reform deals in KwaZulu-Natal that allegedly benefited crooked officials.

The sales of farms were meant to address the issue of land redistribution and benefit poor farming communities in the province, but the properties had ended up in the hands of a few government officials, investigators found.

The Daily News has established through publicly available court documents that at least 10 farms in KZN have been placed under curatorship after investigators uncovered a slew of irregularities.

The farms, which were sold as part of government’s land redistribution programme, are mostly in northern KwaZulu-Natal in the areas around Utrecht and Melmoth.

They have been placed under curatorship while investigators build a case around the key role-players – believed to be officials from the provincial Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.

The officials are alleged to have duped hundreds of poor farmers into signing documents they had no clue about and to have forged government documents.

Last week, members of the SIU, the police’s Anti-Corruption Task Team and the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) raided the Elizabeth Farm near Melmoth that was sold for R20m in 2009.

The deal is suspected to have been irregular. It followed the raid of the 2 100ha Boschhoek Farm, which was sold for R49m the same year.

Investigators are also probing the sale of the following properties:

* Shuilhoek Farm in Melmoth, sold in 2009 for R16.4m to the Kwamajikana Trust.

* Sweet Home Farm in Vryheid, sold in 2009 for R44.3m to the Kwabhekophathe Trust.

* Weltevreden Farm in Utrecht, sold in 2008 for R3.1m to the Dube Trust.

* Harterivier Farm in Melmoth, sold in 2008 for R6.8m to Mdlovu Community Trust.

According to well-placed sources in the SIU and AFU, the raids were part of a wider probe into the “suspicious sales” of more than 30 farms funded by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, for land redistribution.

The farms were placed under curatorship following years of investigations by the SIU, which began probing the alleged dodgy farm deals as far back as 2010.

The unit’s primary mandate is to recover and prevent financial losses to the State caused by acts of corruption, fraud and maladministration.

According to affidavits filed in the Pietermaritzburg High Court by the deputy directors of public prosecutions, Mark Samuel and Knorx Molelle, the land department funded the sale of the farms based on a fraudulent designation memorandum presented by its own officials.

The deals were facilitated through trusts.

It is alleged in court papers that officials duped scores of farm workers into signing documents making them trustees in farms that they did not know about and forged documents in an effort to inflate prices.

The farms were funded through a Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development grant or a Settlement and Production Land Acquisition Grant, designed to cover land acquisition costs, or the cost of acquiring shares for qualifying beneficiaries.

The intended beneficiaries of these grants are primarily small-scale farmers who are able to make their own contribution but who need top-up funding to cover their land purchases, according to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.

Politicians, traditional leaders who receive remuneration from the State and government employees are not eligible.

Investigators found hundreds of people who were meant to be beneficiaries had never worked at the farms they “owned”, had not lived there and had not benefited financially from the acquisition.

In addition, investigators found that, contrary to stipulation, several government employees were beneficiaries.

In the R44.3m Sweet Home farm deal investigators discovered that most of the supposed 361 beneficiaries were unaware of the deal.

One of the beneficiaries, investigators established, was just 7 years old while 30 had invalid identity numbers.

“I believe that the alleged beneficiaries were nominated for the purpose of obtaining a grant fraudulently,” Samuel said in his affidavit.

“It is also evident that the transfer of the property was never intended for the benefit of beneficiaries as intended by the land reform programme.”

Daily News