Land Reform: Restitution finally on the cards for Tshwane community of Rama
On Tuesday, among other developments, the Portfolio Committee for Rural Development and Land Reform got a detailed update into one of land reform’s less widely reported embarrassments: the tiny, embattled piece of Rama land, north of Tshwane. It was handed back to the people of Madidi in 2002, only to end up facing investigations by the Hawks amongst allegations of corruption, fraud and murder. Now the question is what will be done to right the wrongs done to the people of Madidi, the intended beneficiaries. By MARELISE VAN DER MERWE.
It will be a long road to restitution for the residents of Rama, a tiny area near GaRankuwa, which has finally successfully been placed under administration after facing a series of battles since 2002.
Rama has greater significance in the land debate than it might initially be given credit for. In a presentation to the Portfolio Committee for Rural Development and Land Reform, it raised some critical questions: where gaps in legislation allow for abuse; how land reform can be better managed; and who should be held accountable for the suffering of the people of Madidi.
Rama’s struggles have primarily been related to its Communal Property Association (CPA), which some have argued was exacerbated by limitations of the CPA Act. A parallel – though less dramatic – story of CPA tensions emerged in a presentation on the precedent-setting Mala Mala Game Reserve, but unlike Rama, officials say Mala Mala has had a happier ending.
Rewind a little. It started out well. Rama was given back to the people of Madidi in 2002 following a successful land rights claim. Comprising two farms and over 750ha, the land – worth R15-million – included a working quarry (the main income generator), a museum, entertainment area with a cinema, and potential housing land.
The Rama CPA was registered as the holding entity and given the role of managing the area on the community’s behalf.
Now, the CPA has sold the land to a private entity for R500,000. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) has been powerless, thus far, to halt development or to return the land to the beneficiaries.
Some years after the land claim, the development of houses was already under way, in partnership with the Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality and private investors. This had to be paused.
Things had already begun to go wrong. In 2007, the CPA members’ terms expired. They did not wish to step down, part of a long fight with the DRDLR which, UWC’s Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies Department (PLAAS) explained could not easily be remedied by the CPA Act. The CPA Act, it turned out, “did not have teeth”, PLAAS said, leaving CPAs – the custodians – open to abuse.
By 2008, the Sowetan reported infighting among CPA members had hamstrung attempts to resettle the community on their ancestral land. An application was in process for a court order to place the CPA under judicial administration – placing Rama under the jurisdiction of the national Department of Land Affairs instead.
There were reports of alleged abuses including an “illegal land swap deal”, factions forming, unidentified plots being sold to non-beneficiaries, poor financial records, and processes being stalled by interdicts and high court appearances related to conflict with the CPA. A former CPA member, Simon Poo, confirmed a laundry list of problems to the Sowetan.
At the time, the Land Claims Commission spoke of “unscrupulous elements within the community leadership, conniving with bogus consultants to frustrate the good work done by government”.
By 2015, a further briefing was given in Parliament on the state of Rama. A court case was noted interdicting DRDLR from holding and AGM. The CPA executive was given 60 days to hold an AGM supervised by the department.
The committee never held the meeting, citing intimidating of community members by the CPA executive committee: kidnapping and assault.
According to the briefing, meetings had been held with the Hawks to discuss what had been occurring within the CPA, including possible cases of murder and corruption. The CPA committee’s term of office had expired, and reports had not been submitted to the Director General.
Development was occurring on CPA land without the mandate of members. There were allegations of misappropriation of funds. According to briefing notes, a committee member had been killed.
The Parliamentary Monitoring Group described several interventions: criminal cases (with CPA members failing to submit all relevant documents relating to misappropriation of funds, intimidation and murder to the Hawks); a civil case; attempts at assistance with compliance in Madidi; and attempts to pause the developments on CPA land until the issues with the CPA were resolved.
Next, the IEC was called in to manage elections of a new Committee that would be properly mandated.
Back then, a major concern was lack of information. The UDM was concerned about the documentation the Hawks’ were missing; the DA was unhappy with the progress report, saying there was no progress. There we objections to the lack of communication with government, the lack of clarification on housing development. The interim committee members’ names were still unknown. The department had requested access to the former CPA members’ bank accounts from ABSA for auditing purposes. But ABSA had refused.
“People say ‘I would rather lose my job than go to Rama’,” said Portfolio Committee member Mamagase Nchabaleng on Tuesday, 20 March 2018, questioning how the situation had escalated so badly in Rama. “Once the executive had that money, people were afraid to speak.”
Tuesday’s meeting brought to light other updates that disturbed committee members.
The DRDLR had decided on a two-pronged strategy to intervene in the CPA’s affairs, it said. A panellist was appointed – namely Ledwaba Mazwai attorneys – to regularise the CPA and facilitate that long-awaited AGM. Their efforts failed, and they recommended the CPA be placed under administration.
A second panellist was to be appointed to apply for an interdict to stop the sale of stands pending departmental processes. The interdict wasn’t granted on grounds that the matter wasn’t urgent, the DRDLR said.
According to the close-out report from Ledwaba Mazwai, the land awarded to the CPA in settlement of the restitution claim was purchased by Rama Horizons Development with a bond of R20-million, with the properties consolidated and registered as a long-term lease. This property was then re-sold to a private entity, Rama HD Investments (Pty) Ltd for just R500,000. The current chairperson of the executive committee is an active director of both Rama Horizons Development and Rama HD Investments.
The Rama CPA therefore does not own any land – all the land has been sold and transferred, allegedly without the consent of the CPA members.
Based on the contents of the close-out report, a submission was compiled requesting the Acting Director General to place Rama CPA under administration, and the submission – one of many requests to place the CPA under administration – was finally granted in December 2017.
However, according to the presentation to the Portfolio Committee, intimidation persists. Allegedly when the second panellist – attorney Nalani Maharaj – met with the attorney representing the current executive committee of the CPA, her car was pushed off the road and she was shot at. Maharaj claims her car was written off and she has opened a case with the SAPS. Daily Maverick has contacted SAPS to confirm this; we had not received independent confirmation at the time of publication.
Meanwhile, the Director of Land Tenure and Administration contacted the City of Tshwane to “sensitise” them on Rama’s circumstances and ask them to halt development approvals until the tensions were calmed.
It appears this had been unsuccessful, however. In February, it was reported that Gauteng Premier David Makhura was launching a R10-billion housing development called Rama City.
“We need to mobilise significant private sector investment. In this project alone, there is R10-million investment by the private sector,” he said.
On Tuesday, committee members said attempts to rectify the tensions in Rama made a “mockery of our justice system”.
“We need to right these wrongs, otherwise this is a waste of our time,” one member commented.
A few members voiced their disappointment with the failure of the courts to view the matter as urgent.
Calls for righting the wrongs included the ANC’s Pumzile Mnguni calling for the people of Madidi to be compensated the value of the land, since it was sold for much less than it was worth. It was necessary for “some heads (to) roll”, Mnguni said.
Deputy Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Candith Mashego Dlamini added that “since we have been barred from going physically”, it would be necessary to await the full report on Rama and make an application for the Special Investigations Unit to “investigate and arrest whomever is involved”.
“So much has been said about politicians, but unfortunately this is one case that has been politically meddled. I have never felt so much despair about a failure. There have been people who have been killed,” Mnguni added.
“We do not get a briefing of what the administrator is going to do when the land has been sold. We are very disappointed,” said Chairperson Phumuzile Ngwenya-Mabila.
Is there hope for Rama? The DRDLR acknowledged the administration process was likely to “be a lengthy one”; however, they said, it would unearth any other irregularities.
A key problem is that since the land awarded to the CPA already belongs to another private entity, further developments won’t be frozen, which is why the attorney has been appointed for an urgent interdict to prevent the future sale of stands on the land awarded to the CPA. But, the department noted, since the courts have not considered the matter as urgent, and since developments continue, other mechanisms will be needed to prevent more land being sold off to the benefit of a few. The Legal and Legislative services unit would be advising further.
All this raises questions of how CPAs can function better, and what legislative, judicial and private sector support can be given. By comparison, a parallel presentation was given on the Mala Mala game reserve, which faced years of legal battles and other teething problems, but appears to be resolving these gradually. Mala Mala made headlines when the landowners wanted R989-million excluding improvements valued at R66,000; the state wanted to pay R460-million, saying they couldn’t feasibly pay more. The landowners were then made an offer of some R751-million, rejected by the Minister as “exorbitant”; similarly, by activists, on grounds that the owners would be benefiting twice from Apartheid. Settlement negotiations collapsed, and the matter was referred to the Land Claims Court. It escalated to Constitutional Court and ultimately was settled out of court at the Minister of DRDLR’s request – with the land acquired at R939,360,000 plus some R73,000 for improvements and an additional payment for movables.
Mala Mala is ultimately surviving, say officials. The business model involved gradually transferring income, skills and ownership to the community over 25 years. Among other challenges, Mala Mala, like Rama, experienced tensions within the CPA. But the “joint venture business is operating very well”, the Portfolio Committee heard. In many instances, achievements are ahead of planned milestones, including redevelopment of the Main Camp, six years ahead of the agreed time frame. Employment and education opportunities have been created for community members and dividends have been paid out.
Lessons from Mala Mala, department members said, included needing accountability from CPA executives, skills development, and looking out for “underhand” deals by community leaders without mandate from the community.
CPA leaders had to be trained in corporate governance, they emphasised. A crucial lesson from both cases: practical resolution was often clouded by matters “beyond the legal mandate as defined by the Restitution Act, for example CPA disputes”. In other words: current legislation doesn’t cover many of the problems on the ground. And, as noted by PLAAS, the CPA Act is limited.
For Mala Mala, say officials, it’s been filed under lessons learnt, and they are moving forward. For claims not yet processed, it is a cautionary tale. For Rama, we have yet to see if the warning came too late. DM