Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Armed South Africans seize six farms

15/04/2009 - JOHANNESBURG, April 15 (AFP)

Six farms have been seized by an armed group of South African land reform beneficiaries who say the scheme has been mismanaged, the firm running the properties said Wednesday.

The farms covering 3,200 hectares in the northeastern province of Mpumalanga were invaded last Thursday by a knife-wielding mob who claimed the estate was being badly run by their business partner, Makhombo Farm Management.

"As a consequence of this invasion, management and employees loyal to Makhombo have been threatened and forced to flee from the farm," a company statement said.

The farms were handed over to the Lugedlane community as part of South Africa's land reform programme in 2007, but the property is held by the Mjejane Trust which was set up to manage their ownership.

The community say they have yet to see any profits from the project and invaded the farm to oust the management firm.

Makhombo Farm Management said the project may not turn a profit for another two or three years, adding that operations have now been halted, as workers have fled the farms.

"The action is severely compromising farming operations and accordingly jeopardising the ultimate flow of benefits to the community," the company said.

All six Makhombo farms were affected by the protracted government acquisition process, which caused a drop in yields by the time the land was handed over to the community.

The company said it had invested 38 million rand (4.2 million dollars, 3.1 million euros) in the farms to date and blamed bureaucratic delays for slowing down government contributions to the project.

Agriculture minister Lulu Xingwana's office was unavailable for comment.

At the onset of democracy in 1994, 87 percent of agricultural land in South Africa was owned by whites, who make up less than 10 percent of the population.

A report last year warned that at least 50 percent of land reform projects had been abject failures, with beneficiaries worse off after land reform due to a lack of post-settlement support from government.