Court to decide on Melmoth farm claims

The hills of sugar and timber lands under threat of land claims Larry Bentley

THE stage is set for a court case Thursday which could change the face of the Melmoth landscape.

Melmoth Town Hall will be transformed into a court where eight legal teams will decide on the fate of 42 000ha of agricultural land presently under three land claims.

Frustration after no response from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform for 14 years, has forced the landowners to approach the courts.

The Emakasaneni, Entembeni and Mthonjaneni communities, making up the three claims, have also become frustrated with the system, having taken to the streets to vent their unhappiness around the lack of progress in the settlement of the claims.

Thirty-seven thousand hectares of the land claimed belong to timber companies and a further 18 000ha are privately owned land under cane, timber, avocados, beef and game.

The estimated land value of the total claim is R2.5-billion, of which R1.1-billion is privately owned.

A land claim representative of the Melmoth Farmers’Association, Nico Harris, says the whole community, including claimants, were invited a special church service held on 23 July where the community called for a peaceful process and wisdom for the claimants, landowners, legal teams, local authorities and the community at large.

Long process

The landowners have spent large sums of money over the years investigating various models to find a solution, but none of these have been accepted by the government, even though some were acceptable to the claimants.

An 8 000ha parcel of land, which was not part of the claim, was purchased by the government and given to the Kwasanguye community.

These farms are being well managed by the beneficiaries under the mentorship and co-management of Vriendschap Boerdery.

This initiative of the Melmoth Farmers’ Association is being implemented by Vriendschap as a land reform project.

A partnership with Manzini Estate employees has also been in operation on the farm Spes Bona, and a further project also under Manzini is the Mfanevila timber project.

The commercial farmers decided to engage with the communities to be proactive in establishing emerging farmers.

These projects which include, among others, timber, beef, sugar cane and game, have been running now for many years and are proving a great success.

Financial losses

Financial benefits of agriculture to the Melmoth region is tremendous, with 3 500 staff being employed in the various agricultural sectors.

If direct and indirect industries and dependence of the workers are included, this figure increases to in excess of 600 000 people benefitting.

Wages of these workers are estimated at R12-million per month and are mostly spent in the town of Melmoth and businesses could experience drastic loss of turnover.

This figure excludes the day-to-day expenses incurred by the farming operations, who are also major supporters of local businesses.

Schools and other essential services could also be affected by the migration of people out of the area.

There is no other industry or employment opportunities in the Melmoth area which would absorb the influx of possibly large numbers of unemployed people.

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  AUTHOR
Larry Bentley
Journalist / Editor: Agri Eco

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